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

List of Boat Ownership Ranked by State

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

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.

StateVessels Rank Vessels (2010)2010 PopulationPer Capita %Per Capita Rank
Minnesota 28139765,304,00015.3%1
Wisconsin 56153355,687,00010.8%2
South Carolina 84354914,625,0009.4%3
Maine 311118731,328,0008.4%4
North Dakota 4256128673,0008.3%5
Michigan 38120669,884,0008.2%6
New Hampshire 33947731,316,0007.2%7
Arkansas 232059252,916,0007.1%8
Delaware 4062983898,0007.0%9
South Dakota 4156624814,0007.0%10
Alaska 4548891710,0006.9%11
Iowa 212096603,046,0006.9%12
Louisiana 143021414,533,0006.7%13
Alabama 172713774,780,0005.7%14
Idaho 36876621,568,0005.6%15
Oklahoma 222094573,751,0005.6%16
Montana 4452105989,0005.3%17
Mississippi 281562162,967,0005.3%18
Wyoming 4928249564,0005.0%19
Missouri 152971945,989,0005.0%20
Florida 191453518,801,0004.9%21
Vermont 4830315626,0004.8%22
Oregon 251776343,831,0004.6%23
Nebraska 37838321,826,0004.6%24
Rhode Island 46459301,053,0004.4%25
Indiana 162819086,484,0004.3%26
North Carolina 104008469,535,0004.2%27
Tennessee 182661856,346,0004.2%28
Kentucky 261758634,339,0004.1%29
Ohio 943071011,537,0003.7%30
Georgia 133539509,688,0003.7%31
Washington 202379216,725,0003.5%32
West Virginia 39645101,853,0003.5%33
Maryland 241932595,774,0003.3%34
Kansas 35893152,853,0003.1%35
Virginia 192459408,001,0003.1%36
Connecticut 321080783,574,0003.0%37
Illinois 1137052212,831,0002.9%38
Pennsylvania 1236587212,702,0002.9%39
Utah 38703212,764,0002.5%40
New York 747568919,378,0002.5%41
Texas 659683025,146,0002.4%42
California 481000837,254,0002.2%43
Massachusetts 291419596,548,0002.2%44
Arizona 301353266,392,0002.1%45
Nevada 43534642,701,0002.0%46
New Jersey 271697508,792,0001.9%47
Colorado 34914245,029,0001.8%48
New Mexico 47373402,059,0001.8%49
Hawaii 50148351,360,0001.1%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 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

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