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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.


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