Visitor drownings are up, bill aims to aid prevention

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Ocean drownings are the leading cause of death for visitors to Hawaii, according to a study on drownings by the Department of Health.

A new proposal is hoping to save lives by requiring stricter regulations and more training for crews on tour boats.

Millions of visitors flock to Hawaii each year and many of them spend a great deal of time enjoying ocean tours and activities.

Mantra Pacific Research Foundation President Keller Laros is pushing to ensure that the crews who lead boat tours know how to react in the event of an emergency.

“Whenever you go somewhere in Hawaii, you expect that the people who are helping you, or serving you, or working in the industry are trained to be professionals in that industry. As far as that goes that’s not the case at all,” said Laros.

Ocean drownings are one of the leading causes of death due to injury in Hawaii. More than half of the people who drown are visitors.

“The ocean is very, very unpredictable and can very quickly turn into a life or death situation. People with no experience in the water who have never been in the Pacific Ocean before are often caught by surprise by the power,” said Laros.

Laros says that although the Coast Guard requires the captain to be certified, there currently are no laws requiring the crew on small boat tours to be trained in CPR and other lifesaving techniques.

Laros is trying to change that.

“The bill’s goal is to require that every boat or vessel that allows passengers into the water in the state of Hawaii have at least one crewmember trained as a lifeguard.”

Representative Nicole Lowen tells KHON that she believes tour companies have a responsibility to keep their passengers safe.

“I think this would save lives and we’ve seen a number of tourist drownings,” said Rep. Lowen. “I think some of which could’ve been prevented, and we’d like to prevent future ones from happening.”

In 2019, the bill made it through the House but stalled in the Senate.

The bill lists the Department of Land and Natural Resources as the agency tasked with adopting the safety rules and regulations.

The DNLR opposed the bill last session stating that safety measures should be left up to the coast guard.

KHON2 reached out to the DLNR and have yet to receive a response.

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