Recently, there appears to be a great deal of confusion as to who to call for help regarding boating and ocean related incidents in State waters. Jurisdictional uncertainty and recent governmental budget constraints have left the public confused and frustrated when trying to report dangerous and even life threatening incidents.


State Waters as defined by the Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 13 are:

 “Ocean Waters” means the waters seaward of the shoreline within the jurisdiction of the State.

“Shore waters and shores” means any shores or waters between the three nautical mile limit and the mean high tide mark on the shores of the islands of the State of Hawaii.

 State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has jurisdiction of State waters and uses the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) for enforcement activities.

Non-State Waters (waters outside three miles) are Federal waters under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard (USCG)

In addition to DLNR and in certain situations, there are others that play a significant role in State Waters.  State Harbors is responsible to manage and operate statewide commercial harbors. The State Sheriff Dept. is responsible for law enforcement services statewide which can include State harbors.

The Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division of the Honolulu Emergency Services Department is responsible for, among other things, emergency response to the beaches and near shore ocean waters. The Fire Department is responsible, among other things to respond to fires, floods, emergency medical incidents, hazardous materials incidents, and rescues on land and sea to save lives, property, and the environment. The Honolulu Police Department is responsible for many health and safety missions that create a safe environment, and enhance the quality of life in our community. The Enhanced 911 emergency telephone system is generally used to connect the public with the police, fire and emergency services. A more thorough description of each agency’s role is included in Appendix A.

Because the DLNR has the authority and responsibility for law enforcement within the Hawaii state waters (0 to 3 miles offshore of each island), and realizes it can’t do it alone, it must establish a means to develop and administer the government forces that are available to provide a coordinated public safety law enforcement response capability that will protect life and property, as well as our natural and cultural resources throughout our State waters.

On August 31, 2010 a very dangerous situation took place off of Kewalo Basin and in the Ala Wai Harbor which clearly indicates that this level of coordinated use of available resources has not been achieved. Key to this dilemma is the decision made by DLNR-DOCARE to restrict its operational time to an “8 hours per day” schedule as opposed to a “24/7” year round schedule. This, in and of its self, reduces the presence/availability of DOCARE officers by more than 75%. It is understood that this decision was driven by the amount of funding made available, and further influenced by the DLNR decision to make “the protection of natural and cultural resources” preeminent. However, not having sufficient funds, does not absolve the DLNR from its responsibility to provide that Public Safety.

Something has to be done to fill the void created by DLNR-DOCARE’s inability to provide “24/7” Public Safety (protection of life and property) in State waters and at the public DOBOR boating facilities.

It is a natural feeling that since DLNR is responsible for Hawaii waters, that they should be the contact point for all health and safety responses related to State waters. However, at this time the State does not have resources to cover all their areas of jurisdiction on a 24 hour, seven day-a-week basis and therefore cannot be contacted after normal working hours (0745 – 1630) and on holidays. This has left the public confused, frustrated and irate when they can’t reach someone from DLNR when trying to report dangerous and life threatening incidents. Confusion of other agencies’ area of responsibility has exacerbated the problem and there appears to be a lot of misinformation.

In October the Kewalo/Ala Wai incident was brought to the attention of H.O.S.T. The situation basically included all the problems mentioned above and pointed out the need to clarify how to reach the proper agency in reporting ocean related incidents.


H.O.S.T.’s mission is “To provide an open forum for government, industry and the public to identify problems and propose solutions to today’s maritime issues”. To this end H.O.S.T. decided to convene a panel of governmental agencies that could discuss areas of responsibility and clarify who to call to report various types of boating and ocean related incidents. The panel was convened on October 21, 2010 and included representatives from the seven agencies mentioned above. Agencies were asked to give a brief description of how their missions relate to State waters and what is the best method of reporting incidents. Numerous members of the public were also there to ask questions and share their experiences and suggestions.


During the panel discussion each agency outlined their areas of responsibility and suggested which agency should be called to report State ocean related incidents. Public attendees expressed their discontent with DLNR’s inability to respond during non-work time periods and offered suggestions for resolving the problem.

 After all parties had reported and answered questions, consensus was reached that the best agency to contact for emergency public safety issues is the Police Department at 911. HPD stated that they are the best agency to contact since they can respond quicker than others, have the power to enforce other agencies’ rules and can notify other affected agencies as necessary. This interim policy of calling 911 on all emergencies applies to all islands, however on neighbor islands non-emergency incidents should be reported to DLNR during normal working hours or to the respective Police Department telephone numbers as reflected in Appendix A. The reason for this is that the neighbor islands’ dispatch staffs are not as large as on Oahu and the additional non-emergency load will create an undue hardship on the neighbor island dispatch offices.

HPD offered a few suggestions that will assist them in responding to the incident. They recommended that the caller give as much pertinent information as possible such as time, location, individuals involved, injuries, etc. They cautioned that the caller not get personally involved if their health and safety is in danger.

On Oahu, in the event of an ocean related medical, rescue, and/or missing person incident in waters from the shoreline to 3 miles off shore it is recommended that persons call 911 and request Fire and Ocean Safety Dispatch who will then notify the USCG on a co-response basis. This will allow for the quickest response possible to persons in distress or with injures.

In the event of an ocean related boating emergency while off shore, it was agreed that the USCG should be contacted via VHF radio channel 16. The Coast Guard can also be reached at 808-842-2600 (24-Hour Sector Honolulu Command Center) or 808-535-3333 (24-Hour 14th District Command Center. USCG suggested that the person give precise location and details of the incident to assist the USCG in responding.

It should be noted that the use of 911 is not meant to relieve DLNR from any of its responsibilities for managing and safeguarding State Waters. This SOP is an interim solution to assist the public in obtaining emergency assistance until official DLNR guidance can be formulated.

Appendix A

Mission statements and contact information for the major agencies associated with State waters.


United States Coast Guard (USCG) – The United States Coast Guard is the nation’s leading maritime law enforcement agency and has broad, multi-faceted jurisdictional authority. The specific statutory authority for the Coast Guard Law Enforcement mission is given in 14 USC 2, “The Coast Guard shall enforce or assist in the enforcement of all applicable laws on, under and over the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” In addition, 14 USC 89 provides the authority for U.S. Coast Guard active duty commissioned, warrant and petty officers to enforce applicable U.S. law. It authorizes Coast Guard personnel to enforce federal law on waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction and in international waters, as well as on all vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction (including U.S., foreign and stateless vessels).

The Coast Guard protects the maritime economy and the environment, defends our maritime borders, and saves those in peril. USCG will respond fully to search, rescue and law enforcement and respond to VHF radio Channel 16 or telephone numbers 808-842-2600 and 808-535-3333.  They work 100% with local agencies here and they do respond for life and safety boater issues within the 3 mile limit in Hawaii

There is a MOA with DLNR regarding Coast Guard enforcement of fisheries and other State boating rules.  The USCG also enforces Boating Under the Influence (BUI) as long as the boat is operating on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.  There is also an American Waterways Watch Program that educates the boating public to identify and report suspicious waterfront activities to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center.

USCG website:


DLNR – DOCARE – The Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) is responsible for enforcement activities of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The division, with full police powers, enforces all State laws and rules involving State lands, State Parks, historical sites, forest reserves, aquatic life and wildlife areas, coastal zones, Conservation districts, State shores, as well as county ordinances involving county parks. The division also enforces laws relating to firearms, ammunition, and dangerous weapons.

The division currently has about 100 officers used to patrol from the mountains to 3 miles off shore. They also have 20 boats and 2 jet skis which are used statewide. The breakdown of DOCARE Officers by island is: Oahu-42, Big Island-22, Maui County-22 and Kauai 14.

Their telephone number is 587-0077 which is staffed during normal State working hours. Emergency calls during non-staffed hours should be made to 911.

DOBOR website:

DOCARE website:

DOBOR website: (Emergency Response Directory)

STATE HARBORS – The mission of the Harbors Division is to effectively manage and operate a statewide commercial harbors system that facilitates the efficient movement of people and goods to, from and between the Hawaiian Islands.  Their program objectives support the State’s economic prosperity and quality of life as well as promote the well being of our cargo, fishing and passenger cruise industries, other maritime related service and support activities, and the enjoyment of certain waterfront facilities by the general public.

Harbors Division has Enforcement Officers (Harbor Police) on a 24/7 basis only in Honolulu. On the neighbor islands security guards are used during normal working hours and when cruise ships are in port.

The Oahu Harbor Dispatch telephone number is:  587-2076

DOT Harbors website:

SHERIFF DEPARTMENT – The Sheriff Division carries out law enforcement services statewide. Its mission is to preserve the peace by protecting all persons and property within premises under the control of the Judiciary and all State facilities; providing process services and execution of court documents; handling detained persons; and providing secure transportation for persons in custody. It also provides law enforcement services at the Honolulu International Airport. The Sheriff Division generally does not physically support DLNR except in unusual situations. They can be reached at phone 587-3621.

State Sheriff website:



POLICE – The men and women of the Honolulu Police Department are dedicated to providing excellent service through partnerships that build trust, reduce crime, create a safe environment, and enhance the quality of life in our community. Historically HPD has law enforcement responsibility which usually stops at the water’s edge since they do not have boats. When incidents take place in the water they can request vessels from the Fire Department (HFD), other partners and even the public.

If there is an emergency situation, call 911 and give the best information possible to assist the call center to direct the call to the proper responder(s). HPD or HFD will make an assessment of the emergency as they will be the first on the scene and have communication access with the other agencies.

When reporting an incident to 911 it is important to give as much pertinent information as possible, such as time, location, injuries, and any observations that will help the dispatcher contact the proper agency. Again, HPD cautioned that the caller not get personally involved if their health and safety is in danger.

HPD can also take legal action when there is an illegal activity without being at the scene if the witness is willing to file a report and can provide accurate details. Videos of the incident are also very important as evidence.

HPD web site:

FIREThe mission of the Honolulu Fire Department is to respond to fires, emergency medical incidents, hazardous materials incidents, and rescues on land and sea to save lives, property, and the environment. HFD has a force of over 1,100 fire fighters.

Oahu is divided into five battalions containing 44 fire stations.  The total number of companies in a platoon is 42 engine companies, 13 ladder or quint companies, 2 rescue companies, 2 hazardous material companies, 2 tower companies, 1 fireboat company, 5 tankers, 2 helicopters and a helicopter tender.  Hazmat 1 and 2, the hazardous materials companies, are dispatched to incidents involving petroleum, radioactive substances, or toxic chemicals.  Also supporting the HFD’s mission are eight personal watercrafts and 2 rescue boats. In collaboration with Ocean Safety and DLNR, they get involved in rescues usually within 3 miles offshore although they do support the USCG. 

The HFD website is:

OCEAN SAFETY – The mission of the Ocean Safety Division is to provide exemplary lifeguard services at beach areas on Oahu used by the public for swimming and other aquatic activities, and to promote injury prevention and ocean safety education programs for residents of and visitors to the island.

Ocean Safety works closely with the HPD, HFD, EMS and USCG sector Honolulu. Ocean Safety dispatch is a part of the “911” emergency dispatch system and has direct communication with HPD dispatch, HFD dispatch, EMS dispatch, and USCG sector Honolulu via an island wide radio (800 MHz) communications system. Ocean Safety dispatchers are on duty daily from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm.  Ocean Safety has no authority for law enforcement which is a Police role.

Ocean Safety official website is:

Ocean Safety beach and near shore waters hazard information website is:


On the Big Island of Hawaii the public should call 911 for all health and safety emergencies. For non-emergencies they should call DLNR during normal working hours.

Hawaii Big Island Police Department website is:


On Maui the public should call 911 for all health and safety emergencies. For non-emergencies they should call DLNR during normal working hours or the Police Department non-emergency line at 244-6400.

Maui Police Department website is:


Kauai follows the same practice as Maui. Call 911 for all health and safety emergencies. For non-emergencies the public should call DLNR during normal working hours the Police Department non-emergency number, 241-1711.

Police Department website is: