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Which State & Province Has the Most Boaters in North America?


Vancouver city harbour
Can you name this city? / Photo- Jeremy Lee - Pexels

There's nothing like a trip down the old rabbit hole.


After the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) released their 2022 recreational boating abstract last week, I decided to go down the long and winding road to uncover which states and provinces are the most popular among boaters.


Thankfully, News Daily compiled a list for the U.S. states. That freed me up to delve into the details of America's northerly neighbour -- my dearest homeland of Canada.


There has been much speculation about the future of boating, most notably some chatter about the popularity of recreational boating over the next five years. Worry not, aquatic friends, for we can still expect fair winds and following seas. While the peak of pandemic boat buying has waned, we can expect relatively calm seas moving forward.


The recreational boating market is expected to flourish in the near term with significant growth in the U.S. from $18.9 billion USD in 2023 to $25.9 billion USD by 2028.


According to the 2028 global forecast from ResearchAndMarkets.com, "the recreational boat market is expected to flourish due to the presence of numerous manufacturers in a well-integrated and fragmented industry, ensuring a steady supply of recreational boats to meet global demand. North America is expected to be the fastest-growing market for recreational boats, driven by high demand for leisure boating and water sports activities. The United States, in particular, is projected to experience significant growth, supported by government initiatives aimed at fostering the recreational boat market."


Meanwhile in Canada, recreational boating accounts for over $6 billion in annual GDP and over $10 billion in total revenues. With a population of only 38 million, there are over 8.6 million recreational boats in Canada and over 12 million Canadians go boating every year. Those are significant numbers considering the country's population size and its typically seasonal boating climate.


The figures below are based on the number of registered boats per 100 residents in the United States in 2023. In Canada it's measured by the number of new pleasurecraft licensees per province in 2023. The Canadian figures use licensee numbers as of October 2023, which are released by Transport Canada.


Here are the top five boating states in the U.S., followed by the top five Canadian provinces.


United States

American boating Amphicar
Photo- Lucas Gomes / Pexels

#5- South Carolina


No big surprise to see SC on this list. Not only do several major boat manufacturers reside in South Carolina, the coastal climate and nearby meccas like Pamlico Sound in North Carolina make for a great boating environment.


Concentration of Boats- 20.7 registered boats per 100 residents

Number of boats- 1.1 million (Rank #5)


#4- Nebraska


I wouldn't have expected the cornhusker state to break the Top 5, but the numbers don't lie. Nebraska has a surprising number of reservoirs that make for excellent boating, so it stands to reason that cooped-up outdoors enthusiasts might ramble to the water during summertime. The state also made boating headlines last year when a Nebraskan engineer completed the Great Loop by PWC.


Concentration of Boats- 28.8 registered boats per 100 residents

Number of boats- 566,000 (Rank #15)


#3- New Hampshire


No surprise here. The "Live Free or Die" state is all about the freedom that boating provides. Boating is clearly encouraged among youth, like when a mini-boat launched by New Hampshire grade schoolers turned up in Norway in 2022.


Concentration of Boats- 29.0 registered boats per 100 residents

Number of boats- 405,000 (Rank #27)


#2- Maine


Much like its neighbour New Hampshire, Maine has its own storied maritime history. It's long been a popular pastime, especially considering the state has an impressive 3500 miles of coastline, not to mention a robust commercial fishery rooted in its famous lobstering. With another 4000 islands off the mainland and 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, there's a reason why Mainers love the water.


Concentration of Boats- 31.5 registered boats per 100 residents

Number of boats- 436,000 (Rank #25)


#1- Washington, DC


Bet you didn't think this was #1, huh? Not only is DC not technically a state, it's also not the typical destination for recreational boaters. But therein lies its low-key popularity. With the district being fed by two famous rivers, the Anacostia and the Potomac, not to mention being a hub of U.S. politics, economy, and culture, it stands to reason that Washingtonians seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life by spending their downtime on the water. With easy access to the coastline and countless boating hotbeds within a short distance, DC is the sleeper 'state' of U.S. boating.


Concentration of Boats- 36.2 registered boats per 100 residents

Number of boats- 243,000 (Rank #37)


Canada


#5- Manitoba


While Canada doesn't have nearly as many states as their southerly neighbours (Canada is comprised of 10 provinces and three territories), I don't think any Canuck expected Manitoba to crack the Top 5. That being said, frosty Manitoba has some hidden gems like Dauphin Lake, which consistently ranks as one of Canada's most popular boating destinations.


Number of New Licensees This Year- 2965


#4- Alberta


The heart of the Rockies is another province that probably wouldn't come to mind, especially considering how many Atlantic provinces are surrounded by water, but Alberta is full of adventurers. From its stunning scenery to its strong winter economy, it makes sense that Canada's cowboys find creative ways to spend the summer.


Number of New Licensees This Year- 7025


#3- British Columbia


BC's provincial motto is "splendor sine occasu," which is a Latin for "splendour without diminishment. It's hard to diminish maritime enthusiasm in BC considering it has over 200,000 kilometers of coastline (124,000 miles) and the mildest climate in the country. That means year-round boating, which no other province can claim (at least happily -- you can boat year-round in Atlantic Canada but it's significantly less enjoyable). With over 40,000 islands among a labyrinth of inland waterways, the left coast loves boating.


Number of New Licensees This Year- 10,963


#2- Quebec


Affectionally known as "la belle province," meaning "the beautiful province" in English, Quebec is not short on natural beauty. It boasts one of the world's largest freshwater reservoirs (more on that in a second), with over 12% of the province being covered in freshwater. That's to say nothing of its saltwater connections -- like the mighty St. Lawrence River that flows out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, and guides the way to the open expanse of the Atlantic.


Number of New Licensees This Year- 32,160


#1- Ontario


The Great Lakes -- which include Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario -- are the world's largest freshwater boating playground. That makes prime territory for Ontario boating adventures considering the province borders every one except Lake Michigan. Of the four remaining, there is easy access to exploring the North Channel on Georgian Bay or attempting the almighty Great Loop -- a circuitous route through eastern North America that includes passing through Ontario, making your way down to Florida, and then back up the Eastern Seaboard. There's also another 250,000 freshwater lakes and rivers to choose from. It's no surprise Ontario takes the #1 spot.


Number of New Licensees This Year- 49,694


Other Interesting Stats


In light of the information above, there are some statistics that boaters and industry personnel may find interesting. Here are a few surprising details worth noting:


- While many Americans would likely pick Florida or California as the top boating states, they actually rank 29th and 48th, respectively. This is because the metrics factor in population size relative to the number of registered boat owners. High population and a coastal location doesn't necessarily equate to a high percentage of boat ownership. On average nationwide, there are 11 registered boats per 100 residents. Florida has 7.7 registered boats per 100 residents, while California has 3.3 boats per 100 residents. Washington, DC has 36 boats per 100 residents.

- Hawaii actually has the lowest level of recreational boat ownership in the United States. Despite being a haven for on-water activities, it ranks 51st with 2.5 registered boats per 100 residents.

- As of 2020 in the United States, boat buyers under the age of 40 surpassed those over the age of 60 for the first time ever

- In Canada, more than 85% of recreational boats are under 26 feet and towable

- In the U.S., outboard-powered boats are expected to dominate the market through 2028, while electric boats are expected to grab a significant market share over the next 5 years

- 59% of Canadian boat owners have a household income less than $100,000, meaning that boating in Canada is primarily a middle class pastime


Sources:


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