Rec boating wields a hefty economic clout in the Great Lakes

Ann Arbor, Mich. – Recreational boating on the Great Lakes is big business. Just how big is detailed for the first time in a summary report of boating’s economic impacts to be released July 11 by the Great Lakes Commission.

For example: the 4.3 million recreational boats registered in the eight Great Lakes states generate nearly $16 billion in spending on boats and boating activities in a single year. That spending directly supports 107,000 jobs, a figure that grows to nearly a quarter million jobs when secondary impacts are taken into consideration.

“Boaters in the region know that the Great Lakes are one of the top boating destinations in the world,” said Michigan Lt. Gov John Cherry, chair of the Great Lakes Commission. “This report shows the critical role of boating in the region’s economy, and underscores the importance of protecting our freshwater resources.”

The report is available here.

The report describes a network of manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, marinas, charter operators, repair facilities, lodgings and other businesses that depend upon or get a significant chunk of their business from recreational boating. Charts provide a breakdown of annual and per-trip spending by boat size, as well as the location and names of all active recreational harbors on the Great Lakes.

Also included are case studies of recreational harbors on all five Great Lakes that are suffering adverse effects from a lack of maintenance dredging, as well as state-by-state breakdowns of boater spending and detailed information on the goods and services they purchase.

“One of the basic tenants of economics is that you take advantage of the unique opportunities your region has to offer, and recreational boating is something the Great Lakes has in spades,” said Van Snider, president of the Michigan Boating Industries Association. “This kind of information not only confirms what we’ve always known about our industry, but will also help us make our businesses more successful and assist state and local officials in planning how to realize the benefits boating can offer to a community.”

The report estimates that 911,000 of the region’s registered boats operate upon the Great Lakes themselves, mostly out of recreational harbors along the lakes. However, many of these harbors face an uncertain future due to channel entrances and harbor waters that are becoming clogged with sediment, a problem compounded by the persistent low lake levels of recent years.

Dredging these harbors has historically been the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under the Rivers and Harbors Act. However, funding for such operations has been steadily reduced by recent administrations, to the point it has been virtually eliminated from the Corp’s Great Lakes operations budget. As a result, the Corps has only dredged these harbors when Congress has specifically provided earmarked funds for the purpose, with uneven results.

“The cost of adequately maintaining these harbors compared to the economic impact of recreational boating would be quite small, an estimated $5 million annually for the entire Great Lakes,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission. “We’d like to see the Corps and the federal government, which originally created most of these harbors, step up and ensure they remain safe and fully functional.”

He noted that many recreational harbors serve other critical purposes as well, such as hosting U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue stations, and serving as harbors of refuge for vessels in distress, ferry terminals and subsistence harbors that isolated island communities rely upon for goods and services.

The report is a summary of some of the most cogent findings submitted by the Commission to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for use in a comprehensive study of the economic impacts of recreational boating in the Great Lakes region now under development. Original research for the study was conducted by the Michigan State University Recreational Marine Research Center.

The summary report is intended to immediately help meet an increasing demand for reliable economic data on recreational boating. Such data is critical to such functions as planning and investment in boating facilities, maintaining navigational access to recreational harbors on the Great Lakes, and developing federal, state and local policy relating to recreational boating.

For an electronic copy of the report, visit An audio file of a July 11 media teleconference with Lt. Gov. Cherry and others announcing the study will be posted there as well.

For immediate release: July 11, 2007
Contact: Dave Knight,, office: 734-971-9135

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