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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Canoe races OK for busy channels


By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Under new policies, canoe clubs will be able to race in busy boat channels for a price.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard clarified the issue yesterday in a joint statement that said while canoe races will be allowed in busy channels, the clubs will have to take extra precautions, including hiring a DLNR vessel and officers at $1,500 for a minimum of four hours to maintain water safety.

Canoes races have been banned from busy boat channels for about five years, including at Ala Wai and Ke'ehi small boat harbors and Maunalua Bay, said Ed Underwood, administrator of the DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation. A recent infraction of the ban brought the issue to light and at the canoe clubs' urging, the state reconsidered its ban, Underwood said.

"We're not saying, 'Absolutely no you can't do it' but we're saying we're going to look at each one on a case-by-case basis," he said. Underwood also said the Coast Guard was willing and indicated that other areas in the country also allow organized racing in navigable channels.

But clubs would have to accept more responsibility for the safety of other boaters, including hiring a vessel with marine officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at $1,500 for a four-hour minimum.

The clubs may also have to install temporary buoys to section off a part of the channel for other users or close the channel altogether, Underwood said.

Outrigger canoe races are part of the cultural fabric of the Hawaiian Islands, where dozens of clubs with thousands of members of all ages participate in the year-round sport.

Outrigger races attract thousands of spectators and a finish line at Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor would allow spectators a good view from Magic Island.

The Coast Guard sought the ban five years ago but is taking a second look at the issue, said Lt. Cmdr. Marcella Granquist, chief of Waterways Management Division, Honolulu.

In recognizing that Hawai'i's waters belong to the people to use to the fullest, the Coast Guard feels that with the proper safety precautions in place the ban can be modified, she said.

"If you put in safety protocols you honestly don't need a blanket 'Thou shalt no do,' " Granquist said.

Stan Dickson, race director for the O'ahu Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association, said he is not sure yet how the new policy will affect the organization, which races at Ke'ehi Lagoon, Maunalua Bay and other areas.

In the postseason last year OHCRA held a long-distance race and was required to bring in DOCARE officers but the organization didn't have to bring in the officers for the same preseason race, Dickson said.

"That was kind of a surprise," he said. "It was an added expense we didn't budget in at that point, but we had to cover it to comply."