Water, Water All Around,
But So Few Boats

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (03/08/97)
By Ray Pendleton

"Look at these statistics," a boating friend of mine said recently.

Having once been a boat dealer in Hawai`i, he was pointing to a 1996 retail market review in the February issue of Boat and Motor Dealer, a nationally distributed marine industry magazine.

"For the past few years, people have been joining the ranks of recreational boaters in record numbers," the article began. "The number of people participating in recreational boating rose to 77.72 million in 1996, up from 76.83 million in 1995, according to a statistical review of the year released by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA).

"The study shows that the people who participated in recreational boating also spent money on the sport. Boaters spent an estimated $17.75 billion at retail outlets in 1996 for new and used boats, motors and accessories, safety equipment, fuel, insurance, docking, maintenance, launching, storage, repairs and club memberships, NMMA said."

"That sounds good nationally," my friend said, "but if you compare all that with Hawaii's statistics, you'll see why I'm no longer selling boats."

With registration figures provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a NMMA graph showed Hawai`i to have the fewest boat owners in all 50 states - just 14,478 in 1995. Frigid Alaska came in second with 24,004, landlocked Wyoming was third with 26,014, and fourth, tiny Rhode Island, actually had more than twice as many boat owners as Hawai`i - 31,607.

Naturally, boat owners purchase marine products and so another NMMA graph, showing the retail value of marine accessories purchased in 1995, closely parallels the one for boat ownership.

Wyoming and Rhode Island counted $2,621,000 and $3,187,000 in sales respectively, but for whatever reason - too little to tally, perhaps? - estimates were not available for Alaska and Hawai`i.

So the question becomes, why is the tropical island state of Hawai`i, surrounded by warm air and water and blessed with abundant tradewinds, not a boater's paradise? Why has boating not grown along with the resident and visitor populations?

Part of the reason can be blamed on our continuing slack economy. When people are working two jobs or more just to make ends meet, there is little time, or disposable income, to spare on boating.

Another aspect that has been mentioned by more than one proud Hawai`i boater is that the challenging wind and sea conditions offshore usually discourage all but the best of sailors.

The biggest share of the blame for Hawaii's lackluster growth in boating though, should probably go to the state's Boating Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (once under the Department of Transportation).

Even though the state should be commended for creating most of our small boat harbors, its insistence on the continued administration of these facilities appears to be the root cause of Hawaii's stagnated boating market.

Boaters, like most consumers, enjoy having a variety of destinations available to them. Marinas with restaurants, fuel docks, holding tank pump-out stations and guest docks - as seen from Mexico to Canada - stimulate an interest in boating, but they cannot be found in this state.

Even when a private concern - Haseko Corporation's Ewa Marina, for instance - attempts to create such a facility, the state erects so many hurdles that the project is nearly impossible.

The lack of turnover that might allow new boat owners into the most popular boat harbors also points to poor administration. Mooring fees have been kept at unrealistically low rates - again compared to the West Coast - which has encouraged marginally interested boat owners to retain their slips.

After some 50 years of bureaucratic management, maybe it's about time the state gives the private sector a chance to revitalize our stagnate boating economy.

Hawai`i Marine Reporter