CHICAGO - The biggest challenge facing the boating industry today is preserving and growing water access. If that challenge is not met, adding and retaining new boaters will become increasingly difficult.
Access is like a sieve, with countless holes to be plugged. The boating industry is losing small numbers of slips in boating communities across the country. And over time, they're adding up to become a major obstacle to industry growth.
Just look at the situation in Florida. Though other states like New York, North Carolina and California are starting to feel the impact of declining access, Florida, with its one million registered watercraft, should be a warning beacon for other boating regions.
The good news is that awareness of the need to preserve and grow access is increasing both within the industry and among the general public. Thus, while a formal tally of access lost or gained is still lacking, newspapers in boating communities have been following the issue closely.
Here are a few recent news items that illustrate the challenge the industry faces when it comes to water access.
Between Pasco and Pinellas County, there are only a handful of public marinas. Pinellas, which has over 50,000 registered watercraft, lost over 1,000 wet slips to condo developers last year, the newspaper reported.
Slip rental rates at those marinas that are left are unaffordable for many boaters - and for those that can afford them, there is often a waiting list stretching several years.
“The average working guy with a boat who wants to spend the weekend on the water is getting forced out of marinas and boat ramps,” Joe Lewis, president of the Marine Industries Association of Florida, told the newspaper.
On New Year's Day 2006, there are still seven county owned public boat ramps with a total of 13 lanes, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the number of privately owned boats has increased dramatically.
“Located within The Club at Hammock Beach, Yacht Harbor Village is one of only a handful of new facilities built on Florida's east vast in the last 20 years,” the company stated.
In March, Georgia officials approved construction of two new marinas in the gated subdivision of St. Mary's Cumberland Harbour that, if completed, would offer 800 total new wet slips.
Though the Ledger-Enquirer.com reports that conservationists are trying to “tie up the proposed marinas in court” over concerns that the increase in boat traffic would put endangered whales at risk, further waterfront development in this community seems inevitable.
“St. Marys and surrounding Camden County, home to 44,660 people, is seeing a real-estate boom from Baby Boomer retirees and bedroom commuters working in neighboring Florida,” the newspaper reported.
A sales manager for Cumberland Harbours told the newspaper that “water access is a big factor” in people's decisions to move into the area and that they will “pay higher prices for private docks and marinas to moor their boats.”
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