Frequently Asked Questions
The questions and answers presented on this page apply to the use or operation of vessels and the activities of people in and around the small boat harbors, ocean waters, and navigable streams and beaches of the State of Hawaii.
Administrative Rules as described in this page fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DLNR/DOBOR).
Additional regulations required by the U.S. Coast Guard or the State Department of Transportation (DOT) may also apply to commercial operations. Companies operating from the beach may need permits from the various Counties in addition to meeting Federal and State requirements. Companies wishing to operate from a State commercial harbor will be required to obtain a permit from the applicable Harbor Master, DOT-Harbors Division. A list of relevant contacts can be found at the end of this page.
Numbers in parenthesis indicate the Hawaii Administrative Rules Chapter and Section number. Refer to the corresponding rule for reference.
ACCIDENTS - How should a boating accident be handled?
All commercial vessels must report casualties (capsizing, grounding, falls overboard or on board, or other injuries incurred while aboard a vessel) to the Coast Guard per federal regulations applicable to the vessel. Commercial vessel casualties must be reported to the Coast Guard as soon as possible after the occurrence. The casualties that must be reported are described in the federal regulations applicable to the type of commercial operation. Commercial vessels must contact the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office at (808) 541-2070. For neighbor islands, contact a police officer or the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation District Office or U.S. Coast Guard Unit.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-242-3, 4, 7)
COMMERCIAL OPERATOR REQUIREMENTS - What are the requirements to be a commercial vessel operator?
A U.S. Coast Guard license (Master’s License) is required for any vessel carrying passengers. In Waikiki and Kaanapali Ocean Waters, a special operator’s permit from the State is required in addition to a Master’s License.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-251-1)
COMMERCIAL PERMITS - Who needs a commercial operator's permit?
In designated Ocean Recreation Management Areas, all commercial operators are required to have a commercial operator’s permit, with the exception of businesses renting snorkeling and body-boarding equipment. Additional operators’ permits and requirements are necessary in Waikiki and Kaanapali Ocean Waters (13-251-7). Application is made to DLNR/DOBOR. Please see maps of Waikiki and Kaanapali Ocean Waters on pages 9 and 10 respectively for further information.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-251-7)
COMMERCIAL SKIING - Is there anything I should know about commercially towing a water-skier?
All commercial motorboats shall observe the following rules while a water-skier is in tow: (1) two competent and sober persons are required on board, one to operate the boat and one to observe the person/s in tow; (2) no motorboat shall tow a person on water-skis during the period from sunset to sunrise; (3) care must be taken at all times; (4) a towing motorboat must be equipped with a ladder; steps or similar means to exit the water and a lifesaving device; (5) no person under the influence of alcohol or any drug shall be towed on water-skis; and (6) the motorboat operator shall be aware and knowledgeable of hand signals used in water-skiing activities as well as be a licensed captain. This section is not applicable to vessels less than 16 feet in length actually operated by the person or persons being towed. All motorboats having in tow, or otherwise assisting a person on water-skis shall be operated in a careful and prudent manner and in compliance with general water- skiing rules.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-244-18)
COMPETITIONS AND TOURNAMENTS - How are competitions such as surf meets, canoe/boat regattas, parades and water-ski tournaments handled?
All organized (sponsored) events using State ocean waters require a permit. Application at least 30 days prior to the event is necessary. On Oahu, application is made to DLNR/DOBOR; for all other islands, applications are made to Boating District Managers. Additional permits from other State or County agencies are required for shore-based support facilities.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-244-19)
CONTROLLED OCEAN SPORTS - What are the controlled ocean sports and how must they be commercially operated?
The following are controlled ocean sports:
– Any motorized vessel that falls into the category of personal watercraft and which is generally less than thirteen feet in length as manufactured, and is capable of exceeding a speed to twenty miles per hour. It can be operated by a single operator, but may have the capacity to carry passengers while in operation, (i.e. jet ski, waverunner, and hovercraft.)
– An activity in which an individual is transported or carried aloft by a parachute, sail or other material attached to a tow line which is towed by a vessel.
– The activity in which an individual is transported or carried over the surface of the water on an apparatus that is more than twelve inches wide and which is attached to a line towed by a vessel.
High Speed Boating
– The use of an open ocean racing boat to provide high speed rides to passengers who pay compensation for the rides. This does not include open ocean racing competition.
Commercial controlled ocean sports must be operated under a Commercial Operating Area Use permit in a designated commercial thrill craft, high speed boating, parasailing or water sledding operation area, in addition to obtaining any commercial use permit required for State-owned harbor or boat launching facilities. A security deposit, advance payment, processing fee and any other fees are payable to the State of Hawaii. Monthly report of gross receipts is required as well. Charges are assessed based on current fees per month or two percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater. These Commercial Operating Areas Use permits are specifically assigned to each company for a set location.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-2-56-18)
EQUIPMENT - What about water sports equipment used commercially?
All commercial water sports equipment must be registered and numbered as commercial. A commercial decal is required. Only SCUBA and snorkeling gear, body-boards and beach mats are excluded from this requirement. All types of equipment used in rental operations are required to be commercially registered. Application is made to DLNR/DOBOR and fees vary.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-256-4)
FLAGS - What flag is appropriate when there is an underwater swimmer, snorkeler or diver in the water?
A red flag with a diagonal white stripe running from the upper left corner to the lower right must be displayed when an underwater swimmer or diver is in the immediate area. The Coast Guard Navigation Rules require displaying the blue and white international Code Flag “A” when divers restrict the ability of the vessel to maneuver.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-245-9)
GEOGRAPHY - Geographically what do I need to know?
Maps illustrating the State’s most important boundaries for zoned commercial and non-commercial ocean recreation activity are available at DOBOR offices. You may be surprised to learn the number of zones found in the nearshore waters of the State. These zones are an important consideration when planning ocean recreation activities in Hawaii’s coastal waters. To keep the maps readable, we have included only the most important commercial zones. We have not included swim-only zones, surf zones and offshore mooring zones. These maps represent our best interpretation of the diagrams in the regulations. For the exact locations, refer to the “Hawaii Administrative Rules, Title 13.”
INSURANCE - Do I need insurance?
Yes. for holders of a commercial use permit, insurance is required. A comprehensive general liability insurance policy, protection and indemnity insurance policy or certificate of insurance is required when applying for a permit. The State must be named as an additional insured. The amount of coverage required by the State varies in designated Ocean Recreation management Areas and harbors depends on the number of passengers the vessel is authorized to carry and type of activity such as “controlled ocean sports.” It is the sole responsibility of the operator to determine what type and how much insurance he will require for operation; however, minimum State requirements must be met. Policies are issued by independent insurance companies authorized to do business in the State of Hawaii.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-231-65) and (13-256-9)
ORMAs - What is the difference between designated and non-designated Ocean Recreation Management Areas?
Designated Ocean Recreation Management Areas (ORMA’s) are established to (1) provide for increased public access; (2) reduce user conflicts; (3) promote overall public safety; and (4) avoid possible adverse impacts on humpback whales or other protected marine life (13-256-16). The designated areas also are established to control certain commercial activities to specifically designated locations and time periods as well as place limits on equipment types. Both recreational and commercial vessels may use designated areas when the permitted activity is not taking place and may cross the area at all times with caution. There are specifically designated zones assigned to qualified permittees within each ORMA. For example, commercial thrill craft may only operate in a specifically assigned location with not more than six craft in an area measuring 400 feet in diameter.
Non-designated Ocean Recreation Management Areas prohibit the commercial use of controlled ocean sports. In these areas off the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii, recreational (i.e. non-commercial) thrill craft may operate in State waters only from 500 feet from the shore line (or outer edge of a fringing reef) to two miles off shore. 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. (See accompanying maps for details.)
PERMIT PAYMENTS - What are the payment procedures for a commercial use permit?
Security deposit, advance payment, processing fee and any other fees are payable to the State of Hawaii. Report of gross receipts is required. Charges are assessed for the State’s small boat harbors and boat launch ramps based on current fees per month or two percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-234-2)
PERMIT REQUIREMENTS - What are the requirements for a commercial use permit for the State's small boat harbors and launching ramps?
The State requires that an application be completed along with proof of vessel ownership, vessel dimensions, proof of registration or documentation, Coast Guard certification on passenger capacity, Master’s License, State General Excise License and proof of insurance. Fees and charges are assessed for all harbor facilities and boat launch ramp usage depending upon the specific use permits held. Fees and charges differ at each facility. Contact DLNR/DOBOR for mooring rates and fees.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-231-60, 61)
PERMIT TRANSFERS - Is my permit transferable?
It depends. A corporation-owned permit may be transferred under specific conditions. The most critical is that the company to which the permit is being transferred must have been in the same business for at least one year. All commercial use and operator permits issued by DOBOR for commercial thrill craft and parasailing activities shall be nontransferable and shall expire upon dissolution, sale, or transfer of any or all interests in the corporation, business entity, or person to which the permit was originally issued.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-231-62) and (13-256-6)
PERMITS (USE) - When do I need a use permit?
Using any harbor facility, including boat launching ramps, requires a use permit. There are two types of use permits. The first type is for use of small boat harbors or boat launch ramps and associated facilities for commercial activities. This type is further explained in the next question (13-231-60, 61). The second type is for the general recreational use of a small boat harbor and/or facilities (13-243-2). Examples of general recreational use are: mooring at a small boat harbor both regular and temporary and regular; staying aboard (not to exceed 30 days at one harbor per permit) in a small boat harbor; use of a vessel as a vacation site while in a small boat harbor; use of a vessel as principal habitation while in a small boat harbor; or storing vessels or other items on land at a small boat harbor. Application is made to DLNR/DOBOR and fees vary depending on the activity.
POLLUTION - Since aquatic pollution is an increasing problem, what is required in that area?
Measures that prevent spills of oil, plastics, garbage or dunnage are required. Littering or polluting water in any way is detrimental to public health and welfare, as well as to the environment, and is strictly prohibited. Dumping of any flammable material into the waters of a small boat harbor or designated offshore mooring area is prohibited. Also, any vessel equipped with an inboard motor and moored in a small boat harbor or designated offshore mooring area shall maintain an oil-absorbent pad in the bilge to separate petroleum products from bilge water. This requirement is included as an inspection item to obtain an initial or annual regular mooring permit. If your vessel or someone else’s discharges oil or other hazardous substances into the water you must immediately notify the U.S. Coast Guard toll-free 1-800-424-8802 or locally (808) 541-2068.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-232-26)
REGISTRATION - Does every boat need to be registered?
Yes, all boats must be registered annually except: a recreational vessel holding a valid U.S. Coast Guard marine document; a U.S. Government owned vessel; a vessel’s lifeboat used solely for lifesaving purposes; a manually propelled recreational vessel; a recreational vessel eight feet or less in length propelled solely by sail; or motorboats used exclusively for racing. Every new or previously registered commercial or recreational vessel on the waters of the State is required to be registered or documented with either the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DLNR/DOBOR) or the U.S. Coast Guard. Commercial vessels holding a valid marine document may also be required to obtain an annual commercial decal.
REQUIRED DECALS - What special decals are required for commercial vessels?
In addition to the vessel numbers and annual registration decal, a commercial decal must be displayed on the forward half of the craft. U.S. Coast Guard documented vessels not operating out of a State harbor facility also are required to obtain a commercial decal and affix it astern. Fees vary and decals are obtained at DLNR/DOBOR.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-241-13)
REQUIRED EQUIPMENT - What equipment is my boat required to have?
All boats that are propelled or controlled by machinery, sails, oars, paddles or poles must have personal flotation devices, fire extinguisher, navigational lights, sound producing devices, ventilation, backfire flame control, and distress signals as required by U.S. Coast Guard regulations. A vessel propelled by an internal combustion engine shall be equipped with an efficient muffler, underwater exhaust or other modern device in good working order an in constant operation capable of adequately muffling the sound of the engine exhaust. see EPIRB requirements for commercial vessels
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-243-2, 3)
REQUIRED MAINTENANCE - What kind of maintenance is necessary for my boat?
All vessels must be kept in good repair, well maintained, neat and orderly so as not to constitute a public nuisance or danger to people or property. If there is some question, vessels may be required to produce a satisfactory inspection report issued by a marine surveyor on the DLNR/DOBOR list of approved marine surveyors. Inspection is validated through DLNR/DOBOR. Vessels certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry more than six passengers for hire are subject to additional inspection requirements by the U.S. Coast Guard.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-22-40)
RULES OF BOATING - What about the rules of the road?
All vessels must comply with U.S. Coast Guard and State of Hawaii Navigation Rules. All vessels 12 meters or longer are responsible for having on board and maintaining a copy of the current U.S. Coast Guard Inland Navigation Rules. For a copy, contact: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, Tel: (202) 783-3238.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-244-2)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT - Are there any special equipment rules?
Yes. All vessels on State waters having a marine sanitation device shall comply with applicable federal regulations. All vessels with propulsion machinery are required to have the capacity to retain oily mixtures on board. A vessel carrying passengers for hire on the waters of the State may not use any liquefied petroleum gas for heating, cooking or lighting, or any flammable liquids prohibited by federal regulations.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-243-2, 3)
SPECIAL RULES - Are there special rules that apply to commercial and water sports equipment in Waikiki and Kaanapali Ocean Waters?
Operators involved in canoeing, surfboard rental or instruction, and beach catamaran captaining or use are required to be permitted for the appropriate activity. Restrictions apply. Application is made to Oahu District Manager for Waikiki and to Maui Boating District Manager for Kaanapali. Furthermore, no person shall (1) offer for hire, navigate, operate, or sail a catamaran or canoe carrying passengers boarded or to be disembarked in or on shore waters; (2) permit the use of a surfboard, sailboard, or motorboat for compensation in and on shore waters; (3) permit the use of water sports equipment for compensation in and on shore waters; or (4) as the owner of a vessel, surfboard, or water sports equipment, permit the activities described in the (1), (2), and (3) above unless the vessel, surfboard, or water sports equipment has been properly registered under ocean water regulations with Oahu District Manager or Maui Boating District Manager.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-251-36)
SPEED - How fast can I go with my boat?
The speed on all waters of the State is limited to a “slow-no wake” speed within 200 feet of any shoreline, float, dock, launch ramp, congested beach, swimmer, diver’s flag, or anchored, moored or drifting vessel; and to a reasonable rate elsewhere.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-244-9)
VESSEL NUMBERS - What about a vessel number?
As part of the State registration process, a certificate number will be issued to the vessel for either commercial or recreational use. This number must be at least three inches in height, painted or permanently attached to each side of the forward half of the vessel and be of a contrasting color to the boat color. The annual validation decals must be affixed within six inches astern of the registration number.
HA Rules Chapter and Section (13-241-2, 3, 4, 5)
If you have any other questions which are not discussed in this FAQ page, please contact the DOBOR office in your district.