Permit and Insurance Requirements for a Hawaii Beach Wedding

One of the biggest draws of having a wedding in Hawaii is that you can choose a venue that has a beautiful view of the beach and ocean. Or, better yet, you can choose a venue that is directly on the beach!

Having your ceremony on the beach is a great idea for several reasons. One of the biggest advantages is that it is much more affordable than a private venue. In general, public access to beaches (shorelines) in Hawaii are guaranteed by law, and this makes almost every beach in Hawaii public property. As such, before you have your wedding ceremony, you must take the necessary steps to ensure that you have covered all of the legal requirements beforehand.

Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR) Section 13-221-35 states that "No person shall engage in commercial activities of any kind without a written permit from the board or its authorized representative."

Is a wedding considered a commercial activity? Section 13-221-2 states that commercial activity includes "the use of or activity on state land for which compensation is received by and any person for goods or services or both rendered to customers or participants in that use or activity."

Since you will likely have a professional photographer and at the very least a wedding officiant for which you will provide payment for their services, your wedding is, un-romantically, considered "commercial activity" under the eyes of Hawaii law.

The permit needs to be obtained from the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DNLR). In order to get a permit, you will also need to obtain an insurance policy that covers general liability in case of an accident or other damages that occur during your wedding event. This is an annoying extra step, but the cost is generally less than $70 and is a necessary step PRIOR to getting your permit.

Before purchasing your insurance policy, you will need to have the date of your wedding decided as the policy will be valid for one particular day only (unless you specify otherwise, but you would be paying a lot more in premiums). You do not need to decide which particular beach, however, since the "location" is just the Department of Land and Natural Resources - the general authority managing all beaches in the state. Do note that you will need to the note the beach name when you complete the permit purchase, however.

BEFORE YOU PROCEED: Check with your officiant first!

Some officiants are very accustomed to officiating beach weddings in Hawaii and will therefore have their own permit and insurance. In this case, you won't need to worry about the steps below! Be sure to reach out to them and ask, because if they do, that will save you a couple bucks and a boat load of time!

How much should I budget for acquiring insurance and a permit for a beach wedding?

Your insurance policy will be approximately $65+ depending on the policy underwriter. The permit will cost $20 and up, depending on how many square feet you plan to utilize (minimum $20 regardless of square footage).

Do I really need a beach wedding permit? What if it's a really small wedding?

Legally, there is no distinction in terms of permit needs between a beach wedding with 30 attendees (the maximum) and 3 attendees (the couple + officiant). It is unlikely that you will be asked for your permit while you are conducting your beach wedding, especially if you aren't causing any trouble or nuisance, so you can theoretically go without the permit and insurance at your own risk. It would be similar to driving without a license and auto insurance - as long as you don't get pulled over or get in an accident, there will likely be no consequences. Does that make it right? We don't think so, and certainly do not condone it, but that's ultimately your decision.

But just in case you do get asked for your permit in the middle of your vows, do you really want to be empty handed and ruin one of the most important moments in your life? The park rangers may very well be forced to make you suspend the ceremony and kick you off the beach premises - after which your plans will be completely ruined. The cost of the permit and insurance are relatively low and should comprise a small portion of your overall budget, such that it should just be considered a minor line item in your total budget. Besides, you've already saved thousands by choosing a beach venue!

How to get general liability insurance for a beach wedding

A Google search for event insurance will turn up several companies that offer the type of insurance you need. For example, Progressive partners with Event Helper to provide this service.

In order to be approved for a beach wedding permit, the insurance policy must cover at a minimum: $500,000 per incident and $1,000,000 aggregate insuring the State of Hawaii. It must cover against all claims for personal injury, death, and property damage.

Below is an example of a quote for $63.85 provided by Event Helper that exceeds the necessary coverage by the state of Hawaii.

To receive a quote and certificate, fill out the forms as is applicable to your wedding event. Note that you will want to follow the instructions listed on the Application for Commercial Activity (linked below) as far as "Event Description" and "Certificate Holder" information are concerned.

According to the instructions listed, under Description of Operations, declare, "Certificate Holder is named as an Additional Insured. Event coordination re Wiki Permits right-of-entry permits for State unencumbered shoreline."

Under Certificate Holder, declare, "State of Hawaii, DLNR, 1151 Punchbowl Street, Room 220, Honolulu HI 96813"

Once you purchase the policy, you will then receive a Certificate of Liability Insurance. Like your vehicle insurance policy, this is the certificate that proves to the State that you have purchased and possess the necessary liability insurance in case of any accidents or issues that occur during your beach wedding. See below for a sample form.

How do I get a beach wedding permit?

Once you have the insurance policy, your next step is filling out an Application for Commercial Activity with the DLNR, after which you will receive a username and password to complete the permit application online. The system is called WIKI PERMITS and is generally quite straightforward.

Step 1: Fill out the Application for Commercial Activity PDF located here

Step 2: Submit the PDF and Certificate of Liability Insurance to the email listed on the PDF -

Step 3: You will then be given a username and password. Complete the permit process by going to the DLNR website here and enter your credentials.

Step 4: Once you receive the permit, you are legally permitted to have your beach wedding on the date and at the location specified! Don't forget to carry a copy of the permit to the wedding, just in case.

Additional rules for your beach wedding venue

Your wedding event may not exceed two hours

The total number of attendees may not exceed 30 people

No accessories, structures, devices, amplified instruments, appliances, apparatus or equipment are allowed. Examples include: arches; bowers; altars; tables; chairs; kahilis; tents and/or tarps; event signage of any type including banners, sandwich boards; kiosks or carts; stanchions, posts, ropes or similar equipment for the purpose of demarcation of the right-of-entry area; and surfboards, windsurf boards, kayaks or other ocean recreation equipment.

The following exceptions are allowed: loose flowers, leis, bouquets, corsages or boutonnieres; unamplified musical instruments, including a conch shell; doves or butterflies for releases; a limited number of chairs as strictly necessary for the support of elderly, infirm, or disabled persons attending the event; cameras and camera equipment; other non-obtrusive hand-carried wedding accessories; small podium or cake stand, not to exceed three (3) feet square in size.

Alcohol is not permitted.

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