Hawaii Boat Tours To Be Greatly Curtailed In Latest Measure

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


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47 thoughts on “Hawaii Boat Tours To Be Greatly Curtailed In Latest Measure”

  1. They all fly here regardless and we take thousands of them off the islands every day. Tourists will just find other spaces and those spaces will become more crowded and abused. Instead of molokini or na pali it will be big beach or hanalei. If we want to curb tourism then it needs to be done at letting them in the front door. There are only too many tours because there are too many tourists. Simple supply and demand. Take away the demand and you take away the supply. Take away the supply and you still have the demand and price skyrockets.

  2. Just visited first time.found it difficult to book tours. So with fewer sites will become even more difficult. So why bother to visit the islandscay all?

    1. Looks like the price of boat tours is about to go through the roof like everything else in the state. The tour boat operators aren’t going to take the loss until they try staying in business by increasing fees.

    1. This is ostensibly to protect the precious marine habitat. There is just one problem, there is no evidence that snorkeling, scuba or sunset dinner cruises harm the reef. Per the Nature Conservancy Atlas of West Maui Reefs, what’s hurting the reefs are 1. Fishing 2. Sediments 3. Land based pollution and 4. Invasive species. This isn’t about environmental protection, it’s about people who don’t want to share.

  3. I have friends that work for those companies. But this is the right thing to do. Can’t sweep it away and put a band aid on this one. They should cut it down to the number it was in the early 90’s. Yes, I have family and friends that will be directly affected by this. But if this law doesn’t pass, our beautiful island will be directly affected also.

  4. It’s great if they cut it by 60% it’ll focus the wealth in on the most wealthy and they’ll be able to buy more expensive homes to help drive up home prices and that’ll be less work for poor people good job government
    Never said anything about putting a price cap on it and spreading the wealth around

  5. Hello Hawaii – been a fond friend and visitor for 50 years and have seen the islands change vastly. For years we’ve looked forward to our visit only to change direction due to cost. When Australia or Tahiti is a less expensive alternative you have to consider that maybe you have outpriced yourself. The traffic in many areas is horrific and to be honest – the natives are so rude to mainlanders; what used to be far fetched alter alternatives is worth the longer flight.

    Islanders first – OK, then have some respect for the people paying for your lifestyle.


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