Program teaches ocean safety for all

Hawai‘i Ocean Education Academy strives to provide people with a crucial service in the islands – Courtesy of HOEA
Hawai‘i Ocean Education Academy strives to provide people with a crucial service in the islands – Courtesy of HOEA

WCC’s Hawaiʻi Ocean Education Academy (HOEA) strives to provide people with a crucial service in the islands: education in safety and risk management of our oceans.

On Jan. 11, 2016, a scuba diver was found off the coast of Maui, after being hit and killed by a boat’s propeller.

The boat driver allegedly ignored or didn’t understand what a red and white dive flag in the water meant. The diver’s son was also hit and sent to the hospital in critical condition.

As more accidents like this happen, the state has been cracking down on mandatory licensure for boating and other ocean recreational activities such as operating jetskis (also known as Personal Watercraft or PWC).

“That’s what’s so important about the mandatory education rule is you need to know what all of this means,” the stateʻs Ocean Recreation administrator Ed Underwood told KHON2 News. “When you’re operating a boat, when you see a dive flag, you know to stay outside (200 ft.) of the dive flag.”

Ocean safety should be a concern for those in or visiting Hawaiʻi–and for good reason. According to KHON2 News, Hawaiʻi’s visitor drowning rate is 13 times the national average and 10 times the rate of Hawai’i residents.

Accidents often happen unexpectedly, but through HOEA, one can gain the training, confidence and preparation to save a life.

After the Honolulu Advertiser released an ad for a bachelors of science in surf science at the University of England in 1999, WCC encouraged Ian Masterson to start a surf science program. Masterson, who had suffered a spiral fracture to his ankle while surfing, was later inspired to add safety and risk management programs to the HOEA.

“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the impact on individual lives that these kinds of trainings have, not only in (gaining) new skills, but the overall confidence that comes from having a risk management approach to the ocean and everything in life,” Masterson said.

The goals of the safety programs are to build opportunities for education in areas of the workforce that aren’t well served and make Hawai’i safer for everyone.

HOEA offers programs in risk management that students can benefit from but, perhaps more importantly, that someone in distress could end up relying on to survive.

The ocean safety technician certification includes first aid and CPR/AED certification and training in basic ocean rescue skills.

The lifeguard program gives students the opportunity to earn a Red Cross lifeguard certification. HOEA boasts the only publicly available open ocean lifeguard training in the islands.

There are many courses available, from safe boating certification to classes in becoming a qualified boat crew member or even earning a captainʻs license.

“We’ve had a huge impact on the state … saving hundreds and hundreds of lives, and have created more safety on an island with very challenging coastlines,” Masterson said.

There are basic as well as advanced PWC certifications offered. Basic certification to use PWCs is required to operate them in the state of Hawai’i.

According to the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, there have been 332 deaths from drowning between 2007 and 2011 alone.

Even just the basics of learning first aid and CPR/AED could save a loved one on a hike or a stranger in a car crash.

However, while being safe in the water is a priority, Hawai‘i Ocean Education Academy offers purely recreational courses for students to take as well, for those who just want to get a workout and enjoy the connection with our Hawaiian waters.

HOEA provides fun in the sun with courses in surfing, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and Hawaiian canoe sailing.

Most of the courses integrate sport etiquette, customary practices and how they apply to Hawaiian culture.

For more information, go to HOEA’s website at or call HOEA coordinator and instructor Ian Masterson at 235-733.


by Gracie Berkley, Ka ‘Ohana Co-Editor in Chief