Does Arizona Have the Most Boats in the U.S.?

List of Boat Ownership Ranked by State

Lake Powell Boats
Dieter Spears / Getty Images

You have probably heard of the legend of the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Well, if you ever visit or move to Arizona you will hear something just as fantastical—that Arizona has the most boats per capita than any other state in America.

From the data available, this seems to be one big, dried up myth, much like some of Arizona's lakes during drier days.

If you look at 2010 U.S. Census data regarding boat ownership and registration statistics collected from the U.S. Coast Guard, it turns out the  “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Minnesota, actually has the most boats.

In 2010 there were nearly 309 million people in the U.S. There were close to 12.5 million registered recreational water vessels in that year, meaning that about 4 percent of our population owns a recreational watercraft of some sort. There is no way that Arizona ranks even close to the top of the list for watercraft, watercraft per capita, or any other measure relating to boats.

State Vessels Rank Vessels (2010) 2010 Population Per Capita % Per Capita Rank
Minnesota 2 813976 5,304,000 15.3% 1
Wisconsin 5 615335 5,687,000 10.8% 2
South Carolina 8 435491 4,625,000 9.4% 3
Maine 31 111873 1,328,000 8.4% 4
North Dakota 42 56128 673,000 8.3% 5
Michigan 3 812066 9,884,000 8.2% 6
New Hampshire 33 94773 1,316,000 7.2% 7
Arkansas 23 205925 2,916,000 7.1% 8
Delaware 40 62983 898,000 7.0% 9
South Dakota 41 56624 814,000 7.0% 10
Alaska 45 48891 710,000 6.9% 11
Iowa 21 209660 3,046,000 6.9% 12
Louisiana 14 302141 4,533,000 6.7% 13
Alabama 17 271377 4,780,000 5.7% 14
Idaho 36 87662 1,568,000 5.6% 15
Oklahoma 22 209457 3,751,000 5.6% 16
Montana 44 52105 989,000 5.3% 17
Mississippi 28 156216 2,967,000 5.3% 18
Wyoming 49 28249 564,000 5.0% 19
Missouri 15 297194 5,989,000 5.0% 20
Florida 1 914535 18,801,000 4.9% 21
Vermont 48 30315 626,000 4.8% 22
Oregon 25 177634 3,831,000 4.6% 23
Nebraska 37 83832 1,826,000 4.6% 24
Rhode Island 46 45930 1,053,000 4.4% 25
Indiana 16 281908 6,484,000 4.3% 26
North Carolina 10 400846 9,535,000 4.2% 27
Tennessee 18 266185 6,346,000 4.2% 28
Kentucky 26 175863 4,339,000 4.1% 29
Ohio 9 430710 11,537,000 3.7% 30
Georgia 13 353950 9,688,000 3.7% 31
Washington 20 237921 6,725,000 3.5% 32
West Virginia 39 64510 1,853,000 3.5% 33
Maryland 24 193259 5,774,000 3.3% 34
Kansas 35 89315 2,853,000 3.1% 35
Virginia 19 245940 8,001,000 3.1% 36
Connecticut 32 108078 3,574,000 3.0% 37
Illinois 11 370522 12,831,000 2.9% 38
Pennsylvania 12 365872 12,702,000 2.9% 39
Utah 38 70321 2,764,000 2.5% 40
New York 7 475689 19,378,000 2.5% 41
Texas 6 596830 25,146,000 2.4% 42
California 4 810008 37,254,000 2.2% 43
Massachusetts 29 141959 6,548,000 2.2% 44
Arizona 30 135326 6,392,000 2.1% 45
Nevada 43 53464 2,701,000 2.0% 46
New Jersey 27 169750 8,792,000 1.9% 47
Colorado 34 91424 5,029,000 1.8% 48
New Mexico 47 37340 2,059,000 1.8% 49
Hawaii 50 14835 1,360,000 1.1% 50

How Did This Rumor Start?

How could Arizona, a landlocked state, have more boats per capita than the "Great Lakes State" of Michigan or Florida, the state with more than 1,300 miles of coastline?

Back in 2006, if you searched "most boats per capita than any other state," you would find four sources on the Internet perpetuating this fallacy. Those were: the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Mesa Community College and AZCentral.com, the online version of the Arizona Republic, Arizona's leading newspaper. Since then, these sources have removed the erroneous claim.

Nowadays, it's realtor companies that perpetuate the myth. If the myth helps sell houses or lakefront property, the legend will invariably live on.

Arizona Rivers and Lakes

Arizona does have many lakes, about 200, and most are manmade. And, due to Arizona's dry climate, many of the lakes are intermittent lakes and do not contain water throughout the entire year. Of Arizona's total area, 0.32 percent consists of water, which makes Arizona the state with the second-lowest percentage of water after New Mexico. The Colorado River, along with Arizona's border with California and Nevada, is where Arizona gets 40 percent of its water supply.

Who Keeps Track of Boats?

The U.S. Coast Guard keeps track off boat registrations per state. A boat, or vessel, is defined as a "watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water." This definition includes rowboats, sailboats, canoes, and kayaks. Additionally, the state's Arizona Game and Fish Department, which has anecdotal evidence about statewide boat ownership, denies that the rumor is true.

Was the Rumor Ever True?

The term per capita means per person (or literally, per head). That means that on a percentage basis, Arizona would need to have the highest percentage of boat registrations relative to population size. For example, in 2004, Arizona ranked 30th among the states with respect to the number of boats registered in the state, per the U.S. Coast Guard. As a percentage of its population, it ranked 43rd out of 50, with only 2.56 percent of the population owning boats. 

State

Rank Boats (2004) 2004 Population Boats per 100,000 % Per Capita Rank
Minnesota 4 853448 5,100,958 16731 16.73% 1
Wisconsin 6 605467 5,509,026 10990 10.99% 2
South Carolina 9 397458 4,198,068 9468 9.47% 3
Michigan 2 944800 10,112,620 9343 9.34% 4
North Dakota 42 52961 634,366 8349 8.35% 5
New Hampshire 32 101626 1,299,500 7820 7.82% 6
Iowa 20 228140 2,954,451 7722 7.72% 7
Alaska 45 49225 655,435 7510 7.51% 8
Arkansas 26 205745 2,752,629 7474 7.47% 9
Mississippi 23 209216 2,902,966 7207 7.21% 10
Maine 35 94582 1,317,253 7180 7.18% 11
Louisiana 15 309950 4,515,770 6864 6.86% 12
South Dakota 44 51604 770,883 6694 6.69% 13
Montana 40 59271 926,865 6395 6.39% 14
Delaware 43 51797 830,364 6238 6.24% 15
Idaho 36 83639 1,393,262 6003 6.00% 16
Oklahoma 25 206049 3,523,553 5848 5.85% 17
Alabama 17 264006 4,530,182 5828 5.83% 18
Missouri 13 326210 5,754,618 5669 5.67% 19
Florida 1 946072 17,397,161 5438 5.44% 20
Oregon 27 190119 3,594,586 5289 5.29% 21
Vermont 48 32498 621,394 5230 5.23% 22
Wyoming 49 25897 506,529 5113 5.11% 23
Nebraska 37 77636 1,747,214 4443 4.44% 24
Tennessee 18 261465 5,900,962 4431 4.43% 25
Washington 16 266056 6,203,788 4289 4.29% 26
Kentucky 28 174463 4,145,922 4208 4.21% 27
North Carolina 11 356946 8,541,221 4179 4.18% 28
Rhode Island 46 43671 1,080,632 4041 4.04% 29
Maryland 24 206681 5,558,058 3719 3.72% 30
Georgia 14 322252 8,829,383 3650 3.65% 31
Ohio 8 414938 11,459,011 3621 3.62% 32
Kansas 33 98512 2,735,502 3601 3.60% 33
West Virginia 39 63504 1,815,354 3498 3.50% 34
Indiana 21 213309 6,237,569 3420 3.42% 35
Virginia 19 242642 7,459,827 3253 3.25% 36
Connecticut 31 111992 3,503,604 3196 3.20% 37
Utah 38 74293 2,389,039 3110 3.11% 38
Illinois 10 393856 12,713,634 3098 3.10% 39
Pennsylvania 12 354079 12,406,292 2854 2.85% 40
Texas 5 616779 22,490,022 2742 2.74% 41
New York 7 519066 19,227,088 2700 2.70% 42
Arizona 30 147294 5,743,834 2564 2.56% 43
California 3 894884 35,893,799 2493 2.49% 44
Nevada 41 57612 2,334,771 2468 2.47% 45
New Jersey 22 209678 8,698,879 2410 2.41% 46
Massachusetts 29 150683 6,416,505 2348 2.35% 47
Colorado 34 98079 4,601,403 2132 2.13% 48
New Mexico 47 38439 1,903,289 2020 2.02% 49
Hawaii 50 13205 1,262,840 1046 1.05% 50
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