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How common is boat ownership in Minnesota compared to the rest of the US?

WAYZATA, Minn. — Even with changeable weather for much of the holiday weekend, it’s safe to say that 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 hold the water.

“We had a fishing boat, we had a sailboat, we had a ski boat that we skied in all the time,” said Mary Boss as she walked her dog in Wayzata Bay. “It’s part of our summer life. It’s great.”

Capt. Adam Block, boating administrator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says with many more than the advertised 10,000 lakes in the state, there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water. But how many boats are registered in the state?

“In Minnesota, the number of motorized boats we have ranks fourth in the country: over 613,000 motorized boats,” Block said.

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If you include all personal watercraft registered in the state — meaning anything over 10 feet long, such as canoes or kayaks — the total rises 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 in Minnesota has increased since the pandemic,” Block said. “Before the pandemic, we were a little behind with a few thousand motorized boats per year. But we have since earned it all back.”

According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, shipping creates $6.9 billion annually for the state’s economy, supporting nearly 26,000 jobs and more than 700 businesses. More than $1 billion is spent each year in Minnesota on new boats, engines, trailers and accessories. Where is the money from boat registration fees used? One aspect is getting people into the water.

“It provides opportunities for public access, adequate launch sites for people to access the water. It also pays for law enforcement, both the MDNR and our sheriff’s partners,” Block said, adding that the money that goes to sheriff’s offices typically helps patrol the waters in their respective counties.

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When a boat is registered, the owner shares where he lives and where the vessel will spend most of its time. This allows the state Natural Resources Department to properly allocate its resources, such as water patrols, to the areas with a large number of boats.

“I would say most of it, at least the ownership, is in the concentrated metro area, but that’s not where they use their watercraft the most,” Block said.

For recreation, Block says 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 increase in boat ownership, what should new boat owners know?

“It’s really important to keep your eyes open and probably not drink as much on the boats,” Boss said, citing the saturation of boats on popular lakes like Lake Minnetonka.

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Block says new boat owners should be aware of common rookie mistakes.

“We saw people getting into the water here and people are unfamiliar with their boat. They don’t know how to operate it. They stand there trying to figure out how to start the boat, 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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