A new law passed by Hawaii’s legislature and awaiting signing by the governor will vastly change Hawaii boat tours, kayak companies, surfing schools, scuba diving operators, and more. That as the state looks to significantly curtail commercial permits at all its harbors and boat ramps. Hawaii has 23 such launching ramps with permit capacities. As with the FAA plan to significantly reduce Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park helicopter tours, tour boat operators say this will put them out of business.
The problem began with unbridled permitting at Hawaii’s boat harbors. One example is near Beat of Hawaii headquarters on Kauai’s westside. The small Kikiaola boat harbor at Kekaha, used for the ever-popular Kauai north shore tours, including along the Na Pali Coast, is overrun with nearly 25 permitted boat tour companies and is at times a free for all regarding boat launch facilities and parking, among other things.
The signature-pending legislation will create a new permitting process for all businesses operating at Hawaii’s harbors and launch ramps. House Bill 1090 allows the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to reign in permits that exceed the permit limit. That limit was set after most of the permits had already been granted.
State of Hawaii wants to reduce boat tours by 60% or more.
The state says that things got out of control regarding boat and other water activity permits. DLNR said, “With the explosion of social media and the amount of tourism coming here, it just blew up. Our islands are being loved to death. We need to really get a handle on it. Unfortunately, the only way to do it is you’re going to have to reduce the numbers.”
However, that means that at the one harbor near Beat of Hawaii, sixty percent of the current boat tour operators would be gone. And that’s at just one harbor.
Boat tour operators say they have been caught off-guard by how the change in plans appears to be unfolding. While they knew that the state wanted to improve harbor operations and reduce crowds, they didn’t realize it would be this drastic an approach.
The bill will either need to be signed or vetoed by July 11. If not, it is set to become law even without his signature.
Hawaii boating changes have been pending for a decade.
It’s been about ten years since the state began setting limitations on permits at these facilities, as demand increased with more tourism without any additional capacity or infrastructure improvements at the boat harbors. Just before the state initiated those permit limitations, operators became aware of the imminent change in permitting and flooded DLNR with applications. Those were somehow approved, perhaps in error. Now, 10 years later, it is an incredible mess, and the number of permits DLNR issued exceeds the new limits.
Similarities to the plan by FAA/NPS to limit Hawaii helicopter tours.
The bill authorizes DLNR to issue new permits. These will be based on auditing the companies with current permits and issuing new ones based on a seniority system. Permits beyond the new limits will be valid until a one-year expiration date and will not be reissued. DLNR does not feel that a lottery system is fair and wants to give priority to legacy operators.
Hawaii looks to reduce Manta Ray tours by 66%.
At the top of DLNR’s permit revocation list sits other Hawaii harbors, including those below. They are overrun by manta ray night viewing operators. These are seriously overcrowded, as we’ve personally witnessed, and the state reports there may be up to 70 current operators of these tours. DLNR wants to limit the operators to no more than 24.
- Makako Bay, Big Island
- Keauhou Bay, Big Island