Sailing in Hawaii

Sailing in Makua Bay Oahu
Sailing Makua Bay West Oahu

Aloha from Hawaii… when you think of Hawaii, you might think of hula dancers, surfing and drinking mai tai cocktails on Waikiki Beach. People know the 50th US state as a world renowned travel destination with a unique multicultural mix of Polynesian natives and immigrants from everywhere living in a subtropical island paradise in the sun and sea. Hawaii has a total state population of just under 1.5 million people living on seven of the island chain’s 135 volcanic islands that have risen out of the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded by water, naturally you would think that people living in or visiting Hawaii would be really big into boating. Well, yes and no actually.

It is absolutely true that people in Hawaii love the sea and many live their lives intimately tied to life on and around the water. On any given day you’ll always see boats cruising off Waikiki, racing in Kane’ohe Bay, watching whales play between Maui and Lanai, taking divers to amazing dive sites off the Kona coast or marveling at the wonders of Na Pali Coast of Kauai. Many of these are commercial operations, Captained by Hawaii’s watermen and waterwomen who know their local waters like the back of their hand. There’s also plenty of private recreational boaters out there who know what they’re doing too. One thing you don’t see a lot of though is many visiting boaters. To visit Hawaii by boat is still a bit of an adventure.

An important thing to understand about boating in Hawaii is really about Hawaii in general. Located over 2000 miles from the continental USA, most things need to be shipped to Hawaii and so a lot of things are lacking compared to the mainland, boats and boat parts included. Even on the most populated island of Oahu, you don’t really see big developed boating facilities and resources like on the mainland. Sure, there are several harbors, a few boat maintenance yards, a few yacht clubs and exactly one very busy Westmarine in the whole state. It might seem surprising to a visiting boater just how limited things are for boaters here and the challenge of living on an island chain in the middle of the ocean is one reason why. Another reason boating is different in Hawaii is that people here know that the ocean is unforgiving. Surfing is the official state sport and generally where the surfing is good, boating is not. The Hawaiian islands sit on steep ocean peaks surrounded by reefs and the Trade Winds consistently bring strong winds out the east north east that when combined with ocean swells often bring challenging boating conditions especially near the channels between and to the exposed sides of the islands. Not to say this isn’t manageable by savvy boaters, however boat rental and bareboat charter companies see this as a good reason not to invest in operations in Hawaii.

Private boating in Hawaii is a challenge worth pursuing. There’s not really a lot on the internet on this subject so Hawaii Afloat was launched with the aim of providing all the information you’re looking for about boating in Hawaii. This site will always be an on-going work in progress of collecting information from many sources and contributors. The humpback whales that make their annual migration to Hawaii are on to something. Although the state run harbors have long waitlists and the anchorage you might want to visit in Hawaii might get blown out by a strong ocean swell, the reward of being soaked by warm sea spray on your way to scenery at the end of a rainbow, makes it all worth it.

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