“The Cost of Boating” rebutted

Like leaves turning in the fall, headaches at tax time, and spring house cleaning, it’s an annual tradition. Some newspaper or magazine will trot out an article bemoaning the cost of boating and pithily conclude that, in essence, “it’s not worth it.”

One of the articles I saw this year that got me agitated was from the May 19th, 2012 edition of the Washington Post, a fish wrapper if there ever was one, with the headline “The Real Cost of Owning a Boat”. This little gem begins with “It’s an old joke – a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into. It’s also true.”

The article proceeds to spout a few facts about fuel, insurance and maintenance expenses. Disjointed at best, it continues to ramble on about how much it costs to store a boat for the Winter and what it costs to shrink wrap. The only conclusion one can draw from this lightly-researched, cherry-picking drivel is that boating is best left to the rich.

What a load of nonsense.

Every year the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) publishes an abstract which constitutes a comprehensive summary of statistics on the recreational boating industry in the United Sates. In 2011, recreational boating pumped $32.3 billion into the economy, up 6 percent from 2010. What’s more, of the 238 million adults living in the US in 2011, 34.8 percent, or 83 million people, participated in recreational boating. This is the greatest proportion of participation in recreational boating since 1997. The abstract goes on to say that 527,000 new boats were sold in 2011, and that 909,000 boats changed hands in the pre-owned market.

Those are big numbers!

Granted, boating costs money. Everything material costs money. The real question is what value are people getting for the money they spend on boating? What authors of articles like the Washington Post piece fail to understand is that there is real value in boating. Enough value to make 83 million people go do it.

So is this a rich man’s game? The answer is an emphatic no. According to the NMMA study, “boating remains a middle-class recreational activity. 77 percent of adults who went boating in 2011 had a household income of less than $100,000. 63 percent had a household income of less than $75,000. Only 19 percent had a household income of $100,000 or greater.”

The final statistic I’d like to reference is that the NMMA estimates there were 16.35 million boats in use in 2011. That’s a staggeringly large number by any measure.

So why do all these people get out on the water to fish, ski, cruise, and play? Simple. It’s because of the tremendous value they get out of their boating dollar.

How do you assign a value to seeing the look on your children’s faces the first time they are able to get up on waterskis? How do you assign a value to the look when they catch their first big fish? How do you assign a value to seeing a sunset, or sunrise, from the deck of your boat? Or to a day spent on the water with the whole family free of the mundane distractions of life on land? I’d say some of these things are priceless, and I’d bet that many of those 83 million people who went boating last year would agree.

But there’s more to it than that. Humans are inexorably drawn to the water. It’s a near magical place to be. Boating means freedom. Out on the water, there are no lanes drawn in the water that must be dutifully followed. It truly represents breaking the surly bonds of land-borne life and replacing it with a fundamental sense of freedom and adventure.

Moreover, boating attracts people because safe boating requires a measure of self sufficiency, accountability, and knowledge. In our “protect ourselves from ourselves” society in which we’ve let nanny government behavior interfere with nearly every aspect of our life, boating represents a refreshing, even exhilarating way to experience life.

Worth it? Damn right it is.

(All statistics from the Executive summary, NMMA 2011 Recreational Boating Statistical Abstract)


Broker with United Yacht Sales, retired Marine aviator, passionate boater, student of naval architecture, runner, triathlete and coffee geek


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