New boating survey ranks Hawai`i 51st

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (04/24/99)
By Ray Pendleton

About four years ago, I wrote a Water Ways column loaded with statistics from the National Marine Manufactures Association.

The thrust of the story was that I found it shocking that Hawaii's recreational boating industry - and boat ownership, in general - severely lagged behind the rest of the nation. Especially when our most obvious geographic feature is that we are surrounded by water.

I just received NMMA's latest retail market review and guess what?

Absolutely nothing has changed.

With boat ownership figures provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, which ranks the 50 states, along with Washington D.C. and the U.S. Territories, Hawai`i has once again placed 51st. Yes sir, there we are, with about half as many registered boats as land-locked Wyoming and about twice as many as our nation's capitol.

NMMA's state-by-state survey of total boat and accessory sales is consistent with the Coast Guard's ownership tally. Hawai`i, with about $17 million in retail sales, managed to eclipse Wyoming by about $3.5 million, but it is still near the bottom of a list that is headed by Florida with well over $834 million.

That makes a difference of a whopping $817 million in total sales of marine products between Florida and Hawai`i. Anyone concerned about our state budget might like to figure out what that equates to in lost taxes.

Agreed, comparing those two states is not really fair. Florida has around 14 times the population of Hawai`i, and more importantly, it is easily accessed by the residents of nearby states. Demographics like those are hard to beat.

But, another comparison is rather interesting. Florida, with some 1,350 miles of coastline, ranks second nationwide, after Alaska. But Hawai`i - fourth with 750 miles - is just 90 miles short of California, which is in third place.

One big difference along those coastlines, of course, is in the number of boating facilities available to the public. Just one harbor in Southern California - Newport Beach - has more mooring capacity than all of the harbors in Hawai`i put together.

Also, in comparison, Hawaii's recreational boating facilities are poorly maintained, and yet somewhat paradoxically, have years-long waiting lists. Both factors tend to depress general interest in boating.

There are many reasons for Hawaii's decades-old boating stagnation, but the question really is, why don't our movers-and-shakers do something about it? Why are they seemingly blind to the industry's potential?

Somehow I always picture them, standing side by side around our islands, with their collective backs to the sea, fretting over how to fix the economy now that the cane fields and big-spending tourists are gone.

They bring in a beauty pageant here, a football game there, and a couple of golf tournaments for good measure. But other than making an immediate monetary or advertising impact, how can those events create a lasting economic benefit for the state? New business ventures don't start up for one-shot events.

What if, on the other hand, those same movers-and-shakers turned around once in a while to face the ocean and began working on ways to support and upgrade Hawaii's boating industry and its infrastructure?

New and improved marinas, more launching facilities and secure dry storage - which would create a corresponding increase in consumers - could go a long way in encouraging entrepreneurs to open new dealerships and allied service companies.

The 49 other states in NMMA's survey show that it can happen.

Last week's Column -|- More Water Ways

Hele On