Hawaii Strong: After navigating troubled waters, Makani Catamaran sets sail for big recovery

Published: Jun. 11, 2021 at 3:33 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 4:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Makani Catamaran first launched 16 years ago with a course charted to deliver a unique experience.

“The idea was to build a boat that people feel like you are out on your friend’s boat and it’s not a tour, touristy kinda thing,” said Makani Catamaran owner and Captain Jon Jepson.

“You feel like you’re just going out with your friends on a boat. We went and built the boat in St. Croix, took us a year to build it and a couple of months to sail it back here. We got here in October 2005 and started business in early 2006.”

Jepson and his crew set sail from Kewalo Basin with daily tours and private charters.

[This story is part of HNN’s “Hawaii Strong” series, profiling businesses in the islands adapting to the pandemic and its economic fallout. To suggest a profile, send an email to]

In the year before the virus, Makani’s bookings were full. And then COVID came ashore like a hurricane.

“We pretty much just sat here, didn’t take the boat out,” Jepson said. “It was tough. We just didn’t know when we were gonna be able to start again.”

The pandemic sidelined the majority of the company’s employees and its vendors that assist in bookings, transportation, and catering.

Despite tourism relaunching in October, Jepson opted to hold off on opening until January.

“We just didn’t think there would be enough demand,” Jepson said. “We just didn’t think we’d have enough passengers to make it worthwhile, bringing back all the staff. There’s a lot of moving parts with this business. You got to bring a lot of people in just to do one trip.”

Since fully reopening, Makani is approaching its pre-pandemic calendar and finding it a challenge to keep up with demand.

And although the tier system still regulates passenger capacity, it brought a valuable lesson.

“One thing we’ve kind of learned from being at 50% occupancy instead of having 80 people on the boat and then having 40 people on the boat, I think it’s a better passenger experience,” Jepson said.

“When we have 80 people, it’s sort of a different dynamic on the boat than when there’s only 40, so we’re gonna kind of revisit our maximum passenger counts for our public trips.”

With visitors numbers continuing to increase, Makani is gearing up for a major rebound as summer approaches.

“We always knew we would get back to work and here we are and I think we’re crawling back and I’m sure by this summer, the pent up demand will really emerge and we’ll come out strong,” said Makani Captain Brad Wilcox. “We’ll come out strong.”

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