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Putting a price tag on 500k N.Y. boaters

Boating is big business in the Empire State, according to a recent survey by New York Sea Grant.

Boating is big business in the Empire State, according to a recent survey by New York Sea Grant.

The study by Cornell University researchers and Sea Grant found that New York boaters in 2003 spent $2.4 billion on their pastime, pumping an estimated total of $1.8 billion into the state’s economy. Recreational boating created about 18,700 jobs and contributed $728 million to labor income in the state, according to the study.

“Although people knew recreational boating was important to the state, no one had any hard figures on what it meant,” says Jay Tanski, coastal processes and facilities specialist with the New York Sea Grant. “We wanted to quantify what potential impact boating had on the state.”

The study, the first of its kind in the state, offers only a glimpse of the state’s boating industry, Tanski says. The information was based on the results of questionnaires sent to a sample of the state’s more than half a million registered boaters. The study did not include the impact from out-of-state vessels and from small non-motorized vessels that are not required to register, such as small sailboats, canoes and kayaks. Poor summer weather also hampered activity in 2003. June was one of the wettest months on record and the threat of Hurricane Isabel striking the state’s coast in September led to many people pulling their boats in early, further shortening the season, according to the study.

“Even though the numbers are conservative, it gives us an idea,” says Tanski, who was the project manager.

“The intent of the study was not only to quantify the impact of boating, but also to provide information that will help managers, planners and other decision makers make more informed decisions regarding coastal resource use and development,” he adds.

The study found that boaters spent more than $431 million statewide on expenditures related to boating trips, such as launching fees, lodging, food and fuel. The survey also found that boaters spent $2 billion in 2003 on boat purchases, equipment, repairs, insurance and annual fees associated with use of marinas and yacht clubs. Of that, $1.2 billion was spent for boat purchase.

Boaters statewide spend an average of $1,380 on trips, including money spent at bars and restaurants. Other fees associated with boating include fishing equipment and bait, tournament fees and loans.

“The overall contribution of boating to the economy extends beyond boaters’ purchases, because the businesses that sell the goods and services to the boaters in turn were stimulated to use additional labor and purchase additional materials to produce their own products and services,” the report states. “Thus each new boater purchase starts a chain reaction of spending and re-spending that has a cumulative impact on the level of sales, jobs and other economic components in the state or region.”

“With these research findings, it is clear that recreational boating is big business and an important economic generator for the people of New York state,” says New York Sea Grant director Jack Mattice.

The study also broke down expenditure and economic impact by region, showing that $173 million was spent on boating trips in the Great and Finger lakes regions, $162 million in the New York City/Long Island area, and $53 million in the Hudson River area.

The total economic impact by region is $600 million in the Great and Finger lakes, $843 million in the New York City/Long Island region and $184 million in the Hudson River region.

Statewide, most boats are between 16 and 25 feet in length. The average boater is male, 55 years or older, with a median income of at least $90,000.

The study was conducted last year with the aid of an advisory panel of agency and boating industry experts from around the state. The estimates were based on a mail survey of 6,000 boaters registered in the state. Though the Sea Grant has no plans to conduct another survey, Tanski says the hope is that another agency will take up the baton and conduct regular surveys to determine not only the economic impact, but on trends.