LIHUE — Three roving Jet Skis designated to preventing drownings could be on waters around Kauai next year.
In his State of the County speech on Thursday, Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. said the Jet Ski patrols would perform daily periodic checks on unguarded beaches with relatively high rates of incidents. Those beaches include Lumahai, Anini, Larsen’s, Wailua, Kalapaki, Shipwreck’s, Mahaulepu, and Kekaha.
“This will allow the Ocean Safety Bureau to expand its services,” Carvalho said.
The proposal still must go before the Kauai County Council.
“There isn’t any controversy around it. Everybody knows it is necessary,” said Andy Melamed, organizer of fundraisers for the Kauai Lifeguard Association and water safety advocate.
Lifeguards would be out monitoring conditions, checking beaches and taking preventive actions to keep people safe.
“These roving squads would hopefully nip things in the bud,” Melamed said. “What we’re looking at is trying to prevent the need for rescues.”
More people than ever are visiting Kauai’s beaches. Beach attendance on Kauai was just over 2 million people in 2015 — an increase of about 800,000 from 2012.
But visitors are not always wanting to spend time at one of Kauai’s 10 lifeguarded beaches.
“They want a sense of adventure,” Melamed said. “We promote our island as an island of discovery. When a visitor takes a vacation here, that’s what they want.”
Which leads them to some of Kauai’s most spectacular beaches, like Lumahai and Larsen’s, which are unguarded and can be dangerous with strong currents and high surf.
KLA has recorded 23 Jet Ski rescues this year. There have been three drownings in waters around Kauai.
“At any time, things can change,” Melamed said. “Currents can be different than they were 15 or 20 minutes earlier.”
Kauai, he said, is proud of its outdoors and wants to take care of people who come here. Roving Jet Ski patrols would help do that, he said. They would be effective and less costly — about $100,000 a year for manpower — than a single lifeguard tower, which runs about $400,000 a year.
“They could be out checking the beaches, looking for danger,” Melamed said.
Each roving unit would include a truck, trailer, rescue tubes, first aid kit and megaphones and would cover different sections around the island.
Funding to help pay for the patrols is expected to come from a Fourth Wave Celebration set for Oct. 22 at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club.
A pilot roving program launched in 2013 on Kauai, while limited in scope due to lack of dedicated manpower, is estimated to have saved more than 70 lives through preventative, educational and rescue measures, Melamed said, adding said Oahu uses roving patrols.
“It’s not a concept that hasn’t been proven,” he said.