We are only halfway through the 2018 Hawaii Legislature, but already I have a favorite quote from one of our lawmakers:

I like to drink beer in the ocean. I think a lot of people like to drink beer in the ocean. This bill is an overreaction.

That comes from Rep. Sean Quinlan.

The bill in question is House Bill 2617, which calls for banning the consumption of booze within 1,000 yards of any Hawaii beach or shoreline. Quinlan joined just three others in the 51-member House in voting “no.”

1Representative Sean Quinlan WAM Finance mtg. 5 jan 2017
Rep. Sean Quinlan at a Capitol hearing in 2017. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

I wondered if his stance had to do, perhaps, with the fact that he represents an Oahu district heavily dependent on tourism. District 47 includes Sunset Beach, Haleiwa and Waialua, where tourists are willing to shell out $12 or more for a mai tai.

I also wanted to know what beer Quinlan prefers.

It turns out that the rep’s opposition has nothing to do with the visitor industry.

“I just felt that the bill was too broad of a brush,” he told me. “I hate to use the phrase, but it smacks of a nanny state. We can’t legislate everything under the sun.”

Quinlan (“a Bud Light man,” he says) argues that the issues raised in the bill should be addressed by the counties.

“It’s much easier for counties to go in and do things like this with a scalpel and not a sledgehammer, like the state,” he said.

The issues raised are public safety and ocean protection. Note that the bill itself refers to drinking in the water, not on shore.

As the bill explains, it’s a response to the popularity of flotillas, basically parties on water where people use “floaties, kayaks, surfboards, paddle-boards, boats and other aquatic devices and water craft to socialize and often consume alcohol in excess while out of the direct view of law enforcement or licensees responsible for maintaining compliance with laws related to underage consumption.”

Drunk On The Water

That they do.

Things got so out of hand on Independence Day last year, when as many as 10,000 people took part in a flotilla off Waikiki, that ocean safety personnel and emergency crews had to intervene. Some underage drinkers were involved, people got sick and the ocean and coastline were trashed.

Rep. Tom Brower, a co-sponsor of HB 2617, said he has monitored the flotillas, which he said can look like fun and seem pretty harmless.

A screen shot taken March 12 of the Flotilla Hawaii Facebook page, which now appears to be inactive. Facebook

“There are some safety concerns, however,” said Brower, whose district is the tourist mecca of Waikiki and Ala Moana. “We don’t want people to be on a surf board or flotation device and drinking.”

But Brower said the public “for the most part” is OK with people drinking on boats. A lot of boaters stick pretty close to shore.

To give you a sense of how far 1,000 yards offshore is, that fishing vessel that got stuck on a reef off Kaimana Beach for a spell last year was just 400 yards from the sand.

Dean Sensui of Hawaii Goes Fishing wrote, “There are already laws in place that prohibit underage drinking. And the Coast Guard has regulations in place regarding boat operators and the consumption of alcohol.”

Prohibition is not the answer,” Brednt Chang, a sports fisherman, wrote in his testimony. “There are many individuals that consume alcohol on the ocean in a responsible manner. This would hurt tax paying Hawaii business that allow for leisurely consumption of alcohol for their patrons.”

A YouTube video of the “massive floaty party” posted April 2, 2017:

But Gordon Lum Lee, an acting major for the Honolulu Police Department’s Waikiki district, thinks drinking-on-water should be a petty misdemeanor. 

And James Howe, director of the Honolulu Emergency Services Division (which must respond to the 911 calls), described the flotillas as “highly problematic from a public safety perspective.”

Brower acknowledged that crafting the bill to satisfy various concerns could prove challenging. He’s already looking ahead to next session, when he says he will introduce a bill penalizing swimming under the influence.

Rep Tom Brower conference commitee1. 26 april 2016.
Rep. Tom Brower said his biggest concern is drunken swimmers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I think that’s the quickest, easiest and all-encompassing way to do this,” he said. “It would be comparable to driving under the influence.”

HB 2617 is not the first time local lawmakers have taken on the flotillas legislatively.

Last year the Honolulu City Council approved a resolution asking the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to adopt rules prohibiting alcohol use and disorderly behavior at Waikiki flotillas.

The resolution came from Trevor Ozawa, the councilman whose district includes Waikiki. The BLNR had previously implemented rules for Ahu O Laka — the sandbar in Kaneohe Bay that is a popular recreational site and a place where things have also sometimes gotten out of hand.

More Parties To Come?

Based on my limited social media search, it’s not clear whether flotillas are planned for this Fourth of July, or Memorial Day weekend, another popular time for flotillas.

The Facebook page for Flotilla Hawaii, for instance, offered this final post dated May 31, 2016:

I would like you all to know that this page has been inactive for some time now and I have not organized any Flotilla events. Someone else has taken it over and obviously they don’t respect the Aina. I’m sorry for what happened the other day. I also do not know who runs the Instagram but this is all very sad.

This is why beach events get shut down, too many disrespectful people. It’s not the organizer, it’s the attendees. Everyone should be respectful of trash. I would like to organize a beach clean up. Mahalo to everyone looking out. Let’s keep the Aina beautiful and clean.

As the post indicates, there may be other flotilla-planning going on. Obviously, there was the 2017 flotilla, held more than a year after that 2016 post.

Full disclosure: I have drunk alcohol on boats off Waikiki. (Various beers, mostly imports.) I have partied on the sand bar. (It was great.)

And I once turned up to swim at Kaimana Beach but elected not to go in the water because a flotilla was in progress. (There were a ton of cops there, too, keeping things in order.)

I have even swum under the influence, which I recognize was (and is) stupid.

Ultimately, I’m with Rep. Quinlan on this one: Leave enforcement to the counties. No nanny state. Drink responsibly. But not Bud Light. (Blecch.)

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