Trailering Magazine Archives - Featured Articles

No Excess Access on the water

It's becoming more difficult to plan and build a boat ramp...


image1 It's a matter of numbers: More than half the boats sold in the United States every year are between 17-20 feet in length. And, if they aren't put in a slip or on a mooring, these boats are trailered. One more number-there are 7,683,900 boat trailers in use in the country according to statistics from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Bottom line: as more and more trailerable boats are sold the need for boat ramps increases.


" Access to our waterways is increasingly difficult, " says Jim Frye of the Marine Operators Association of America, "Boating facilities continue to disappear as they are threatened with age, deterioration or compete with other uses for waterfront property. " The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been instructed to conduct an access assessment of boat ramps across the country. The study will be two-fold: how many ramps are in use and how many more are needed, based on the increased popularity of recreational boating (17,353,400 boats were in use in the United States in 2002-161,800 more than in 2001). Boating industry experts expect to have results by 2006. Until that time, however, the price of waterfront property will increase making any potential areas for access all the more expensive than it is now. "

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The cost of land is definitely an inhibitor, " observes Larry Rider, president of the States Organization for Boating Access, the lobbying group making the case for funding more boat ramp construction and improvements before state legislatures as well as the U.S. Congress. "and many of the existing ramps were built in the 50's and 60's and are, to be blunt, inadequate. Today, we need to upgrade boat ramps by making them wider, with multiple lanes, floating docks and provide nearby service facilities like restrooms and refreshments. The number of boaters isn't shrinking. But the number of needed boat ramps for those boaters has become critical. "


And if this trend is allowed to continue, MNNA's Jim Frye worries about the ramifications. "I think that competition for access to the waterfront is perhaps the greatest threat to boating in the next ten years. As boating continues to be increasingly expensive and more challenging, ease of access to the water and proximity to boating facilities will curtail new entr┼Żes into the industry. As virtual experiences get easier to come by, real experiences need to be more readily available as well. If folks have to work too hard or travel too far to go boating, they'll choose something easier instead. "


It's not all bad news however.

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Under the 1984 Wallop-Breaux Act, revenue that is collected from the purchase of marine fuel and fishing licenses is designated for use to improve boating access sites throughout the country. To date, more than 2,000 new boat ramps have been constructed and roads have been opened up that provide access to the water as a result of Wallop-Breaux at a cost of $40 million/year. Using a 25-75% local/state match of funds, boat ramps have been built, improved and maintained under Wallop-Breaux guidelines.


Jim Frye of the Marina Operators Association of America has these suggestions for local boating groups with a dream of having a boat ramp built to increase ease of access to the water: "Get the planners involved early on. Too often folks have proposals all shaped and very specific requests or requirements that are easy to shoot down. Getting planners involved in the process of conceptualizing and creating a positive addition to the community is what motivates their support and enthusiasm. City council members need to have an idea once in a while, not just react to them. Boating facilities should be characterized as beneficial to the entire community, not just the boaters that they serve directly. " Guidelines for boat ramp construction are available at SOBA's web site ( They have also produced a video that can be used to help explain what is involved in selecting a suitable site for building a boat ramp.


With increased access comes economic gain. "A boat ramp provides an economic benefit to the community, " says SOBA's Mark Amaral. " Florida is good at making the case for this whenever a local effort begins to have a ramp constructed. The state does a good job at providing economic details in terms of how many people on average arrive with a trailered boat, how much food they will purchase, how much gas they'll buy and if applicable, how much they'll spend at a bait shop if they intend to go fishing. All of this combines as a single number of money spent when there is access to the water. The boating industry has lagged on this important statistic so we're in the forefront to make sure it's included whenever a request for a boat ramp is going to be made. "


One method that is seeing success is the Adopt-a-Ramp program where private groups will take over the maintenance of boat ramps owned by the county and or state. The Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association has been maintaining 14 boat ramps owned by the state as a way to share the cost of having a nearby boat ramp for anyone with a trailer boat. A similar effort is underway in Florida where the state Fish & Wildlife Commission operates more than 200 boat ramps and a number of private fishing and boating organizations are involved in keeping their local ramps clean. An offer of public service can sometimes be the pivotal point around which a decision about building or not building a boat ramp could be made. Always consider it an option.


The BoatU.S. Ramp Locator ( has more than 25,000 boat ramps that are currently in operation. This is by no means the total number of existing boat ramps in the country since we are adding new ones on an almost-weekly basis. But the fact there are more boaters on the road with the hope of eventually being on the water makes the access point to the water all the more important. Although these are tough times for proponents of boat ramp construction, never before have there been more options for getting the job completed.