November 24, 2014
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Survey assesses economic impact of pleasure boating
Alex Kowalski

Gazing out from the water’s edge atop the jetty at Salter’s Grove Memorial Park, the full impact of Warwick’s maritime activity becomes apparent. A tanker bigger than a high school steams by as pleasure boats crisscross the channel in all shapes and sizes. Warwick is truly a waterfront community.

Marinas hug the city coastline from Apponaug to Pawtuxet, offering refuge to vessels as small as dinghies and as large as yachts for boaters from all around the country. Boating and bayside activity persist seasonally given a warm day and slow breeze along the Rhode Island coast.

But what does all this activity mean to the state and region economy?

A newly conducted boater survey aims to answer that question.

In a two-part survey sent to 68,000 registered boaters from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York, the Boston non-profit group SeaPlan hopes to show the economic importance of recreational boating in coastal communities.

At any point during the year, the state registers 42,000 individual boats, according to the Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Management (RIDEM). According to Wendy J. Mackie, CEO of the Rhode Island Marine Trade Association (RIMTA), around 20,000 of those registered belong to out-of-state owners. The DEM registers on a bi-annual basis, collecting around $2 million in fees.

Mackie recognizes Rhode Island’s recreational boating situation as unique and believes it contributes to the state economy in a variety of ways.

Boaters registering in the state pay no taxes on their boats or services, “the icing on the cake,” adds Mackie. “No sales tax on boats and services help to draw a customer base to Rhode Island and reinforce the industry.” Mooring and storing of out-of-state boats attracts the owners and their tagalongs to local businesses in retail, hospitality, car rental, tourist destinations and more.

What makes Rhode Island a great place for marine recreation and business? “Top-notch, world-class sailing and fishing waters in the bay coupled with the rich history of boat building…[one of] a few places on Earth that have a high quality diverse core of marine businesses in a concentrated area,” says Mackie.

Kim Starbuck, project manager at SeaPlan, provided insight into the survey’s inner workings via e-mail.

“The first part consists of about 10 questions that gather economic information,” she said.

Boaters are asked on a monthly basis how many times they go out on the water, how much is spent on trips (groceries, fuel, fees, etc.), the distances traveled, money spent boating in other states, the purpose of boating activities and yearly storage and maintenance expenditures.

The survey also asks participants to use interactive mapping through an online application. Starbuck provided a description.

“During the second part, the boater is asked to draw their route for the last trip of the month and identify with a point any areas where they took part in activities such as swimming, fishing, whale watching, etc.”

In 2010, SeaPlan (formerly the Massachusetts Ocean Partnership) successfully released the Recreational Boater Survey, to which thousands of Massachusetts’ boaters responded. In the process, it was revealed that Massachusetts’ boaters contributed approximately $806 million to their state economy.

Boaters who did not receive an e-mail or mailed invitation to take the survey are welcome to participate in a volunteer survey at recreation.seaplan.org/to-participate.


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