A Honolulu City Council committee will consider a resolution Tuesday asking the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to ban alcohol and disorderly behavior at holiday “floatillas” off Waikiki Beach, as the state has done for similar events on the Kaneohe Bay sandbar.

“Floatillas” tend to be spontaneously organized on social media and occur on long weekends, the University of Hawaii’s spring break, and holidays like the Fourth of July or Memorial Day. Partiers gather offshore in inflatable water floats, boats, kayaks and other watercraft.

Thousands of people attended such an event on the Fourth of July, and hundreds required rescue services, authorities said.

Resolution 189 was introduced by Councilman Trevor Ozawa, whose district includes Waikiki. It will be heard Tuesday by the Committee on Public Health, Safety and Welfare, chaired by Councilman Brandon Elefante.

Authorities estimated 1,000 people took part in the July 4, 2016, “floatilla” off Waikiki. A much bigger event was held on the Fourth of July this year. Courtesy: DLNR

The resolution calls for the BLNR, which sets policy to be enforced by Department of Land and Natural Resources, to pass rules banning “alcohol use and disorderly conduct” at “floatillas.” Crowds of people in the ocean, confined to a “limited recreational space … pose significant public safety concerns,” the resolution says.

Ozawa did not return a call requesting comment on his resolution Thursday, but he sent an email saying that he introduced the resolution “to address public health and safety concerns raised by the residents and businesses of Waikiki.”

The councilman said the risk to participants, visitors and local beachgoers could be minimized through regulations and the prohibition of alcohol on busy holidays.

If passed by the committee, the resolution would be considered by the full council.

It cites the most recent “floatilla” July 4, where at least 10 people ages 17 to 26 were hospitalized in serious condition because of alcohol-related injuries. A 19-year-old woman was hospitalized in critical condition due to intoxication.

About 8,000 to 10,000 people attended the event, lifeguards said. Medical technicians treated more than 20 people, according to the resolution.

Four city lifeguard jet ski crews — twice the normal amount — worked overtime with the help of 14 Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers and two U.S. Coast Guard boat patrols.

A U.S. Coast Guard officer addresses people aboard a catamaran that law enforcement noticed was riding low due to the dozens of people on its deck during a “floatilla” off Waikiki last year. Courtesy: Hawaii DLNR

On the Fourth of July last year, 300 “floatilla” participants required rescue services, authorities said.

“Despite the efforts of DOCARE officers on jet skis who warned event participants of applicable boating rules and the dangers of underage alcohol use, intoxicated persons under 21 years of age were among those requiring emergency services,” the resolution said.

The resolution points to regulations established by the BLNR at the Kaneohe Bay sandbar, or Ahu o Laka Island, and calls for similar laws to be enacted in the island’s tourist hub.

The sandbar regulations define a “safety zone” with a set of geographic coordinates and prohibit the possession, use and consumption of alcohol on Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends. Alcohol is also prohibited on the Fourth of July and, if it falls on a Monday or Friday, the entire holiday weekend.

The rules prohibit people from being rowdy, violent, unreasonably loud, and under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Ozawa’s resolution said families feel safer bringing their children to the sandbar since the regulations were adopted and the DLNR reports conditions have since improved.

Though the resolution doesn’t mention the messes left behind, “floatillas” have also become notorious for trash, and abandoned inflatable toys left ashore and in the ocean.

Ed Underwood, administrator of the DNLR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said he was willing to work with the city on potential regulations for Waikiki “floatillas,” but would need to talk with representatives of other divisions, like DOCARE, to figure out the best way to proceed.

The Kaneohe Bay sandbar regulations, which were developed after about two years of seeking public input, would be different than anything established in Waikiki, Underwood said.

While the sandbar is mostly used by local residents, Waikiki is mostly used by tourists, he said, and the day-to-day operations of Waikiki would need to be considered if any rules were to be drafted.

Normally, Underwood said marine event permits are required for ocean events. “Floatilla” events aren’t very organized, “but it’s more like everybody come hang out together,” he said. It’s difficult to find organizers of “floatillas” since they tend to originate on social media, he said.

“It is an issue that we’ve already been looking at,” he said.

The Coast Guard’s main concern at “floatillas” is to ensure the safety of participants, said spokeswoman Amanda Levasseur. When flotation devices are left unattended, rescue workers don’t know if they’re dealing with missing people or just abandoned floats, she said.

About the Author