An informational briefing Thursday by the Department of Land and Natural Resources will help the state agency determine if water-propelled jet packs should be regulated beyond current administrative rules.
DLNR Director William Aila said jet packs were initially classified as personal water craft, but two weeks ago, the high-flying platforms were deemed thrill craft by the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation.
The new designation means jet packs used in commercial operations must follow the same rules and regulations as Jet Skis and other thrill craft at 10 Ocean Recreation Management Areas across the state.
“Any operating outside of the thrill craft area, the designated ORMA area, will be dealt with,” said Aila. “That's what we do in the short term.”
But in the long term, Aila says DOBOR may be forced to consider new administrative rules if jet packs are found to be harming marine life, or disrupting other ocean activities.
Even more worrisome for critics of the emerging technology, are flyboards, which allow riders to stand on small platforms while performing aerial acrobatics or diving below the surface of the water.
Randy Awo, chief of the Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement, played a promotional YouTube video of flyboards that showed a rider launching off a dock in Kahana Bay and giving a woman a ride near Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor, both illegal under existing ORMA rules.
“We currently see violations of our rules and regulations occurring, and in addition to that, what we see as unsafe operational practices,” said Awo. “Barely missing coral heads, giving very little heed or attention to what may be below them and what may be in and around them as well.”
University of Hawaii professor and director of Kewalo Marine Laboratory, Dr. Bob Richmond, testified the effects of jet packs and flyboards on fish and coral that spawn in near shore waters is unknown. However, he speculated larvae sucked into the pumps of thrill craft would not likely survive.
“So, the question is how many fish larvae and coral larvae are being pulled through these machines and being pumped through?” said Richmond. “It's very hard to make good decisions without good information, and I think that's where we are right now.”
The only commercial operator of water-propelled jet packs on Oahu agreed more scientific study is needed, but he urged Aila not to react impulsively. Jeffrey Krantz of Seabreeze Watersports LLC has been utilizing JetLev technology at Maunalua Bay for the past two years.
“Obviously, we can't just say we're going to close our business based on somebody's expression, you know what they feel,” said Krantz. “If we have some scientific evidence, things like that, we'd like to work with the department, and we've made that very clear with I think most people.”
Kevin Delaney, who is developing a type of flyboard in Santa Cruz, Calif. called Hydroflyer, said the technology is safer than Jet Skis or other thrill craft.
“A normal Jet Ski goes 70 miles an hour,” said Delaney. “These things are barely chugging along at not even five, and they can only operate in a 60-foot circle.”
At the conclusion of the briefing, Aila told reporters DLNR would include Jet Skis in its review of jet backs and fly boards, and if new administrative rules are needed, the process could take nine to 18 months.
“We have to take a look at what the potential impacts are and try to get some codification of those potential impacts, and then adjust our rules accordingly,” said Aila.
Those who testified at the briefing held a broad range of views on how jet packs, fly boards and Jet Skis should be regulated.
Carl Jennings, an akule fisherman from Waianae, said only law enforcement and first responders should utilize thrill craft, while Lisa Hatzenbuhler of The Watercraft Connection in Haleiwa, said flyboards should be banned for recreational users. Mike Sur, of the group Malama Maunalua, urged DLNR to send all thrill craft further offshore.
Aila said a decision on whether the department would seek new administrative rules to govern the use of jet packs and fly boards would take about two months.
A Big Island company, Water Jetpack Academy, is also operating the jet backs, while another company on Maui has applied for a permit.