Issue:  Hawaii is world famous for beautiful coastal and reef locations, with many visitors and locals wanting to safely snorkel to enjoy the wonders of ocean life.  Hawaii’s commercial recreational snorkel operators offer a range of snorkeling activities for both beginners and advanced.  Each year approximately 3 million people go snorkeling in Hawaiian waters.  As with any water activity, there are significant and serious risks associated with snorkeling.  Sadly, each year on average six people die while snorkeling from commercial vessels at various snorkeling/diving locations around Hawaii.

Discussion:  These recommended practices have been developed to help inform commercial vessel businesses involved in the dive and snorkeling industry of the risks associated with snorkeling and how their day to day activities contribute to the safety of all participants.  It also outlines legal obligations in the snorkeling industry and identifies a number of strategies that will reduce the potential for incident and injury to snorkelers.

Recommendations of HOST:  Each commercial vessel business that engages in snorkeling and diving excursions should develop a comprehensive safety plan for snorkeling/diving activities specific to their operation.  A recommended outline is attached.  The purpose of this outline is to provide Hawaii’s small passenger vessel (SPV) snorkel operators with guidance in developing safety plans to increase or maintain safety standards within their organization.  The attached outlines are not intended to provide comprehensive instruction to develop a full safety plan.  These guidelines highlight some of the critical safety points that should be considered in every Snorkel Safety manual. Individual operators are responsible for writing their own safety manuals specific to their operation.

Advantages of a Snorkel Safety Plan:

        Living documents like vessel specific Snorkel Safety Manuals are developed to promulgate to the crew, an organizations procedures in preventing and responding to emergencies.  These safety plans should be snorkel site specific and practical to the vessel’s crew compliment, materiel condition, and operation.  Promoting a familiar, predetermined, and efficient response, increasing a crew’s readiness and lifesaving capabilities is the goal of this safety plan.

        The procedures within a Snorkel Safety Plan should be carried out during training drills with as much realism as safely possible and tested for weaknesses and lessons learned.  Regular training that “tests” procedures will produce results that can influence new ideas for improvements and increase proficiency.  Amending manuals to reflect newly discovered efficiencies promote a response doctrine’s evolution into ‘tried and true’ procedures capable of saving lives.

        Having a tangible asset like a Snorkel Safety Manual will provide a vessel’s crew with a reference of “what to do in case of” situations.  With proper training and the corresponding reference material, crews will gain proficiency, and procedures will remain standard over time despite turnover of employees.  Therefore maintaining the integrity of the plan.

Overcoming Variations:

With a wide variety of vessel sizes, passengers/crew capacities, and snorkeling products, no two operations are alike.  Therefore the formatting of attachment 1 and 2 is a recommended outline structure of a plan that provides identification of some critical safety aspects, allowing owner/operators to research and develop key points into vessel or product specific procedures that best fit their operation. It cannot be overstated that no two vessel/ operations are that same and your plan must be custom fit to your specific snorkel site, vessel and operation.


The following are some additional safety measures operators may consider prior to developing or revamping Safety Plans.  The training and equipment associated with these additions may increase an operators chances of success while maintaining preventive measures and responding to an emergency.

    Assessing potential “at-risk” passengers before they enter the water can avoid potential casualties.  Assessing a passenger for pre-existing medical conditions, overall health and their ability will allow you to identify at risk individuals so that they can be given appropriate advice, equipment and supervision. 

    In addition to the First AID/CPR and lifesaving apparatuses required onboard a USCG inspected SPV.  Additional items maybe applied to increase the efficiency of a response i.e. Bag valve masks, cervical collars, spine-boards and spider-straps, etc.  These items may be assembled in a “crash bag” and made readily available to the crew.

    In addition to the First AID/CPR requirements of a U.S. Coast Guard certified commercial small passenger vessels additional training and certification is recommended to increase the lifesaving capabilities of a crew engaging in an in-water activity.  Contracting a certified lifeguard trainer to help develop site specific training doctrines and maintain a Red Cross or equivalent Lifesaving certification for crews has proven to be invaluable to several operators.

    In addition to the basic mask snorkel and fins issued to passengers many operators have employed the use of additional flotations devices for guests.  The use of buoyant snorkel vests, banana belts, and body boards has proven effective for weaker swimmers. This type of gear also provides operators who are in close proximity of each other a means of distinguishing groups from one another.

    Rescue long boards w/handles are also being used by operators and lifeguards to more efficiently manage the snorkel site and transport tired swimmers back to the boat. This item increases a rescuers speed in the water and can act as a spine-board if need be.

In accordance with Section 13-245-9, Hawaii Administrative Rule, ensure that persons engaged in underwater swimming or diving using self-contained underwater breathing apparatus or other artificial breathing device in navigable waters of the State mark their position with a diver’s flag and stay within 50 feet of the marker.


Ref; Attachment 1: Snorkel Safety Manual Outline

Ref; Attachment 2: Crisis Management Manual Sample Outline

Attachment 1 is an outline to provide insight to some of the critical points in prevention and responses to emergencies.  Operators are encouraged to develop Safety Plans utilizing the points outlined as a guide to ensure planning, anticipation, assessments, and responses are organized and predetermined.

Attachment 2 may prepare crews to handle the psychological stress of an emergency.  By having the ability to maintain the proper state of mind and regulate stress and panic amongst themselves and passengers, crews will be better prepared to control the situation and act in a calm collected manner, enabling them to recall and execute training skills, increasing the efficiency of their response and their ability to save lives

Attachment  1

Snorkel Safety Manual Sample Outline

1.  Snorkel Safety Manual Outline

 A. Vessel Orientation

      a. Identify type and location of safety equipment

      b. Identify vessel arrangements

      c. Identify vessel capacities and ratios.

      d. VHF Radio location and communications.

 B. Position Outline

     a. Identify captain/crew duties and responsibilities for normal operation

 C. Use and Proper Care of Snorkel Equipment

      a. List of equipment

      b. Guidelines for proper use

      c. Common problems associated with equipment

      d. Inspecting equipment for damage before issuance   

 D. What it Takes to be an Able-Bodied Member of the Crew    

      a. Be in good health to conduct snorkeling activities at a supervisory level           

      b. Completely understand operational procedures and emergency response doctrines      

      c. Must maintain high levels of maturity and professionalism while supervising guests

      d. Must be knowledgeable of the local marine life and its hazards

      e. Should maintain Fist Aid/CPR and Lifesaving certifications

      f. Demonstrated Radio communication knowledge and ability.

 E. Normal Operational Standards

      a. Outlining product timeline

      b. Outlining vessel’s operational procedures

      c. Outlining snorkel site management and control procedures

 F. Prevention by Anticipating for Situations that may develop into Emergencies

      a. Weather observations

1.    Tides, currents, wind, sea state and their effects on the vessel and guests

2.    Snorkel site location relative to conditions

      b. Guest comfort and abilities

1.    Outlining the common effects of peer pressure

2.    Outlining the common problems associated with first time snorkelers

3.    Understanding the procedures to cope with high risk guests

4.    Understanding and preventing potential situations that develop into emergencies

 G. Prevention by Assessments

Before snorkelers enter the water they should be assessed to determine whether they may be at risk. This process is subjective and relies on the knowledge and skills of the snorkel worker. The assessment is not designed to stop potential customers from participating in snorkeling activities. It helps to identify at risk individuals so that they can be given appropriate advice, equipment and supervision. Sometimes however, the best advice may be to avoid snorkeling.

a.    Assessment can be completed by: asking group questions, talking with snorkelers individually, using an assessment form and/or observation.

b.    Observe and record whether any participants are older, overweight, smoke, appear to be in bad health, and exhibit stressed behavior.  Once at risk snorkelers are identified communicate that to the vessel crew.

c.    Conducting detailed briefings to snorkelers; ensure snorkelers are aware of the potential risks involved including, physical demands, in water hazards, communicating distress, etc.  This can be combined with distributing brochures, signs and posters, using illustrated charts, diagrams and site photographs, and/or showing films of snorkelers.  Translated material should be available. 

d.    Communicate key safety messages for at risk snorkelers.

1.    Use a flotation device to reduce your physical exertion in the water.

2.    Snorkel with a buddy or as a part of a guided tour.

3.    Stay close to supervising staff

e.    Key safety messages for recreational snorkelers

1.    There are serious risks associated with certain medical conditions, especially cardiac conditions.

2.    Know your own ability and snorkel accordingly.

f.      Key safety messages for at risk snorkelers

1.    Use a flotation device to reduce your physical exertion in the water.

2.    Snorkel with a buddy or as a part of a guided tour.

3.    Stay close to supervising staff or other support and signal if help is required.

g.    It may not be necessary to cover all issues with every snorkeler. Separate briefings for more experienced snorkelers may be required.

h.    Controls for managing at risk snorkelers include:

1.    Using specifically colored equipment or other markings so they can be easily supervised and monitored in the water

2.    Encouraging at risk snorkelers to take part in guided snorkeling trips

3.    Keeping at risk snorkelers close to lookouts and supervisors

4.    Arranging buddy pairs and encouraging hand holding

 H. Encouraging the use of flotation devices.

Flotation devices used for snorkeling include personal flotation devices (PFD), non standard swim jackets, boards, life rings and tubes (such as noodles). Generally all flotation devices can provide some support for snorkelers and minimize the stress of maintaining their position in the water. However a panicking snorkeler will receive better flotation support from a PFD compared to a noodle.  Fixed flotation such as moored float stations or boundaries and trails using ropes and floats can also be set up. Snorkel guides should always have a flotation device on hand that can be given to a tired or distressed snorkeler. Not all at risk snorkelers are prepared to use a flotation device. Crewmembers should try to persuade these snorkelers to do so by demonstrating their use and advising that it will help them to relax in the water.

      a. Daily voyage planning after weather considerations

1.    Plan cruise for the safest route and snorkel site

      b. Constant assessing of passengers abilities/comfort levels and early identification of risks

1.    Identifying the situations anticipated as having the potential of developing into         

2.    Introduction of waiver/medical/health notices

3.    Increased supervision or issuance of extra floatation device i.e. body board as needed

4.    Action by distance limitations or extra acclimation periods for those in need

 I. Emergency Response Objectives

First aid must be administered quickly and appropriately when treating a snorkeling injury.  First aid kits should be available at the snorkeling site and the contents should cater for the injuries that may occur.  The use of oxygen should be strongly considered.  The crewmember providing first aid and oxygen should hold a current first aid training qualification that includes emergency oxygen administration.  The oxygen system should also be able to deliver oxygen concentration of as near as possible to 100 per cent to a breathing person and should also facilitate oxygen enriched artificial ventilation of a non-breathing person. Sufficient oxygen should be provided taking into account the location of the snorkel site and the access to medical facilities. A risk assessment should be undertaken to determine if an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) and trained operator should be available on the vessel.

     a. Crew mustering

     b. Assigning tasks to crew positions

     c. In water rescue techniques

     d. Procedure for extricating victims from the water

     e. Initiate proper notification procedures with list

     f. Crowd controlling

     g. Administering First AID/CPR

     h. Attending to injuries

      i. Steps to achieve medical evacuation readiness

      j. Steps to prepare chosen port of call

 J. Post-Emergency Outline

     a. Criteria for USCG form 2692 applicability

     b. List of in-house reporting documents

     c. Criteria for chemical testing

     d. In-house investigation criteria

     e. Debrief of personnel outlining weaknesses/strengths/lessons learned

      f. Updating manuals as necessary

 K. Exam

     a. Ensure crewmembers are familiar with procedures outlined in this plan.

 L. Drills

For an emergency plan to be effective, everyone must understand their role and drills must be practiced regularly. Real emergency responses have been hindered when snorkeling teams could not retrieve an injured snorkeler or were slow to action their missing snorkeler procedures.  Every rescue or emergency situation will be different so experience can only be gained by practicing different rescue and emergency scenarios. Consider scenarios where the snorkeler is elderly or overweight or where rescues take place in poor conditions.

     a. Snorkel site management and control – Table top

     b. Identification and responses to equipment and swimmer common problems

     c. Tired swimmer rescues and assists

     d. Extricating victims suspected of having a spinal injury from water/vessel

     e. Egressing the unconscious victims from the water

     f. Reporting – Table top

     g. Crowd controlling

     h. Emergency equipment inspection

      i. Logs/documentation                                                                          

Attachment 2

Crisis Management Manual Sample Outline

2.  Crisis Management Manual

     A. Know Your Resources and Where to Find Them

a.    Lifesaving appliances

b.    Firefighting equipment

c.    Passenger safety instructions

d.    Station bills

e.    Emergency evacuation plan

f.      General alarms

g.    Radio communications equipment and use

     B. Emergency Situations and Its Affects on Passengers and Crew

a.    Fire at sea

b.    Man overboard

c.    Collision/Allision/Grounding

d.    Abandon ship

e.    In water lifesaving

     C. Leadership in a Crisis

a.    Importance of having leadership skills

b.    Demeanor of a leader

c.    Taking control

d.    Exercising decisiveness

     D. Signs and Effects of Stress

a.    Comparing mental states

1.    “Fight or flight” stress

2.    “Calm and collected”

b.    Identifying the signs of “fight or flight” stress

1.    Increased heart and breathing rate

2.    Increased perspiration

c.    Understanding the effects of stress

1.    Decreased concentration

2.    Inability to integrate new information

3.    General loss of control

d.     Counteracting stress

1.    Taking steps to relax

    E. Signs and Effects of Panic

a.    Understanding how stress leads to panic

1.    Signs of stress are ignored

2.    Stress left unregulated

b.    Identifying the signs of panic

1.    Ignores announcements

2.    Disbelief of the obvious

3.    Denial of anything bad happening to him/her

4.    Will seek proof of emergency before attempting to escape

c.    Understanding the effects of panic

1.    Fear and anxiety

2.    Escape becomes self centered without concern for others

3.    Rushing to escape

4.    Instructions are ignored

5.    Panic increases if decisions are based on misinformation

d.    Countering panic

1.    Taking steps to relax

     F. Crowd Control

a.    Maintaining leadership in an emergency

b.    Continuous monitoring of passengers

c.    Passengers common first reactions

d.    Countering passenger stress

e.    Evacuating passengers to a safe zone

     G. Effective Communication in an Emergency

a.    Only communicate the facts

b.    Speak slowly and clearly

c.    Listen to passenger concerns

d.    Repeat messages given by the captain

e.    Stand on an elevated surface

f.      Language barriers

1.    Slow and deliberate hand gestures

2.    Physically point out information

    H. Exam

a.    Ensure crew is familiar with the contents of this plan.