Viewpoint: Personal watercraft rental business is safe and respectful

As the owner-operator of Pacific Jet Sports Inc., I’d like to respond to some recent letters and some misconceptions about my business, which has been in operation since 1982. It is our mission to operate a safe, fun business for all.

A boating accident occurred on Dec. 29, 2011, as William Kalanikai “Uncle Billy” Gonzales was preparing regatta lanes in Lahaina for high school paddling crews to practice on. This unfortunate accident occurred on the ocean fronting Hanakao’o Beach Park. Gonzales was hit by a prop from a recreational boat and was critically wounded. At the time, the personal watercraft business was closed due to the whale season ban, which runs from Dec. 15 to May 15.

I feel for Gonzales’ family and friends as well as Maui’s close paddling community.

At Hanakao’o Beach Park, no vessels are allowed to be fronting the shoreline of the beach park, period.

For decades, Pacific Jet Sports has been located on the south side of Kaanapali, beachside of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. Any commercial watersports boats must use the ingress-egress boat-loading zone in front of Hyatt beach center. We pick up customers using a small, inflatable boat, which is operated by licensed captains. We have an additional shoreline employee to watch and assure safe loading. In this zone, boats have a no-wake speed regulation of 5 mph. This loading zone is 100 feet wide and extends 300 feet offshore. In 30-plus years of personal watercraft operation, we have never had a citation and, thankfully, have never had a boating injury.

During the high north swells, all the charter sailing boats in Kaanapali use this same area to load.

Pacific Jet Sports has a platform more than a quarter-mile offshore were we train and start the personal watercraft rentals. The personal watercraft are not to be operated anywhere near the beach but only in open ocean toward Lanai. It is the job of our instructors to monitor our rentals to make sure they are operated safely and to keep them away from the coastline.

In the 1980s, Kaanapali Beach fronting the Hyatt had eight commercial watersport businesses – two catamaran sailboats, a parasail business, a sailing center, a water-ski company and two personal watercraft companies. The total number of jobs was more than 40. Today there are only four – one personal watercraft company, one parasail company, a stand-up paddle board company and a diving center. Two of the businesses are active only seven months of the year. That’s a loss of 25 good jobs for locals.

Commercial boating in this area has drastically decreased over 30 years. The beach in front of the Hyatt back in the 1980s used to be a 100-foot-wide beautiful sandy beach. In 2013, that same beach is only 20 feet wide with brown sand and littered with river boulders.

Today’s personnel watercraft use a four-stroke motor, the cleanest quietest engine on the water. The same engine in our Honda watercraft is in the Honda Civic. To compare today’s watercraft to yesterday’s watercraft is like comparing the iPad to the big desktop of the 1980s – or cellphones. Sound travels underwater 1,500 meters per second; in the air 340 meters per second. Jet propulsion is the quietest motorized vessel and has no prop in the water. Jet propulsion is safe for whales, dolphins and people. You simply cannot get cut up with jet propulsion (water), period. Jet propulsion should be embraced, not banned.

Let’s keep this in perspective. Our boats and watercraft do not come into Hanakao’o Beach Park. We have a lot of local customers (we offer a 30 percent discount to residents). The tourists enjoy what we offer, making wonderful memories of Maui. We are a family-run business, employing 10 people who have their own families. Our duty is to run a safe and respectful business, and we have been doing it for 30-plus years. We are always trying to improve our activity for everyone.

* Theo King is the owner-operator of Pacific Jet Sports Inc., which offers personal watercraft rentals off the coast of West Maui.