Fund is for maintenance, not salvage
SAILING, as most sailors can tell you, is a multifaceted activity.
It can be a complex and exciting sport when the boats are used in competition. It can be a romantic mode of transportation for short- or long-range cruising. And it can be a nontraditional lifestyle for some when their boats become floating mobile homes.
Still, no matter how and what sailboats are used for, their owners nearly always cherish them more dearly than nearly all of their other possessions.
Such was the case I'm sure with Maui boat owner Pat Magee, whose 42-foot sloop Victoria ran aground off Diamond Head last week.
According to the report in the Star-Bulletin, Magee and two friends had sailed his recently refurbished boat down from Southern California and were approaching the Ala Wai Boat Harbor just after midnight when they ventured too close to the shore.
By the time arrangements were made by the state's Boating Division to salvage the boat, as is so often the case, the wind, waves, and sharp coral had reduced the vessel -- along with Magee's dreams of island cruising -- to rubble.
There is not a sailor here I've talked with who didn't vicariously share with Magee the grief he felt over his loss. However, what most of them may not realize is they may be sharing in the cost of his boat's salvage as well.
Unfortunately, Magee reportedly had no insurance to cover the estimated $30,000 or more cost for the salvage work. So if he is unable to pay it, guess who will be forced to pick up the tab?
That's right, the Department of Land and Natural Resources will pay for it from the Boating Special Fund that every boat owner in Hawaii pays into.
Shockingly, I've been told that fund has paid out at least $500,000 over the last three years for similar operations.
That is one of the reasons why the DLNR had asked for the passage of House Bill 1914 this year. It would have prohibited anyone from mooring their boat in a state small boat harbor without first obtaining sufficient liability insurance to cover its removal costs should it run aground, sink, or be abandoned.
The concept for such a law isn't remarkable, as most private marinas around the U.S. customarily require boat owners to carry liability insurance at the very least.
However, our legislators failed to pass the measure after apparently succumbing to the vitriol of the same small but vocal number of boaters who oppose virtually every attempt to improve Hawaii's boating standards.
It seems somehow ironic that by defeating a bill that may have marginally added to the cost of owning a boat, those boat owners are still collectively saddled with the cost of salvaging boats that should have been insured.
The Boating Special Fund subsequently becomes almost like an insurance policy in itself, I suppose. But then those funds are no longer available for their intended purpose: maintaining our state marinas.