WATER WAYS - Nebraska's boats a boon to economy - 10/26/02
Nebraska's boats a boon to economy

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 10/26/02)
By Ray Pendleton

I might have known. Comparing some of Hawaii's less-than-ocean-oriented residents with someone living in Nebraska in last week's column was bound to get a reader reaction.

Sure enough, Saturday's Star-Bulletin had barely hit the streets when I was hit with a good-natured backlash in my e-mail.

"Curious enough, the Great Plains states of Nebraska and Kansas have a substantial lead in the number of registered boats compared to our island waterways," wrote ex-Cornhusker and veteran Honolulu realtor Rex Herren.

"Shoot, for that matter," he added, "you might check and find out that Cherry County --where my home town of Valentine is -- quite likely has more boats than O`ahu."

I should mention that Herren, as a decades-long member of the Waikiki Yacht Club, is no landlubber and would agree there are some big differences between boating on a lake or a river compared to the open ocean. Still, he does have a point.

I couldn't find statistics for Herren's Cherry County, however, I was able to locate some fairly recent state-by-state comparisons.

For example, the Coast Guard, in 1999, ranked Nebraska as 39th in the country, with more than 72,000 registered boats, and Kansas, with more than 100,000 boats, was ranked 32nd.

Hawai`i, on the other hand, was at the bottom of the list at 51st, with fewer than 16,000 boats. Our state has fewer registered boats than any state and the U.S. Territories.

Conversely, Michigan was at the top of the list with nearly a million boats and California, with just a few hundred less, was in second.

It can be argued, of course, that geographically, most mainland states have more protected waters that make for less challenging boating than our surrounding not-so-Pacific Ocean.

Still, when you learn Nebraska's population and per capita income are very similar to Hawaii's, there's got to be more to the story.

As I've noted in past columns, our state has very few natural harbors and its biggest -- Pearl Harbor -- is the military's exclusive domain.

Except for Kaneohe Bay, recreational boaters have had to rely on small, man-made harbors such as the Ala Wai and Ko`Olina on O`ahu, Honokohau on the Big Island, or Lahaina and Maalaea on Maui.

And, unlike the mainland, there has been little attempt by the state to expand these harbors to keep pace with a growing population and the corresponding demand for additional recreational boating facilities.

In fact, to the contrary, in recent years many recreational slips have been lost to commercial boating operations and to a general lack of maintenance in most of the state's "small boat harbors."

The effect of all this to our economy can be seen in a 1999 National Marine Manufacturers Association comparison between Hawaii's and Nebraska's retail sales of boats and marine accessories.

Our state's total sales were about $5.8 million, whereas Nebraska showed a whopping $48.3 million in sales that year.

Obviously, Herren's right, there are more boats in Nebraska. And it would also appear it has been a very good thing for that state's economy.

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