Coast Guard proposal would prohibit persons, vessels from Ironman swim course

  • Athletes take on the swim portion of the 2018 Ironman World Championship in Kailua Bay. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today file)

  • Athletes from all over the world take part in the Hoala Ironman Training Swim in Kailua Bay. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today file)

KAILUA-KONA — Not so close, please.

A proposal to prohibit vessels and persons from encroaching on participants taking part in Ironman World Championship-related swim events within Kailua Bay is being floated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

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It says the action is needed for safety during the Hoala Ironman Training Swim and official swim portion of the Ironman World Championship held annually on consecutive Saturdays in October. This year’s Ironman World Championship is set for Oct. 12; the Hoala event is typically held the Saturday prior.

It’s a proactive move, officials say, and was not prompted by any prior incidents or accidents involving the two events.

“It was out of caution and for prevention,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Bannon with the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu. “We’ve had a fantastic safety record with the Ironman.”

The sector permits around 10-15 events each year where it feels there is additional safety concerns warranting Coast Guard oversight, he said, noting that the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is the lead permitting agency. Over the past few years, the sector has been reviewing those events and opted to seek a Special Local Regulation for the Ironman swims because they occur within a busy boating and ocean recreation area.

The Special Local Regulation, if put into place, would be enforced from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. on those two Saturdays. It would cover the 2.4-mile swim course, which is over a mile wide in areas, and add a 100-yard buffer area around it from ocean floor to surface.

“Each year, an increasing number of spectator pleasure craft are drawn to support and view the Ironman swim event. Spectator vessels and other vessel traffic pose a significant safety hazard due to the limited maneuverability of swim participants and vessels navigating in close proximity,” the Coast Guard proposal reads.

The Coast Guard considers spectators to be all persons and vessels not registered with the sponsor as participants, support vessels, or enforcement vessels. A participant is any person registered with the event sponsor as participating in the triathlon or practice swim.

Entry to the regulated area would be prohibited to persons and vessels on those two Saturdays unless authorized by the Captain of the Port Honolulu. Violating the rule could result in a vessel or person being expelled from the area and/or citation for failure to comply.

Public comment is being sought through May 20 on the proposal published in the April 18 edition of the Federal Register.

If finalized, the rule will be published sometime in July or August, and would be in effect for this year’s Ironman swim events, said Bannon.

Ironman didn’t respond for comment.

It would be the first Special Local Regulation in Hawaii, and the second for Sector Honolulu. The Coast Guard is permitted to regulate safety for marine events under 33 C.F.R. § 100.

In 2017, the Coast Guard put into place a similar recurring regulation for waters in American Samoa’s Pago Pago Harbor for the annual Fautasi Ocean Challenge Canoe, Bannon said.

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He added that the Special Location Regulation shouldn’t be confused with a safety zone, like was set up amid the 2018 Kilauea eruption for navigable waters surrounding active lava flow entries in Puna, Bannon said.

Entry into the zone, which extends 300 meters (984 feet) in all directions around the entry of the lava flow into the ocean, is prohibited unless authorized by the Coast Guard.

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