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Arizona Has More Boats Per Capita Than Any State

Reality or Myth?

Ever since I moved to Arizona in 1979 I have heard the comment over and over again that Arizona boasts more boats on a per capita basis than any other state. Even though I heard it, and I read it, I have 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?

As of this writing (August 2006) the statement that Arizona has more boats on a per capita basis than any other state appears on the following websites. I know, I know -- the encyclopedia is never wrong, and the local newspaper never prints anything that is inaccurate. Well, maybe not never....

Here are just 4 otherwise reputable sources of information that make the claim:

Note: If you follow the link and the statement isn't there, that means it has been removed since this article was written. Many sites, the most notable being 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 otherwise reputable 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 let's discuss what a boat is. 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 it's 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

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

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

It is now 2012, and 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
Minnesota  2 813976 5,304 15.3% 1
Wisconsin  5 615335 5,687 10.8% 2
South Carolina  8 435491 4,625 9.4% 3
Maine  31 111873 1,328 8.4% 4
North Dakota  42 56128 673 8.3% 5
Michigan  3 812066 9,884 8.2% 6
New Hampshire  33 94773 1,316 7.2% 7
Arkansas  23 205925 2,916 7.1% 8
Delaware  40 62983 898 7.0% 9
South Dakota  41 56624 814 7.0% 10
Alaska  45 48891 710 6.9% 11
Iowa  21 209660 3,046 6.9% 12
Louisiana  14 302141 4,533 6.7% 13
Alabama  17 271377 4,780 5.7% 14
Idaho  36 87662 1,568 5.6% 15
Oklahoma  22 209457 3,751 5.6% 16
Montana  44 52105 989 5.3% 17
Mississippi  28 156216 2,967 5.3% 18
Wyoming  49 28249 564 5.0% 19
Missouri  15 297194 5,989 5.0% 20
Florida  1 914535 18,801 4.9% 21
Vermont  48 30315 626 4.8% 22
Oregon  25 177634 3,831 4.6% 23
Nebraska  37 83832 1,826 4.6% 24
Rhode Island  46 45930 1,053 4.4% 25
Indiana  16 281908 6,484 4.3% 26
North Carolina  10 400846 9,535 4.2% 27
Tennessee  18 266185 6,346 4.2% 28
Kentucky  26 175863 4,339 4.1% 29
Ohio  9 430710 11,537 3.7% 30
Georgia  13 353950 9,688 3.7% 31
Washington  20 237921 6,725 3.5% 32
West Virginia  39 64510 1,853 3.5% 33
Maryland  24 193259 5,774 3.3% 34
Kansas  35 89315 2,853 3.1% 35
Virginia  19 245940 8,001 3.1% 36
Connecticut  32 108078 3,574 3.0% 37
Illinois  11 370522 12,831 2.9% 38
Pennsylvania  12 365872 12,702 2.9% 39
Utah  38 70321 2,764 2.5% 40
New York  7 475689 19,378 2.5% 41
Texas  6 596830 25,146 2.4% 42
California  4 810008 37,254 2.2% 43
Massachusetts  29 141959 6,548 2.2% 44
Arizona  30 135326 6,392 2.1% 45
Nevada  43 53464 2,701 2.0% 46
New Jersey  27 169750 8,792 1.9% 47
Colorado  34 91424 5,029 1.8% 48
New Mexico  47 37340 2,059 1.8% 49
Hawaii  50 14835 1,360 1.1% 50

 

 

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