Document Type

Case Note


The beautiful coastal waters of Hawaii teem with boaters much of the year. Adding to the congestion is the increasing use of thrill craft, more commonly known as the "Jet Ski" or personal water craft. The thrillcraft market has grown enormously since these items were first introduced in 1970. Over 300,000 thrill craft are in operation today throughout the United States. Heavy thrill-craft use has also given rise to an increase in boating-related accidents and fatalities. Due to the increase in injuries and harm to the environment, many states and communities are passing legislation strictly regulating or banning the use of thrill craft in state waters. In Kaneohe Bay Cruises, Inc. v. Hirata, the Supreme Court of Hawaii upheld a statute banning commercial operation of thrill craft on certain bays during weekends and holidays while permitting recreational use of such vessels on the same bays to remain unrestricted. The Hawaii Legislature enacted the ban to mitigate the risk of harm to the public and the environment caused by heavy use of such thrill craft. Plaintiffs challenged Hawaii's authority to enact such restrictions on a number of constitutional grounds. The Kaneohe Bay court held that the statute did not violate the equal protection clause of the federal and state constitutions because the ban was rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. This Note will first describe briefly the coastal state's authority to control its coastal waters. Second, the efforts of Hawaii and other coastal states to protect their coastal waters from the harmful effects of boat traffic through regulation and, in Hawaii's case, prohibition of certain classes of thrill craft will be examined. The Note will also examine the few cases which have challenged these statutes in order to determine whether the Kaneohe Bay decision is consistent with the body of case law. In Kaneohe Bay, the Hawaii Supreme Court permitted the Legislature to give priority to recreational use over commercial use of thrill craft in Hawaii's Kaneohe and Maunalua Bays. No other state in the country has taken the approach of banning commercial use while permitting recreational use of the same class of thrill craft. This Note contends that the Kaneohe Bay decision upholding such a statute provides states with an important, yet tenuous, precedent in preserving the coastal environment.



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