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Jet Skis on the High Seas

Molokai reopens debate on the legality of thrill craft.

What are currently coined thrill-craft, jet skis on Molokai are used for gathering rights, access to remote areas, recreation, and safety while surfing said jet ski owners at a town meeting last Thursday.

As the pro-legalization group spoke, a theme emerged; jet skis are being used and will continue to be, regardless of their illegality on Molokai. Supporters say the law needs to change to regulate use instead of keeping the craft illegal. However, opponents argue a lack of enforcement and the potential for thrill-craft based businesses could outweigh any benefits of legalizing the craft.

The 1992 state law refers to any vessel under 13 feet with the ability to carry up to three people as a “thrill-craft” said Nicolas Giaconi, district manager of the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreations (DOBOR), adding that jet skis are illegal around Molokai and Lanai because these islands are not mentioned in the law.

Jet ski owners say the term thrill-craft is inappropriate and misleading. One attendee said jet skis should have a specific use designation, such as fishing or safety, to help regulate their use.

“This is a tool of our generation,” said Honohono Naehu. “We need to work with our kupuna to compromise on what is acceptable.” Another supporter agreed that the jet ski is a tool and the operator must be held accountable.

“There is no right way to do the wrong thing,” said Captain Clay Ching. He said there is required education and licenses required for boaters and that it would be prudent for all jet ski operators to abide by the same process.

Some Molokai kupuna said jet skis are a want and not a need, but all agreed the craft must be used with respect, and that there is a need for enforcement of the laws. “Why build up more rules when you cannot enforce the rules you have now,” said Judy Caparida.

One community member reminded the pro-legalization group to beware of new economic variables. He said tow-in surfing and jet ski rentals could be inevitable. “This island is not ready, it could change overnight,” he said.

Keola Tanaka, a law enforcement officer, is also a jet ski owner, and believes they should be legal and regulated. “I should hold myself to a higher standard,” he said, adding his captain told him to dock it until further notice. Tanaka used his jet ski for gathering rights, safety, and access to the north shore.

There was concern amongst several attendees that the legalization of jet skis will lead to the infiltration of watercraft from other islands to areas like the pristine north shore, and a further reduction in precious resources.

Giaconi said there was no definite outcome from the community meeting. He said that any change to the thrill-craft law would require passage in the state legislature which would take a minimum of one year.

His recommendation to DOBOR state administrator Ed Underwood is to create a Molokai advisory committee to “tailor a plan to the island’s needs.”

To submit written comments or express interest in the advisory committee, send letters with to DLNR-DOBOR, attn: jet ski, 333 Queen St. Suite 300, Honolulu HI, 96813 or fax (808) 587-1977.


One Response to “Jet Skis on the High Seas”

  1. pohaku says:

    I attended this public hearing and was quickly educated to the number of PWC’s owned on the island. That alone said allot – there is a need for PWC safety education. We were in attendance only as an observer and to let everyone on the island know (pro or con) that there is a non-profit organization in Hawai’i today that provides nationally recognized boating and PWC (NASBLA and NSBC) training and certification. I left information on how those who own/operate a PWC can get a temporary one (1) year certification – it addresses boating/PWC education standards and knowledge with a national exam. I arrived on Molokai from O’ahu on my PWC (along with my partner) because it is my choice of travel today as a native. I have travelled throughout the islands by various craft for over 20 years, and the fact that soaring airfare cost make it economically impractical to pay this and the rent car or hike from the airport to town for just a couple of hours. By using the harbor to anchor offshore to attend the meeting was more logical though we were given citations for having our PWC’s anchored in the harbor. We were also informed that even if we had an emergency we could not use the small boat harbor, but rather drift at sea and await rescue. Now that says we not only need the regulations changed for Molokai and Lana’i, but we need to change the entire law governing the educational processes and use of PWC’s near-shore and for island hopping. I am amazed that I can not venture more then 2 miles from shore on a PWC (everyone is already) but an 11 foot boat that is not as seaworthy as my PWC can. This does not make sense no matter what the argument is. There has been only one reported case of a PWC rescue in Hawai’i in a channel that I know of and that was years ago. Our craft are more efficient today and our chances of survival at sea if an emergency should occurr is better for us then a boat in the same USCG classification (Class – A boat). I am denied my native rights to travel the way my ancestors had for thousands of years because of a lack of knowledge when it comes to this craft. Much of the problems surrounding the use of PWC’s can be resolved through education. We of KANALU K38 are dedicated to the process of educating all PWC owner/operators and the community. We have written Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona to request an exemption for our organization that will allow us to at least provide PWC education on Molokai to the owners and users without a fee to all residents, and we will provide all the equipment and material. This is not an attempt to circumvent the law but rather to provide for the safety of those who will operate on that island no matter what the regulation is, and those who must enforce the law. It would also educate the community to the positives and negatives of a Personal Watercraft.

    Tom Pohaku Stone
    KANALU K38

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