Coast Guard Responds to Illegal Lava-Viewing Charters

Listen to this Article
2 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00

Arial view of lava shelf at Kamokuna on Dec. 17, 2016. Photo credit: David Blake, New York, NY.

In the last 48 hours, the Coast Guard has identified two tour boats operating illegally out of Pohoiki Boat Ramp.

Therefore, the Coast Guard is increasing enforcement in response to a perceived increase in illegal charters operating in the area to view lava streaming into the ocean from Hawai‘i’s Kilauea volcano.

“Safety is always our top priority,” said Capt. David McClellan, chief of prevention, Coast Guard 14th District. “For boat operators, it is important to maintain situational awareness and not unnecessarily put yourself, your passengers or your boat in danger. For visitors, it’s important they check that their hired boat operators are licensed ensuring they possess the experience and training required to get them to the viewing area and back safely.”


Commercial tour boat and charter operators must possess the appropriate merchant mariner credential to operate. Masters of commercial charters operating in state waters are also required by the State of Hawai‘i to have a permit from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and to keep that permit on the vessel.

Operators of vessels for hire carrying six or fewer passengers must possess a Coast Guard-issued “operator of uninspected passenger vessel license” and operate on near-coastal waters not more than 100 miles offshore, as defined in 46 U.S.C. 2101 (42)(B).

For vessels carrying seven or more passengers for hire on vessels less than 100 gross tons (not including auxiliary sail), the operator must possess a Coast Guard-issued “master of self-propelled vessel license” to operate on near coastal waters. The vessel must also have a Coast Guard-issued certificate of inspection posted in a visible location.


According to the National Park Service, the spot where lava meets the ocean, referred to as the “bench,” is one of the most dangerous areas of the park because it could potentially collapse, sending dangerous projectiles into the air. The steam emitted where lava meets the water contains hydrochloric acid and glass particles. Tour boat operators are urged to maintain a safe distance from both to ensure their safety as well as that of their passengers.

More on information regarding licensing for charter boat captains can be found online.

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily or weekly
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.


This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments