Great Lakes Recreational Boating Report
Written by Army Corps of Engineers   
Tuesday, 03 February 2009 21:20

This report was prepared in response to Section 455(c) of the Water Resources Development Act
of 1999, which directed the Secretary of the Army, in cooperation with the Great Lakes States, to
submit a report to Congress detailing the economic benefits of recreational boating in the Great
Lakes basin, particularly at harbors benefiting from operation and maintenance projects of the
Army Corps of Engineers. This report was prepared by the Detroit District of the Army Corps of
Engineers, with assistance from the Great Lakes Commission. It is for informational purposes
only and does not contain any conclusions or recommendations for Federal action.

The report does not include an evaluation of National Economic Development benefits, defined
in the Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land
Resources, which is a standard requirement for studies of water resources projects. Instead, the
report measures the regional economic impacts of recreational boating, in terms of boater
spending and job creation in the Great Lakes basin. The 911,000 recreational boaters on the
Great Lakes:

  • spend $2.36 billion per year on boating trips;
  • spend $1.44 billion per year on boats, boating equipment and supplies;
  • create 60,000 jobs with $1.77 billion in personal income; and
  • increase the quality of life and appreciation of the environment for many Americans.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s registration data for 2003 indicated that there were almost 4.3 million
recreational boats in the eight Great Lakes states (including boats registered both within and
outside the Great Lakes basin) that year. This comprised a third of all U.S. recreational vessels,
and represented a 1.3 percent increase over the five-year period between 1999 and 2003. Nearly
one quarter of all recreational boats in the Great Lakes states belonged to people residing in
Great Lakes shoreline counties.

One perspective on the economic impact of recreational boating in the Great Lakes basin can be
drawn from an analysis of marina operations within the basin. Using data from a national list of
permitted marinas and other sources, it is estimated that there are more than a quarter million
marina slips available in Great Lakes states. About 51 percent of the slips are located in counties
fronting the Great lakes and 89 percent are seasonal rental slips. An average of 93 percent of the
accessible seasonal slips in the counties that border the Great Lakes were occupied during the
summer of 2003. About 107,000 boats were kept in Great Lakes marinas during the boating
season. These boat owners spent $665 million on trip-related expenses and $529 million on
craft-related items.

Data used to estimate boating days, craft spending and trip spending for different size boats were
obtained independently from on-line assessments conducted by the Recreational Marine
Research Center (RMRC) at Michigan State University. According to the RMRC, an average
boat owner using the Great Lakes spends about $3,600 per year on vessel ownership, including
$1,400 on craft-related expenses (e.g., equipment, repairs, insurance, slip fees) and $2,200 on
boating trips (e.g., gas, oil, food, lodging) involving an average of 23 boat days. The averages
are dominated by the high percentage of mostly smaller watercraft. Owners of larger boats
spend considerably more than these averages, up to as high as $20,000 per year for boats 41 feet
and more. Average spending per boat day on trips varies from $76 for boats less than 16 feet in
length to $275 per day for boats larger than 40 feet. The largest trip expenses are for boat fuel
(22%), restaurants and bars (17%) and groceries (14%). In 2003, registered watercraft users on
the Great Lakes spent $2.36 billion on boating trips and $1.44 billion on craft expenses for a total
of $3.8 billion. The majority of annual craft expenses are for equipment (39%), maintenance and
repair (29%) and insurance (14%).

Comprehensive economic impacts of boater spending on the economy of the Great Lakes states
(both internal and external to the Great Lakes basin) were estimated by applying the spending to
an input-output model of the economy of the eight Great Lakes states. The model estimates
direct and secondary economic impacts within the states in terms of sales, jobs, personal income
(wages, salaries and employee benefits), and value added to the local economy (rent, profit and
indirect business taxes). Direct effects cover economic activity in businesses selling goods and
services directly to boaters. Secondary effects include indirect effects on related industries and
induced effects from household spending of income earned directly or indirectly from boaters.
Applying this model, it is estimated that boater trip spending and craft related spending on the
Great Lakes has a direct annual economic impact of approximately $2.8 billion in sales, $1
billion in personal income, $1.6 billion in value added to the local economy, and 39,000 jobs.
With secondary effects added, the economic impact of registered recreational boaters that use the
Great Lakes is approximately $5.1 billion in sales, $1.8 billion in personal income and $2.5
billion in value added, totaling $9.4 billion, and 60,000 jobs.

Great Lakes shallow draft harbors have functional value beyond that associated with recreational
boating. Ten harbors are home to ferry operations which provide transportation services. Five
harbors are home to Coast Guard search and rescue stations that are important to public safety.
Sixteen harbors are dually classified as harbors of refuge, also contributing to public safety by
providing boaters with safe haven during storms. Five harbors are considered subsistence
harbors, which isolated island communities rely upon for goods and services.

Periodic maintenance, such as dredging and breakwater repairs, is needed for recreational boaters
to use shallow draft harbors and access marinas. From a Federal perspective, boat harbors
serving primarily or solely recreational users do not produce high priority outputs, as do harbors
and waterways that support high volumes of commercial traffic. Therefore, the President’s
budget continues to give priority to those harbors and waterway segments that support high
volumes of commercial traffic and significant commercial fishing, subsistence and public
transportation benefits.

The entire 103 page report can be downloaded in PDF form: Click Here

 
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