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Federal Operation Kapena Kohole Targets Illegal Charters in Hawaiian Islands

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The US Coast Guard and NOAA have launched Operation Kapena Kohole, which targets illegal boat charters within the Hawaiian Islands. Photo Courtesy: US Coast Guard

The US Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working together on Operation Kapena Kohole, a law enforcement mission to curtail illegal boat charters within the Hawaiian Islands.

There have been recent reported cases of harassment of sea turtles, monk seals and dolphins. This operation, which runs during the month of September, has a goal to prevent future harassment cases, said Chief Warrant Officer Omar Perez, Sector Honolulu’s command security officer. 

The state’s various harbors and marinas house a large commercial charter boat fleet. Within these legitimate operators, illegal charters disguise themselves as alternatives for hire, threatening the safety of an unaware public. 

Not possessing proper merchant mariner credentials or operating vessels not properly outfitted for commercial use poses significant risk to public safety and significant impact to the local economy. The Hawaiian Islands average 9.4 million annual visitors contributing more than $16 billion, accounting for 21% of the state’s economy. 

The master of the vessel must have appropriate merchant mariners credentials in order to legally operate a vessel with passengers for hire. These credentials show that the operator has met certain proficiency requirements in navigation, seamanship, as well as steering and sailing rules.


“Passengers should refrain from employing charters and tours from captains who do not advertise Coast Guard certification or possess valid merchant mariner credentials,” Perez said. “The credentials must be present at all times on all voyages; the dangers from engaging with unlicensed captains can be life threatening.”


The Coast Guard urges anyone paying for a trip on a passenger vessel to verify that their captain has a safety plan and their merchant mariner credentials are up to date. For larger charter boats, or those with more than six passengers, ask for a Coast Guard-issued certificate of inspection.

Charter vessels must have a sufficient number of personal flotation devices and other required life saving equipment onboard at all times for all passengers and crew. If the operator cannot produce appropriate credentials or equipment, passengers should not get on the boat. 

Owners and operators of illegal charter boats can face up to $27,500 in fines for illegal passenger for hire operations. 


To report an alleged illegal charter operation, contact the Coast Guard Sector Honolulu Command Center at 808-842-2603 or [email protected].

For additional recreational boating safety information, visit the Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division (CG-BSX-2) at

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