Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Boating not good
business in Hawaii

Along with a couple of thousand other boating enthusiasts, I attended the Hawaii Boat Show and Ocean Expo at the Ko Olina Marina last weekend and like last year, I came away depressed.

No, it wasn't because the show wasn't a good deal. Although it cost $5 to park, entry to the show was free.

And while I will admit that the big boat shows in L.A. or Miami tend to depress me because I can't afford most of what they have to offer, it wasn't that either.

What really bothered me was the same reality check that hits when I look in the yellow pages under the heading for boats: boating-related businesses in Hawaii are an endangered species.

The only large display of boats at the show was provided by Windward Boats because it is just about the only game in town on Oahu for trailered boats.

Such a shortage of boat vendors clearly points to the lack of customers needed to support competition in the industry.

So how is it we have some one million people living on a string of tropical islands, surrounded by warm seas and fair winds, and yet we have fewer registered boats -- and boat buyers -- than any other state in the U.S.?

Many believe the answer can be related to Hawaii's inadequate, under-priced, state-run boating facilities.

The April issue of Latitude 38, the internationally-known San Francisco sailing magazine, had the following editorial comment:

"For years we've been writing that Ala Wai has become a 'dead harbor' with little activity. We lay much of the blame on excessively low berth rates.

"At $200/month for a 40-foot slip, it was simply too cheap for anyone to ever give up a slip, even if they never used their boat. And if you were a liveaboard ... well, your ship had come in.

"A constantly full harbor meant there was no room for new sailors with new boats, so what's left is a relatively old harbor, with relatively older sailors and relatively older boats -- and not much going on."

It reminded me of my own, somewhat cynical view that Hawaii's marinas are rather like the fabled elephants' burial grounds -- they're where boats come to die.

PERHAPSATTESTING to the lack of new boat buyers, one of the two most innovative boats on display at the Expo wasn't really designed for most recreational boaters.

Gary Brookins' recently christened ElectroLaunch 25 is instead aimed more at commercial ventures that can ferry passengers for hire.

With its all electric, nonpolluting propulsion, it would be the perfect water taxi for transporting passengers around Pearl and Honolulu harbors, or even the Ala Wai Canal.

The other boat design that caught my eye was from Orca Engineering in New Zealand and distributed in Hawaii by Michael Sheehan of Hanalei, Kauai.

They look like rigid inflatable boats, but they are fabricated entirely from aluminum.

And they are stable, unsinkable and, of course, they are trailerable.

So there you have it. My picks for "best-in-show."

And neither boat line is aimed at buyers who would need to find slip space in a state marina. Smart.

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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