Personal Water Craft

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
PERSONAL WATERCRAFT (PWC) USE IN HAWAII
(UPDATED 07/17/12)

Personal Watercraft or PWCs, jetskis, etc. are very popular here in Hawaii. The growing number of these vessels operating in permitted riding areas and increasing user conflicts prompted the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to implement a rule in 2005 (Hawaii Administrative Rule §13-256-16) requiring all PWC operators to be certified in the safe use of their watercraft.

In order to meet the need for certification, DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR) worked with the community colleges and local water safety professional to develop two courses, one for basic PWC operation and another for Tow-In Surfing certification.

In addition to basic rules-of-the-road instruction, these two PWC certification courses cover such information as local ocean safety principles and practices; historical, cultural, and customary practices of Hawaii’s ocean users; and rules or laws pertaining to protected species and thrill craft operation in the State.

The full text of Hawaii Administrative Rule (HAR) §13-256-16 pertaining to general thrill craft operations in Hawaii waters can be found at:

http://files.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dobor/rules/amend/Amend-13-240-243-245-256.pdf

For Tow-In Surfing, both the PWC operator and the surfer must be certified. Specialized rules pertaining to riding areas and special carriage requirements for Tow-In Surfing can be found at:

http://files.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dobor/rules/amend/Amend-13-250-256.pdf

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. How do I get certified to operate my PWC?

Currently, the only way to get the necessary certification is to sign up for a class offered through the University of Hawaii Community College System, specifically, the College of Continuing Education at the following campuses:

  • Hawaii Island: Hawaii Community College
  • Kauai: Kauai Community College
  • Oahu: Windward Community College
  • Maui: Maui Community College

Classes are offered approximately five times per year. Cost for the one-day Recreational Thrill Craft Operators Safety Educational Course for PWC certification class is approximately $109. Cost for the two-day Ocean Safety Educational Course for tow-in surfing certification is approximately $139. Announcements for scheduled classes throughout the Community College system are posted on the Windward Community College web site calendar located at: http://ocet.wcc.hawaii.edu

Ocean Safety Educational Course

Learn about the legal and regulatory requirements for persons who participate in the sport of tow-in surfing in Hawai’i; risk management principles; local ocean safety principles and practices; rules and laws pertaining to protected species in ocean waters in Hawai’i; boating skills as they apply to the sport of tow-in surfing; and the historical, cultural, and customary practices of Hawaii’s ocean users. All who participate in the sport of tow-in surfing in Hawaii must complete this certification course.

Recreational Thrill Craft Operators Safety Educational Course

Learn about local ocean safety principles and practices; historical, cultural, and customary practices of Hawaii’s ocean users; and rules regarding protected species and thrill craft operation in Hawaii. Effective January 2005 all recreational thrill craft (personal watercraft) operators must complete this certification course.

For a schedule of classes, and to register:

  • For Hawaii Island, contact Tiana Koga at tmkoga@hawaii.edu or call Hawaii Community College at 808-934-2700 to register;
  • For Kauai, contact Tracy Hirano at thirano@hawaii.edu or call Kauai Community College at 808-245-8351 to register;
  • For Oahu, contact Windward Community College at wccocet@hawaii.edu or call 808-235-7433 to register;
  • For Maui, contact Windward Community College at wccocet@hawaii.edu or call 808-235-7433 to register.

Q. What do the two certifications allow the operator to do?

The PWC Certification allows a PWC operator to traverse the access corridors and ride his/her vessel in designated riding areas. The Tow-In Surfing certification gives the operator those same rights, plus the ability to use a PWC to engage in Tow-In surfing. This type of surfing activity must be confined to the appropriate zone(s) during a high surf warning within a specific region when declared by the National Weather Service. Some islands also have practice zones for Tow-In surfing so novice Tow-In surfers can practice their sport when the break is not as large.

Q. Where and when can I launch/operate my vessel?

Riding area maps are available at DOBOR harbor offices and the administrative office in Honolulu. For addresses and contact numbers, visit any of the DOBOR facilities listed at:

http://www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dbor/borfacilities.htm

http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dobor/contacts

Some maps/illustrations of the riding zones are already available on-line for the following areas. You can access these maps through the respective harbor pages or directly at:

WAILOA SAMPAN BASIN AND BOAT HARBOR

Hilo Bay Thrill Craft Riding Zone, Hawaii Island

 

KAILUA-KONA WHARF

Kailua-Kona Thrill Craft Riding Zone, Hawaii Island

HALEIWA HARBOR

Haleiwa Thrill Craft Riding Zone, Oahu

 

HEEIA KEA SMALL BOAT HARBOR

Kaneohe Bay ORMA Zones, Oahu

MAUNALUA BAY

Maunalua Bay ORMA Zones, Oahu

Access to and from designated recreational thrill craft operating areas shall be by the most direct route consistent with safety considerations. Thrill craft operators shall not exceed a speed of slow-no-wake when within three hundred feet of the shoreline.

In non-designated ocean recreation management areas, recreational thrill craft may operate only in state waters between five hundred feet from the shoreline or the outer edge of the fringing reef whichever is greater and two miles off the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii. Commercial or recreational use of controlled ocean sports equipment is prohibited around the islands of Lanai and Molokai. Similar rules are pending for Kahoolawe. There are no ingress/egress corridors established in non-designated Ocean Recreation Management Areas. Thus, motorized commercial vessels may not land and/or pick up passengers in these locations.

In designated ocean recreation management areas, recreational thrill craft may operate only within locations designated for recreational thrill craft use.

Recreational thrill craft may gain access to state waters only from launching or harbor facilities or from private beachfront property.

No person shall operate thrill craft within a marine life conservation district or marine natural area reserve.

Thrill craft operations are curtailed in certain designated areas as necessary, to:

  1. avoid possible adverse impacts on humpback whales or other protected marine life;
  2. provide for increased public access;
  3. reduce user conflicts; and
  4. promote overall public safety.

Between December 15 and May 15 of each year, no person shall operate a thrill craft, or engage in parasailing, water sledding, or commercial high speed boating, or operate a motor vessel towing a person engaged in water sledding or parasailing on the west and south shore of Maui (HRS section 200-38, HAR 13-256-112). Seasonal closure areas for PWC operations also exist in waters off of Haleiwa and in Maunalua Bay on Oahu, and in the waters of Kailua Bay, Kailua-Kona of Hawaii Island (HAR 13-256-155).

It is the responsibility of the PWC operator to know the boundaries of designated riding areas and to comply with all applicable laws.

If anchored and being used as a diving platform in periods of low light and low visibility, PWCs must be equipped with navigation lights just as any vessel as stipulated by the USCG.

Q. Where and when can I use my vessel for Tow-In surfing? What rules apply?

Certified PWC operators and their tow-in surf partners may engage in tow-in surfing in the region for which a high surf warning is issued by the National Weather Service. For example, if the high surf warning is for Maui, tow-in surfing is allowed in designated tow-in surf zones in waters off of Maui.

Tow-in surfing is also allowed without the high surf warning, but only in areas designated tow-in surfing practice zones.

Rules pertaining to tow-in surfing are listed under HAR 13-256. This section specifies carriage requirments above and beyond what is required for a vessel as outlined by the U.S. Coast Guard. The rule also specifies when and where PWCs may operate and instances when PWCs may enter a restricted area. PWCs may only enter an Ocean Recreation Management Area to retreive a surfboard, personnel or for rescue operations. Please refer to the administrative rule for complete details.

Q. How can an out-of-state visitor legally operate a PWC in Hawaii waters?

If possible, a visitor can plan ahead to attend the PWC/Tow-In classes offered by the Community College system during his/her visit.

Visitors can also rent a vessel from a commercial vendor (jet-ski rental) to ride in the commercial PWC zones. This rental must be preceded by a five-minute safety demonstration conducted by the vendor. It should be noted that commercial PWCs may only be ridden in a commercial thrillcraft zone (a 200-foot radius circle) in an Ocean Recreation Management Area.

The State of Hawaii honors a reciprocity agreement with other States. A person who is certified to operate a PWC in another state may legally operate a PWC in Hawaii. However, the certification must have been issued through a National Association of Boating Law Administrators approved course and the operator must complete the portions of a certificate course for Hawaii that includes, but is not limited to: (1) Local ocean safety principles and practices; (2) The historical, cultural, and customary practices of Hawaii’s ocean users; and (3) Any rules or laws pertaining to protected species and thrill craft operation in the State.

Q. What’s the minimum legal age for a PWC operator?

An individual must be fifteen years of age or older to operate a PWC in Hawaii.

Q. What equipment is required to operate a PWC in Hawaii waters?

A PWC is a vessel and must comply with all the carriage requirements of a vessel as specified by the U.S. Coast Guard.

For a complete set of requirements, visit any U.S. Coast Guard office, DOBOR harbor/office and ask for the Federal Requirements & Safety Tips for Recreational Boaters.

Basically, for a PWC, you must carry on board: the vessel Certificate of Number/State Registration, a type B-1 fire extinguisher, and a sound producing device like a whistle. In addition, all operators/riders must wear a personal floatation device (PFD). The compartments of all vessels must be ventilated to reduce the buildup of explosive gasses. Finally, the vessel must be equipped with a backflame arrestor and must bear the appropriate state stickers and decals. Visual distress signal are not required to be carried on board if the vessel is NOT operated from sundown to sunrise. Similarly, navigational lights are not required unless the vessel is operated at night or during periods of reduced visibility.

Trailers must be properly permitted by the county Department of Motor Vehicles.

To launch at a State facility, both the trailer and vessel must bear the appropriate ramp use permit stickers.

To operate in a Tow-In surf zone, the vessel must be registered by DLNR/DOBOR for that purpose and bear the appropriate Tow-In sticker. There are equipment requirements as well listed in HAR 13-256-22. In general, a PWC operator engaged in tow-in surfing must be equipped with a two-way communication device, dive fins and a knife, a rescue sled, a bow tow-line, a 30-foot quick releas tow rope, etc. The surfers in a tow-in team are not required to wear a PFD. See HAR 13-256-22 for complete details.

In Hawaii, recreational vessels operating more than one mile offshore must be equipped with either a VHF radio or a USCG approved Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). Beginning January 1, 2007, older EPIRBs operating on the 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz frequencies were prohibited from use by the U.S. Coast Guard. The newer 406 MHz system greatly improves the functionality and accuracy of EPIRB units. DLNR is encouraging all boaters to employ the new technology. Thrillcraft (PWCs) are exempt from this requirement per Act 54, Session Laws of Hawaii.However…. if you do venture more than one mile offshore, a VHF Radio or EPIRB is highly recommended. A cellphone is not a reliable emergency communication device, especially if it is immersed in water.

Q. As a “boater” what are my responsibilities?

Your PWC is a vessel and you are a boater when you are out on the water. The best thing you can do is educate yourself by taking the basic PWC course to learn basic rules of the road. Other boating safety courses are available from local boating safety organizations and online on the Internet. The more you know, the more you can enjoy your time on the ocean.

You should have adequate insurance to cover yourself, your passengers and any damage you may cause in case of an accident. If you are involved in an accident and the damage is in excess of $200, you must fill out, to the best of your ability, an accident report form and relay it to DOBOR staff at a harbor office, a district offices or the DOBOR main office in Honolulu.

You may also be held responsible for wake damage, so observe all slow-no-wake signage posted for inshore waters. Know when to throttle down.

Know the rules. This document is meant to be a primer for PWC operators, but only provides an overview of the Hawaii Revised Statutes and the Hawaii Administrative Rules which govern your recreational activity. If you are unsure, read the rules or ask for clarification. Know where and when you can and cannot ride. Know before you go.

Q. How often must I renew registration and acquire new permits and stickers.

All PWCs, because they are motorized and because of their size (generally under 13 feet in length) must be registered with DOBOR and are considered “undocumented.” Motorized vessels over a certain length or tonnage must be registered with the U.S. Coast Guard and are considered “documented.”

A new PWC is issued an HA number when it is first registered with DOBOR. After that, PWCs need to be registered annually as do their trailers with the appropriate City and County Department of Motor Vehicles. Ramp use permits must also be renewed on an annual basis with DOBOR. Tow-In stickers are issued for a vessel only once by DOBOR and must be affixed to the vessel.

If a PWC (and any undocumented vessel for that matter) is bought/sold, the new owner has seven days to transfer ownership under his/her own name.

Change of ownership can be done through any DLNR office or directly with the DOBOR Registrar at 333 Queen Street, Suite 300 in Honolulu. For questions about registering your vessel(s), please call the Vessel Registration Information Hotline at (808) 587-1882. For information about the types of information that can be submitted when registering your vessel, review the Vessel Registration Form posted at:

http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dobor/forms/

PLEASE NOTE: For each month or fraction thereof that a registration, renewal, registration, or transfer is delinquent, one-tenth of the appropriate fee shall be added to the normal fee, and the department may take such other enforcement action it deems appropriate.

Q. What are the penalties for operating a PWC without a certification, for riding outside designated PWC zones, etc?

Violators are subject to fines of not less than $50 and not more than $1,000 or a term of imprisonment of not more than thirty days, or both for each violation; provided that in addition to, or as a condition to the suspension of, the fines and penalties, the court may deprive the offender of the privilege of operating any vessel, including but not limited to any thrill craft or vessel engaged in parasailing or water sledding, in the waters of the State for a period of not more than thirty days.


Post your questions about PWCs by e-mailing the DOBOR Webmaster
Q. I’ve been noticing a marked increase in PWC/thrill craft operating very close to the shoreline in the Kaena Point, Makaha, Makua Beach areas. Is this an area where they are allowed close-in?

Here is the applicable rule about operating a thrill craft in the nearshore waters at Kaena, Makaha and Makua. These areas on the leeward coast are not located in an Ocean Recreation Management Area. The key passage is in boldface.

§13-256-17 Recreational thrill craft operations.

(a) Access to and from designated recreational thrill craft operating areas shall be by the most direct route consistent with safety considerations. Thrill craft operators shall not exceed a speed of slow-no-wake when within three hundred feet of the shoreline.

(b) In non-designated ocean recreation management areas, recreational thrill craft may operate only in state waters between five hundred feet from the shoreline or the outer edge of the fringing reef whichever is greater and two miles off the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii.

(c) In designated ocean recreation management areas, recreational thrill craft may operate only within locations designated for recreational thrill craft use.

Violators are subject to fines of not less than $50 and not more than $1,000 or a term of imprisonment of not more than thirty days, or both for each violation; provided that in addition to, or as a condition to the suspension of, the fines and penalties, the court may deprive the offender of the privilege of operating any vessel, including but not limited to any thrill craft or vessel engaged in parasailing or water sledding, in the waters of the State for a period of not more than thirty days.

If you are witness to future violations, and are able to get a HA number from the vessels, please report the violations to DOBOR and/or the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE, 643-DLNR).

Q. I have a US Military MWR certification card for PWC operation. Will the State of Hawaii offer reciprocity for this certification?

Unfortunately, no. The MWR course is not NASBLA approved and is therefore not covered under the reciprocity clause in DOBOR’s rules.

Q. Does everyone riding aboard a PWC need to be certified?

No. The certification requirement only applies to the operator of the vessel.

Q. I have five in my family. All five want to operate our PWC. Do they all need to be certified?

Yes

Q. How is it a person can rent a PWC and operate it without being certified?

Residents and visitors can rent a PWC from a commercial vendor (jet-ski rental) to ride in the commercial PWC zones. Commercial PWCs are restricted to commercial thrillcraft zones (a 200-foot radius circle) in an Ocean Recreation Management Area.

Q. Can I use my jetski to visit Ahu o Laka in Kaneohe Bay?

No. Ahu O Laka, also known as the Sand Bar in Kaneohe Bay (Oahu) rests in a zone where thrillcraft, commercial vessels and water skiing is prohibited (HAR 13-256-73, exhibit V-1).