Since I moved to Arizona in 1979 I have heard the following comment over and over again: Arizona has more boats on a per capita basis than any other state. Even though I heard it, and I read it, I always wondered about it. How could Arizona have more boats per capita than, say, Michigan or Florida? Granted, we have many man-made lakes. I still don't believe it. So let's investigate. Does Arizona have more boats per capita than any other state?
Who Said So?
When I first looked into it in 2006 the claim that Arizona has more boats on a per capita basis than any other state appeared on the websites of at least four otherwise reputable sources of information. I know, I know -- the encyclopedia is never wrong, and the local newspaper never prints anything that is inaccurate. Well, maybe not never...
AA of them have removed the erroneous information from their websites since then.
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Arizona Chamber of Commerce
- Mesa Community College
- AZCentral.com (Arizona Republic)
Many sites, the most notable of which are Realtor websites, perpetuate the myth, but cite one of the above resources as the source of the information. Since I originally wrote this article in 2006, many websites have removed the erroneous information.
Who Keeps Track?
I have never seen any documentation associated with any of the claims about the number of boats in Arizona.
I spoke to an individual at Arizona Game and Fish, who chuckled, and agreed that he'd heard that statistic many times, too. He told me that there was no way that Arizona can make a claim to have more boats, either on an absolute basis, or more boats, on a relative population basis. He advised me that the U.S. Coast Guard keeps track of boat registrations per state.
What is a Boat?
First, the basics. It might seem silly, but, for the purposes of this discussion, what is a boat? Since states register watercraft, states define which types of watercraft must be registered. This already creates a problem. In some states, only boats with motors must be registered. That's the minimum required by federal law. That includes anything that is propelled by a motor. In other states, rowboats, sailboats, canoes, and kayaks must be registered. Some states require registration of 12-foot sailboats, and some states don't. About 7% of registered boats in the U.S. in 2004 were not motorized.
When Did Arizona Have More Boats?
Whenever I have heard or seen the claim that Arizona has more boats per capita than any other state, it is never accompanied by a date or a year. There's a good reason for that.
The Bottom Line
In my opinion, the statement that Arizona has more boats per capita than any other state is false. It's a myth. I don't believe it ever was true. The term per capita means per person (or literally, per head). That means that on a percentage basis, Arizona would have the highest percentage of boat registrations relative to population size. It simply isn't true.
In 2004, Arizona ranked 30th among the states with respect to the number of boats registered in the state. As a percentage of its population, it ranked 43rd out of 50, with only 2.56% of the population owning boats. If we were to find statistics for 20 years ago, I still don't believe it could be true. Even considering a statistical variation for different types of boats being registered in different states, I don't believe it. (Actually, that would make our ranking even lower, since in Arizona just about all watercraft are registered.) If the people making the claim believe that unregistered boats make a difference, I still don't believe it -- and where would they obtain that number anyway?
The Numbers Don't Lie
The following numbers were obtained from the U.S. Coast Guard. As far as I can determine, these are the only official statistics maintained on boat ownership in the U.S.
|Rank||Boats (2004)||2004 Population||Boats per 100,000||%||Per Capita Rank|
- - - - - - - - - -
In 2012, I received an email asking about this data. Honestly, not much has changed. Again, I obtained the data on registered watercraft as of 2010, now referred to as vessels, from the U.S. Coast Guard. The data on population was obtained from the U.S. Census. 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% of our population owns a recreational watercraft of some sort. No matter how you slice and dice it, there's no way that Arizona ranks even close to #1 for watercraft, watercraft per capita, or probably any other measure relating to boats.
|State||Vessels Rank||Vessels (2010)||2010 Population||Per Capita %||Per Capita Rank|