Numbers game works against boat owners
It has always been somewhat perplexing to me that recreational boating isn't as popular a leisure activity in Hawaii as it is in the rest the U.S.
After all, near-constant tradewinds and warm, crystal-clear waters teeming with fish surround us to create a sailors' and anglers' paradise. And yet for decades, Hawaii has consistently had fewer registered boats than any other state.
This phenomenon, of course, has been a reoccurring subject in this column, often because Water Ways readers periodically ask about it and send me many plausible explanations.
The isolation of our archipelago, along with the blustery winds and sea conditions in the channels among the islands are frequently noted as boating deterrents. However it appears even with those conditions the participants involved in fishing tournaments or canoe and sailing regattas have actually increased.
Another, and perhaps more probable explanation readers have pointed to is our state's severely limited boating facilities and the lack of safe anchorages around the islands.
But this then begs the question of why it is so. And the answers don't come easily when you learn that virtually every marina -- no matter how dilapidated -- has a multiyear waiting list.
Why aren't those potential boat owners, as well as current slip holders, able to get the Legislature's attention and demand more and better facilities? I believe there are several factors.
To begin with, it's a numbers game. There are approximately 18,000 registered boat owners in Hawaii, but about two-thirds of those have trailered boats that only require launching ramp access to the ocean.
That leaves about 6,000 boat owners, and an unknown number of potential owners statewide who may be personally concerned about marinas.
If you then subtract some 1,400 boat owners who are presently in state-run harbors and another 1,400 with boats moored in private or military marinas, you are left with perhaps only 3,000 or 4,000 potential boating activists.
That's not exactly a voting block that is likely to attract the attention of anyone running for office or who is looking to be re-elected. And boat owners in general don't usually take part in the sort of vocal minority demonstrations we have seen recently on Kauai.
Another factor that I believe diminishes the lobbying power of boaters is somewhat akin to what seems to have diminished the leadership in our public schools.
Many of Hawaii's most influential citizens gave up on public schools and enrolled their children into private ones, and similarly, many of our state's most active boaters gave up on our state-run harbors and moved their boats into private marinas and yacht clubs.
This relocation -- from public to private -- has disassociated the very people who are often inclined to be the most proactive in raising the standards of excellence in any institution in which they are involved.
And once established in a private school, marina, or yacht club, their concerns for the public institutions' problems quickly fade away.