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Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Saturday, September 30, 2000

Boat owners to take
big hit on slip rentals

ANYONE who has been reading Water Ways for a while knows I have been somewhat critical of the state's Boating Division of the Department of Land and Natural Resources running our recreational boat harbors.

In general, my criticism has been based on the belief that government shouldn't be in the marina business. That is, the management and operations of most recreational boat marinas can be more efficient, cost-effective and customer-oriented when done by the private sector.

In comparison to Hawaii's underfunded, dilapidated, state-run "small boat harbors," I have pointed out that California's Marina del Rey is an excellent example of what can happen when there is cooperation between the public and private sectors.

The marina was constructed in the early 1960s when the property owner, the county of Los Angeles, teamed with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state to create the harbor entrance, the main channel, the mooring basins, the infrastructure and the public use features.

Then, with long-term fast land leases from the county, the private sector constructed 20 separate boat facilities with a total of 6,000 slips (over 2,000 more than we have in the whole state of Hawaii).

And, recognizing that slip rentals alone are unlikely to pay for a marina's overhead, the private sector also built ancillary marina facilities, such as boat yards, hardware stores and boat dealerships, as well as 6,000 residential units, several hotels and many shops and restaurants.

With its combination of publicly funded development and private investment and management, Marina del Rey has been reported to be L.A. County's single-most successful revenue-generating project.

So, earlier this year, when the DLNR attempted to put a bill through the legislature to allow the privatization of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for our state. But by attaching unprecedented commercial boating operations for the harbor to the bill, the department drew heated public criticism that eliminated any chance of it passing.

NOW, this month, the Boating Division has essentially admitted it hasn't been charging enough for its moorings to cover the cost of overall maintenance, expansion and pollution control for its marinas.

It is holding statewide informational meetings to explain a need to increase its rates. The highest will be an additional $7.60 per foot per month at the Ala Wai Harbor.

I doubt anyone can argue the need for the raise isn't valid. After all, when you've got an overwhelming demand for a limited supply of boat slips, charging the current $4 per foot doesn't make good business sense, even if they are dilapidated.

Nevertheless, as was noted in this column nearly three years ago, it has seemed that the state has continually sustained slip rental rates well below what has been needed to maintain them, as well as below what the market would bear.

But, by the state levying its new increase with one explosive hike, my guess is there are going to be a lot of shell-shocked boat owners in town. After all, a 30-foot boat's monthly charge will go from $120 to $350 a month, about 190 percent.

Of course, those are just the charges at the Ala Wai. Slip rentals at less popular harbors, such as Keehi, will only see a 35 percent increase, so we may see something of an exodus if and when the increase takes effect.

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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