Private Sector Should Develop Our Marinas

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (11/14/98)
By Ray Pendleton

There are fewer boats registered in Hawai`i than in any other state in the Union.

Does that fact startle you?

Here we are, a state established on an island archipelago - surrounded by tepid tropical waters and fanned by warm, northeasterly tradewinds, and there are 10,000 more boats (over eight feet long) registered in Wyoming, for Pete's sake.

So what's the problem? With a population about twice that of Wyoming, Hawai`i would seem to have a boat market with a huge potential.

For a reality check, look in the yellow pages under boats or take a stroll through one of our state boat harbors. Boat dealers and associated services have become something of endangered species, and our marinas resemble elephant burial grounds where old boats go to die.

I am sure our generally poor economy has had something to do with the problem, but a recent question in the Star-Bulletin's Kokua Line may give further illumination of the situation.

A reader with a trailered boat complained of being ticketed for parking his truck and trailer outside of the marked stalls at Heeia Kea Harbor launching ramp.

"There are not enough marked stalls ... on weekends," he noted.

The harbor master's answer, that parking regulations must be heeded because fire crews need to get their rescue boats down to the boat ramp if there is an emergency, was reasonable, but it didn't address the core problem.

More importantly, the question should be whether that facility and others in the state should be expanded to meet current, or, better yet, future demands.

My guess would be that private enterprise would have seen an overcrowded parking lot as a sign of future growth and prosperity.

An akamai businessperson would be quickly working out how to expand the operation to allow for more customers.

Perhaps it is the public sector's bureaucracy and lack of entrepreneurial thinking that contributes the most to our state's stagnate recreational boating industry.

Ever since the end of World War II, the state has tried to provide recreational boating facilities for everyone in the same way government provides social services: at the lowest possible cost, and for a uniform rate across the board.

But boating is a recreational activity, not a social service. Some boat harbors are more attractive than others, or in a better location and hence are in more demand. Charging more at these facilities shouldn't be any more unreasonable than charging more to play golf at Ko Olina than at Kunia.

Of course, the really unfortunate aspect of this comparison is that boaters in Hawai`i haven't actually had a Ko Olina-quality marina to choose from. And, if left to the state, I doubt they ever would.

Thankfully though, Ko Olina will be opening its new, privately operated marina in a few months and it is sure to set a new standard for boat facilities in Hawai`i. (Its first tenant will be the Aloha Racing Team's new America's Cup boat, Abracadabra 2000.)

I'm reminded of a hearing earlier this year when state Rep. Cynthia Thielen asked somewhat rhetorically why Hawai`i doesn't have a boating facility like California's Marina del Rey - a rich combination of moorings, condos, hotels, restaurants and marine accessory shops.

The answer, it seems, is we can have such facilities, if government will give private enterprise the chance to develop them.

Last week's Column -|- More Water Ways

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