A beach water quality prediction system has been developed in Hong Kong using multiple linear regression (MLR) models. However, linear models are found to be weak at capturing the infrequent ‘very poor’ water quality occasions when Escherichia coli (E. coli) concentration exceeds 610 counts/100 mL. This study uses a classification tree to increase the accuracy in predicting the ‘very poor’ water quality events at three Hong Kong beaches affected either by non-point source or point source pollution. Binary-output classification trees (to predict whether E. coli concentration exceeds 610 counts/100 mL) are developed over the periods before and after the implementation of the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme, when systematic changes in water quality were observed. Results show that classification trees can capture more ‘very poor’ events in both periods when compared to the corresponding linear models, with an increase in correct positives by an average of 20%. Classification trees are also developed at two beaches to predict the four-category Beach Water Quality Indices. They perform worse than the binary tree and give excessive false alarms of ‘very poor’ events. Finally, a combined modelling approach using both MLR model and classification tree is proposed to enhance the beach water quality prediction system for Hong Kong.