Former harbormaster says more can be done to prevent future tragedies in the water

The soldier who died after getting run over a fishing boat at Waianae Small Boat Harbor had spent more than 30 years serving his country.

The U.S. Army identified him as Col. Kirk Slaughter, 49, who was originally from Nebraska.

Witnesses say he was just outside the harbor entrance when it happened, and that he had swam away from his surfboard.

We’re asking what more can be done to prevent such a tragedy.

KHON2 spoke with an expert diver who was also a harbormaster for the state for nearly 20 years. Earl Omoto says divers and swimmers near the harbor should always have a flag, but there’s more that can be done to save lives.

“These fishermen coming home, they want to get the boat on the trailer and go home, ice their fish down, take it to the market or whatever. These guys are flying all the way right up to the entrance of the harbor and slowing down right there,” said Omoto.

Omoto says the state should install what’s known as “Slow, No Wake” buoys about 200 feet from the entrance of the harbor. They’re white buoys that would say “Slow, No Wake” and boaters would have to slow down to about five miles per hour.

He says this would have probably prevented Thursday’s tragedy.

“You would be able to see the diver if you were going slow,” Omoto said.

He adds that swimmers and divers should always have a flag if they are in an area where boats are allowed, and the same goes if you swim away from your surfboard.

“As long as you have something on the surfboard, it will alert the boater to say there’s a diver someplace in the area and they need to stay 150 to 200 feet away from the flag,” Omoto said.

Omoto adds that part of the problem is that many of the visitors are not aware of these rules.

“Should the state be doing more specially to alert the visitors about these rules?” KHON2 asked.

“I wouldn’t say they should be doing more but they could be doing more,” Omoto said. “(Such as) warning people, especially newcomers, of safe areas to swim, or do not swim near a boat harbor entrance period.”

We reached out to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to ask about “Slow, No Wake” buoys or any other safety improvements to the harbor, but we have not heard back.

Omoto says it’s not just the state that can do more to promote safety in the water, but also hotel industry vendors who rent out snorkel gear and surfboards, the airlines, even the military. He adds that it has to be done with a sense of urgency, that following the rules will save their lives.

Omoto says the buoys are not expensive, about $2,000 for two of them and they’re easy to maintain.

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