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How common is boat ownership in Minnesota compared to the rest of the U.S.?

Breaking down boating in Minnesota by the numbers
Breaking down boating in Minnesota by the numbers 02:45

WAYZATA, Minn. — Even with spotty weather for much of the holiday weekend, it's safe to say thousands upon thousands of boats hit the water in Minnesota. But how important is boating to Minnesota, and where does the state rank in terms of boat ownership?

Lakes are a way of life when your roots in the state take hold on the water.

"We had a fishing boat, we had a sailboat, we had a ski boat that we skied in all the time," Mary Boss said as she went for a stroll with her dog at Wayzata Bay. "It's part of our summer life. It's amazing."

Capt. Adam Block, the boating law administrator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says with much more than the advertised 10,000 lakes in the state, there's ample opportunity to take on the waters. But how many boats are registered in the state?

"In Minnesota, the amount of motorized boats that we have ranks fourth in the country: over 613,000 motorized boats," Block said.

If you include all watercraft registered in the state — meaning anything over 10 feet long like canoes or kayaks — the total jumps to 822,450 according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. That number would put Minnesota second overall in the country, behind only Florida.

"Boat ownership is up in Minnesota since the pandemic," Block said. "We were kind of trailing off a little bit prior to the pandemic (at) a couple thousand motorized boats a year. But we have since recouped all of that."

Boating creates $6.9 billion a year for the state's economy, supporting nearly 26,000 jobs and more than 700 businesses, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Every year in Minnesota, more than $1 billion is spent on new boats, engines, trailers, and accessories. How is the money from boat registration fees used? One aspect involves getting people into the water.

"It provides opportunities for public accesses, adequate launch sites for people to gain access to the water. It also pays for law enforcement, both the MDNR and our sheriff's partners," Block said, adding that the money that goes towards sheriff's offices typically helps with patrolling the waters in their respective counties.

When a boat is registered, the owner shares where they live and where the watercraft will spend most of its time. That allows the state's natural resources department to properly allocate its resources, like water patrol, to the areas with a high number of boats.

"I would say the majority of it, the ownership at least, is in the concentrated Metro area, but that is not where they most use their watercraft," Block said.

For recreation, Block said the Gull Chain of Lakes and Whitefish Chain of Lakes north of Brainerd are some of the most popular spots. For fishing, places like Red Lake, Lake Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods are the busiest.

Given the rise in boat ownership, what do new boat owners need to know?

"It's really important to keep your eye open and probably not to be drinking so much on the boats," said Boss, citing the saturation of boats on popular lakes like Lake Minnetonka.

Block says new boat owners should be aware of familiar newbie mistakes.

"We saw people launching here and people are unfamiliar with their boat. They don't know how to operate it. They're standing there trying to figure out how it starts, they're missing the crank on their winch. Before you come to the launch, get familiar with your boat," he said.

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