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Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, September 2, 2000

Boat boon for
Hawaii slips away

JUST before leaving on my two-week trip to Southern California, I received an e-mail message from Sue Roach, an avid sailor here on Oahu.

Referring to a recent CNN story on the increasing nationwide popularity of boating causing a boon for boat builders and marina operators, she asked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "Wonder when this boon will hit Hawaii?"

The CNN story, written by staff writer Hope Hamashige, began with the observation that recreational boating is currently experiencing unprecedented popularity in the U.S.

But Hamashige also noted that boating is a cyclical business, directly tied to the state of the economy, and that boat sales and slip rentals thrive when people have disposable income.

"This is no ordinary upswing, however," Hamashige wrote. "Those who have been in business for some time and lived through the past periods of decadence say today's boat buyers are sinking more money than ever into their habit.

"The newest vessels have more gadgets, more sails, more power and are bigger than ever."

To back up her point, Hamashige quoted figures from the National Marine Manufacturers Association that show boat sales more than doubled from $10.3 billion in 1992 to $23 billion in 1999.

IN fact, she explained, the demand for new boats has outrun the supply, so there was now an enormous demand for used power and sailboats as well.

This, in turn, had increased the demand for skilled labor who do restorative boat work.

All told, the increase in boat ownership had also produced a shortage in available slips, so naturally, a corresponding rise in slip fees has been seen.

So, getting back to Roach's question, when will this boon hit Hawaii?

Unfortunately, I'd say not anytime soon due primarily to several fundamental differences in this state's recreational boating infrastructure.

For instance, consider the situation on Maui. According to several business people I've talked with, the island is apparently experiencing an influx of mainland investors with newly acquired "dot com" earnings.

With ready cash, they are able to afford just about anything from a timeshare condo to a retirement home. But buying a boat to go along with that home is nearly impossible.

There is just no place to keep a new boat on Maui, unless it is on a trailer.

THE island's only recreational boat marinas, run by the state in Lahaina and Maalaea, have 15-year waiting lists for their meager, rundown slips. And there are no immediate plans for expansion or for developing new marinas.

On Oahu, which has more marina facilities with its larger population base, the situation is nevertheless similar.

Disposable income appears to be on the rise, but the idea of spending money on a boat that requires a slip is almost out of the question. Once again, where would you keep it?

Presently, there are still slips available at the new Ko Olina Marina on Oahu's leeward shore, but finding a quality mooring elsewhere is not likely. Most of the state's marginally maintained recreational boating facilities are filled and have waiting lists.

It may be that the rest of the U.S. is seeing a boating bull market, but it seems to me that until more facilities are available in Hawaii, our market is more about bears.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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