Recreational Boating Plan


The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board (board) Boating Plan informs its decision-making in prioritizing its investments in recreational boating in Washington State.


Align grant funding with the needs of recreational boaters and facility providers.

Authority Statement

This plan is authorized by Revised Code of Washington 79A.25.005 and 79A.25.020. This plan relies on the research and findings within the 2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan. The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board adopted the plan on October 11, 2017.


Recreational boating in Washington State is important to many people across the state. Significant opportunities exist on freshwater lakes, rivers, and the Columbia River as well as on saltwater in Puget Sound and the coast. Venturing out on a boat is an opportunity to float, paddle, picnic, cruise, water ski, wake board, fish, camp, enjoy wildlife and nature activities, and enjoy scenic views.

The board manages multiple grant programs that allow the planning, acquisition, renovation, and development of motorized and non-motorized boating facilities. In addition, the board manages grant programs that provide a diversity of shoreland access, preservation, and restoration projects, as well as public education programs for boaters.

This plan includes recommendations for non-motorized and motorized recreational boating in Washington State.

Maintain High Satisfaction around Boating Experiences and Facilities

The board seeks to maintain the high satisfaction the recreating public has with boating experiences and facilities in the state.

Boater and Facility Provider Needs Assessment

To continue to understand and adjust to the boating population and the types of facilities and resources it needs, and the needs of facility providers, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board will prepare a boater and facility provider needs assessment as funding may allow. The needs assessment would assist the board with identifying funding priorities for all of its grant programs where boating is an eligible activity. The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board produced an initial assessment in 2007 in response to a legislative mandate.

Specific data needs in a new assessment could include an assessment of boater and facility provider needs by types of boat to include non-motorized boats, geography, urban vs rural needs, boater activities on land and on water, and provide direction on updating the board’s policy that identifies a “transient” recreational boater as one that stays 14 days or less at a single site.

Grant Evaluation Criteria

To continue to improve the efficacy of the boating programs’ grant criteria, the board seeks to revise the criteria to accommodate changes in the needs of boaters and facility providers. For example, in the Boating Facilities Program, the board will evaluate ways to improve the use of the Environmental Stewardship criteria to ensure it aligns meaningfully with the unique issues related to boating, and remove the question that scores how a project aligns with the state comprehensive plan.

Coordinate with State Agencies

The Recreation and Conservation Office will continue to identify state agencies that play a role in supporting boaters and coordinate regular meetings of the State Agency Boating Committee. In 2008, state agencies created this committee for better coordination and information sharing. Currently, the committee is comprised of staff members from Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Licensing, Department of Natural Resources, State Parks and Recreation Commission, Department of Ecology, and the Recreation and Conservation Office. Agencies use this forum to coordinate boating programs, grant opportunities, stewardship efforts, and services targeted to the recreational boating community.

Promote Environmental Stewardship and Public Safety in Boating

In making funding available to facility providers, the board recognizes its responsibility as a partner in the stewardship of the natural environment and public safety. To this end, the board will work with potential grant applicants and land management and law enforcement agencies to identify how Recreation and Conservation Office grant programs can address water quality, habitat stewardship, and boater safety.

Proposed changes in the boating grant programs will be coordinated with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure applications are consistent with that agency’s stewardship responsibilities around managing state-owned aquatic lands. Coordination also will occur with the Washington Invasive Species Council, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other organizations to continue to update grant policies and programs to respond to the threat of aquatic invasive species. Lastly, coordination will occur with the State Parks and Recreation Commission on boater safety issues and needs for funding boating pump-out facilities. Other examples of things to consider are funding statewide multi-site projects such as the construction of life jacket loaner stations, boat wash-down stations, and access improvements for people with disabilities.

Fund Development of Multiple Use Sites That Reduce User Conflict

The board seeks to allow compatible uses of publicly funded boating facilities to conserve government resources while at the same time protecting the facilities’ primary users. The board will evaluate policies that allow for compatible use of boating sites. For example, the board may consider adding a preference in evaluation criteria for projects designed to remedy or mitigate known user conflicts when sites do have multiple uses, and potentially fund multiuse development in one or more grant programs to include programs that currently prohibit or limit funding multiuse (non-motorized or motorized) development.

Obligate Grant Funds within a Single Biennium in the Boating Facilities Program - State Agency Category

In 2016, Boating Facility Program grant applications from state agencies did not keep pace with the increased funding based on changes to the state’s gas tax. The board will monitor state applications in the Boating Facilities Program to determine if changes are needed that fully obligate available funding. Potential considerations include encouraging more state applications, evaluating obstacles in the grant process for state agencies, evaluating the board’s ability to invest in sponsor capacity (staff, consultant) to identify and prepare project proposals, or evaluating changes to state law to allow flexibility in the distribution of grants to local vs state government sponsored projects.

Support the Growing Paddle Sports Community and Facility Providers
Coordination and Program Development

The board will consider ways to fund non-motorized boating facilities in a more deliberate way. In coordination with other agencies and organizations, and based on outcomes from the boater needs assessment proposed in Recommendation 1, the board will evaluate the need for grant policies and programs to respond to the growing popularity of non-motorized boating. The board will collaborate with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and its Paddle Sports Advisory Committee as needed to support paddling and paddle sports in the state.

Coordinate Water Trails Projects

Water trails are important trail systems that allow boaters to explore, find shelter, and rest. The State Trails Plan includes a recommendation to develop water trails and include them in a designated statewide trail system. The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board seeks to connect the recommendations of this boating plan and the State Trails Plan to incorporate water trails into a state trails system (as may be established).

Modify Control and Tenure Requirements

The board will continue to evaluate policies and procedures that improve the ability of grant recipients to meet the board’s control and tenure requirements for the in-water portion of a boating project. This is best achieved by coordinating with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and others to identify policy improvements that allow long-term control of the project site to ensure long-term public use.

General Observations

Overall there is more motorboating activity on freshwater than on saltwater. Users of smaller boats (less than 26 feet) tend to recreate in freshwater while larger boats tend to recreate on saltwater and freshwater at about the same rate.


There is a very high satisfaction rate with regard to boating experiences and facilities in the state.

RCO Estimates that around 23% of Washington’s population (1,700,000 people) participated in paddle sports in 2016, up from 12% in 2013.[1][2]

(Paddling includes canoes, kayaks, row boats, white water paddling, drift boats, etc.)

Profile of Recreational Fleet in Washington State

Motor boats under 28 feet account for about 73 percent of total motor boating hours in the state (does not include paddle boats).[3][4]

Number of Registered Recreational Boats in Washington State Over Time


2016 Washington Department of Licensing Extract Length category (ft)
Registered Vessel Types<1616-<2626-<4040-<6565 and over
Auxiliary sail4113,3854,4793617
Cabin motorboat18012,5397,7821,06440
Inflatable boat1023002
Open motorboat35,658103,2651,7732365
Personal watercraft22,1771662014
Pontoon boat3160200


Fleet Characteristics [6]

Value of the Fleet

Applying the Department of Revenue’s depreciation schedule to the price paid for the vessel by its current owner and the number of years owned, the total value of the current fleet is $2.63 billion. The real value is higher because the almost 60,000 vessels that were registered in 2015, but not renewed, have a depreciated value of $243 million. Based on lien documentation, 13.5 percent of boats are being financed.

Age of Fleet

The median age of vessels in the fleet is 20 years, based on their model years, 2017 being the youngest. In other words 50 percent of the fleet has a model year 1997 or older, 50 percent 1997 or more recent. There are large differences when hull material is considered, however. Almost 50 percent of wooden-hulled vessels are more than 50 years old, whereas only 3 percent and 1.7 percent of aluminum and plastic hulls respectively exceed an age of 50 years.

Geographic Distribution of Vessels

The fleet is split 74 percent – 26 percent between western and eastern Washington. Counties bordering Puget Sound account for 65 percent of the state’s fleet. The eight-county Seattle–Tacoma–Olympia Combined Statistical Area, the metropolitan core of the region, houses more than 57 percent of the state total. East of the mountains Benton, Franklin, Spokane, and the counties containing the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland) account for 11 percent of the statewide fleet.


Of the total fleet ownership, 99 percent live in Washington. Out-of-state owners live in 805 towns and cities from every other state in the union. California, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Texas, and Colorado owners are the most heavily represented in the fleet.

Vessel Characteristics

Length: The median length of all vessels in the fleet is 18’.

Type: Runabouts dominate the fleet accounting for 64 percent of all vessels, followed by cabin cruisers (12 percent), and personal watercraft (10 percent). Sailboats are the smallest category with a little more than 5 percent of the total.

Hull material: Plastic – including fiberglass – is far and away the most popular hull material comprising 68 percent of all vessels. Aluminum, at 29 percent, is number two. Wood, rubber, steel, and concrete (ferro-cement) account for the remaining 3 percent of identified materials.

Propulsion: Outboards and outdrives are first and second in this category, followed by inboard engines, powering 47 percent, 21 percent, and 17 percent of boats respectively. Jet (10 percent) and sail (3 percent) power the rest of the fleet.

Fuel: Gasoline engines power 92 percent of the fleet with diesel a distant second at 6.4 percent. Electric, sail, and other power sources each account for less than 1 percent.

A Changing Fleet

When we compare the characteristics of the current fleet with those of the new boats that entered the fleet during the past12 months there are some remarkable differences. But, because the number of new boats is small compared to the fleet (5,750 versus 205,694, or 2.8 percent) it will take many years to change the fleet characteristics in significant ways.

Hull Material: Aluminum hulls gained in their share by 16.6 percentage points while plastic lost share by 17.4 percentage points.

Boat Type: Personal Watercraft gained 11.9 percentage points at the expense of cabin cruisers (-6.5 percentage points), runabouts (-6.8 percentage points) and sailboats (-4.1 percentage points).

Propulsion: Jet and outboard motors gained 11.3 percentage and 9.1 percentage points respectively; outdrive propulsion lost 14.7 percentage points of its share while inboard engines lost 5.1 percentage and sail 2.3 percentage points.

Length Classes: Vessels from 27 feet to 70 feet all lost share by margins of 0.02 percentage (67 feet-70 feet) to 1.3 percentage points (35 feet-38 feet). Better than 4 percent gains are seen in smallest length classes (<10 feet, 11 feet-14 feet) but 15 feet-18 feet saw a steep loss of share (-8.9 percentage points).

Economic Benefits of Boating[7]

Annually, people spend about $4.5 billion on recreational boating in Washington State. This makes recreational boating the second highest in expenditures when compared to other forms of outdoor recreation, behind only wildlife viewing and photography.

Recreational boating makes up almost 11 percent of all expenditures for outdoor recreation in Washington State. Trip-related expenditures are the total spent on boating, including equipment, travel and lodging, entrance fees, and food and beverages. Trip-related expenditures do not include expenses related to boat fuel or launch and moorage fees.

Annual Expenditures for Recreational Boating in Washington State (2014 Dollars)

[1] Recreation and Conservation Office, “Outdoor Recreation in Washington, The 2013 State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan” 2013

[2] Recreation and Conservation Office, “2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan” 2018

[3] A US Coast Guard metric, different from the 26ft metric RCO and other Washington State Agencies use.

[4] United States Coast Guard, “National Recreational Boating Survey 2012”

[5] Washington State Department of Licensing

[6] Sea Grant Washington

[7] Earth Economics, “Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State” 2017.

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