Latest Plan To Limit Hawaii Boat Adventure Companies

Have you ever taken a boat tour along the Napali Coast on Kauai, sailed around Waikiki, or done a Manta Ray night viewing on the Big Island with a commercial operator?

Hawaii is determined to balance tourism and environmental preservation by limiting related permits. If Senate Bill 3166 passes, commercial ocean activities might become as challenging to reserve as the Road to Kee Beach, and prices might increase.

These legislative moves catch boat tour operators off-guard, especially smaller ones likely to be most impacted. A similar bill was introduced last year and was vetoed by the governor for that very reason. While he believes “Hawaii must strategically regulate commercial uses across our shared ocean for the perpetuation of our natural and cultural resources” and that the “commercial permitting system requires reform,” he was also concerned about the loss of jobs and negatively impacting small businesses.

What this means for Hawaii visitors:

Hopefully, this can evolve into a sustainable form of ocean recreation management that might benefit both residents and visitors.

Manta ray viewing tours.

For example, DLNR has also targeted manta ray night viewing operators in specific harbors, including Makako Bay and Keauhou Bay on the Big Island. DLNR wants to limit the number of operators for these tours from 70 to 24.

State: The islands are “being loved to death.”

The state of Hawaii has indicated it seeks a drastic reduction of boat tours by 60% or more. That is based on the belief that tourism promotion, including in social media, has deluged the islands. DLNR previously said the islands are “being loved to death” and that reducing the number of permits is the only viable solution.

The new bill will curb what the state deems to be excessive commercial boating activities by limiting companies’ permits. This could significantly overhaul the operations of boat tours, kayak companies, and scuba diving operators, among others.

The new law, if passed, would impose restrictions on commercial permits issued at all 23 harbors and boat ramps across the state. It includes commercial permits from being transferred upon a change in legal ownership and allows DLNR to use the public auction process to reduce the number of permits available when limits have been exceeded.

The likely result is that permits will go to the highest bidders at auction.

That could mean, however that all but the largest boating activity providers could be eliminated. The bill claims this is the proper way to address the rampant issuance of permits that have led to overcrowded conditions at state harbors.

Napali boat tours.

Highlights of the bill now before the Hawaii legislature.

The legislation aims to raise fees on ocean operators, which will result in higher costs for visitor boating activities that help fund DLNR.

Among the highlights is that a public auction will be the primary means to limit permits for these activities. When more than the allowed number of permits have been issued (as is frequently the case), the state will remove all existing permits and offer new ones to the highest bidders at auction. That will ensure that only the largest operators survive, with small companies unable to compete.

Governor Green vetoed last year’s efforts.

The current legislation builds on groundwork laid in 2023’s vetoed Bill 1090 which also focused on creating a new permitting process and addressing too many boat operators at Hawaii’s harbors. If nothing else, this year’s bill reflects the continued commitment of Hawaii to controlling and managing commercial ocean activities.

DLNR wants to regulate permits that now exceed their determined appropriate limit.

Unfortunately, most permits had already been granted before the limits were set forth, leading to demand exceeding the existing capacity.

Honokohau Harbor.

Boat harbor infrastructure is inadequate for current demands.

This issue traces back about a decade when Hawaii began imposing limits on permits due to increased tourism that occurred without any improvements in the infrastructure at boat harbors. At that time, boat operators anticipated restrictions and flooded the state with permit applications. Many were then approved in what seems now to have been an oversight. More than a decade later, the situation has evolved into a chaotic scenario, with the number of permits far exceeding the newly established limits.

Chime in. Do you feel it is good to protect Hawaii’s natural environment from over-tourism in this way, or is this a non-tourist-friendly idea?

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27 thoughts on “Latest Plan To Limit Hawaii Boat Adventure Companies”

  1. I have been trying to oofind hb2477 with no luck can anyone get the right information on this not so well thought out bill. Maybe Boh has wrong information.

  2. Selling the permits to the highest bidders??? So the only operators will be large scale business???
    Send That idea back to the drawing board. Hard to see if it’s corruption or just more idiocy.

  3. …the islands are “being loved to death”

    That pretty much underscores the problem.

    For those who have been coming here for years, do we simply say, no “new” visitors? Or do we say, you’ve had your fun, now let someone else have a turn? The bottom line is that we can’t accommodate everyone. We’ve been ignoring the problem for far too long.

    Now that the problem has finally gathered enough momentum to actually do something about it, everyone is up in arms. Well, if you’ve got a better solution, we’re all ears!

  4. We have been going to Hawaii once or sometimes twice a year for 30 years but with the changing attitude toward tourists, we think we will start to look at options in other locations. Mahalo for many years of wonderful memories but it is getting ridiculous.


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