Arizona Has More Boats Per Capita Than Any State

Reality or Myth?

Power Boat at London Bridge in Lake Havasu
••• Power Boat at London Bridge in Lake Havasu, AZ. Judy Hedding

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.

State

RankBoats (2004)2004 PopulationBoats per 100,000%Per Capita Rank
Minnesota  48534485,100,9581673116.73%1
Wisconsin   66054675,509,0261099010.99%2
South Carolina  93974584,198,06894689.47%3
Michigan  294480010,112,62093439.34%4
North Dakota  4252961634,36683498.35%5
New Hampshire   321016261,299,50078207.82%6
Iowa   202281402,954,45177227.72%7
Alaska  4549225655,43575107.51%8
Arkansas  262057452,752,62974747.47%9
Mississippi  232092162,902,96672077.21%10
Maine   35945821,317,25371807.18%11
Louisiana  153099504,515,77068646.86%12
South Dakota  4451604770,88366946.69%13
Montana  4059271926,86563956.39%14
Delaware  4351797830,36462386.24%15
Idaho  36836391,393,26260036.00%16
Oklahoma   252060493,523,55358485.85%17
Alabama   172640064,530,18258285.83%18
Missouri   133262105,754,61856695.67%19
Florida  194607217,397,16154385.44%20
Oregon  271901193,594,58652895.29%21
Vermont  4832498621,39452305.23%22
Wyoming 4925897506,52951135.11%23
Nebraska  37776361,747,21444434.44%24
Tennessee  182614655,900,96244314.43%25
Washington  162660566,203,78842894.29%26
Kentucky  281744634,145,92242084.21%27
North Carolina  113569468,541,22141794.18%28
Rhode Island  46436711,080,63240414.04%29
Maryland  242066815,558,05837193.72%30
Georgia   143222528,829,38336503.65%31
Ohio  841493811,459,01136213.62%32
Kansas  33985122,735,50236013.60%33
West Virginia   39635041,815,35434983.50%34
Indiana   212133096,237,56934203.42%35
Virginia   192426427,459,82732533.25%36
Connecticut  311119923,503,60431963.20%37
Utah  38742932,389,03931103.11%38
Illinois   1039385612,713,63430983.10%39
Pennsylvania  1235407912,406,29228542.85%40
Texas  561677922,490,02227422.74%41
New York  751906619,227,08827002.70%42
Arizona  301472945,743,83425642.56%43
California  389488435,893,79924932.49%44
Nevada  41576122,334,77124682.47%45
New Jersey  222096788,698,87924102.41%46
Massachusetts   291506836,416,50523482.35%47
Colorado   34980794,601,40321322.13%48
New Mexico   47384391,903,28920202.02%49
Hawaii   50132051,262,84010461.05%50

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

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.

StateVessels Rank Vessels (2010)2010 PopulationPer Capita %Per Capita Rank
Minnesota 28139765,30415.3%1
Wisconsin 56153355,68710.8%2
South Carolina 84354914,6259.4%3
Maine 311118731,3288.4%4
North Dakota 42561286738.3%5
Michigan 38120669,8848.2%6
New Hampshire 33947731,3167.2%7
Arkansas 232059252,9167.1%8
Delaware 40629838987.0%9
South Dakota 41566248147.0%10
Alaska 45488917106.9%11
Iowa 212096603,0466.9%12
Louisiana 143021414,5336.7%13
Alabama 172713774,7805.7%14
Idaho 36876621,5685.6%15
Oklahoma 222094573,7515.6%16
Montana 44521059895.3%17
Mississippi 281562162,9675.3%18
Wyoming 49282495645.0%19
Missouri 152971945,9895.0%20
Florida 191453518,8014.9%21
Vermont 48303156264.8%22
Oregon 251776343,8314.6%23
Nebraska 37838321,8264.6%24
Rhode Island 46459301,0534.4%25
Indiana 162819086,4844.3%26
North Carolina 104008469,5354.2%27
Tennessee 182661856,3464.2%28
Kentucky 261758634,3394.1%29
Ohio 943071011,5373.7%30
Georgia 133539509,6883.7%31
Washington 202379216,7253.5%32
West Virginia 39645101,8533.5%33
Maryland 241932595,7743.3%34
Kansas 35893152,8533.1%35
Virginia 192459408,0013.1%36
Connecticut 321080783,5743.0%37
Illinois 1137052212,8312.9%38
Pennsylvania 1236587212,7022.9%39
Utah 38703212,7642.5%40
New York 747568919,3782.5%41
Texas 659683025,1462.4%42
California 481000837,2542.2%43
Massachusetts 291419596,5482.2%44
Arizona 301353266,3922.1%45
Nevada 43534642,7012.0%46
New Jersey 271697508,7921.9%47
Colorado 34914245,0291.8%48
New Mexico 47373402,0591.8%49
Hawaii 50148351,3601.1%50