Washington State’s Boat Fleet – 2018

In 2018 alone, 6,383 new vessels worth over $250 million were added to the $1.9 billion Washington State recreational boating fleet. Altogether 220,908 vessels are currently registered in the State, placing demands on public and private boating infrastructure including marinas, mooring buoys, state marine parks, sea locks and the State’s ecologically vulnerable waterways.

The marina industry and state marine recreation agencies and consultants need accurate, geographically specific fleet information to respond to changing vessel moorage and sanitation needs in a growing industry.

For more detailed information, see the companion 2018 Boat Fleet Characteristics Excel spreadsheet that organizes fleet data by geographically-specific boat characteristics and ownership information.

Size of “Active” Fleet

Washington’s boating fleet on June 30, 2018, comprised 220,908 vessels that were currently registered (expiration date on or after Jun 30, 2018). Over 228,000 vessels with expired registrations were also listed in the Washington Department of Licensing Driver and Vehicle System (DRIVES) database. Of those, 190,000 had expiration dates of June 30, 2010 or later. These comprise a “latent” fleet of vessels that could, at any time, rejoin the “active” fleet should their owners decide to take up boating again. However, we do not know how many of these boats are unseaworthy, have been scrapped or have left the state with out-migrants.

Note: Selecting the last day of the current registration year to retrieve fleet data yields the most complete count of “active” vessels in the recreational boating fleet.  June 30, 2018 will be used as the baseline for assessing changes in the fleet in subsequent years.

Value of the Fleet

Applying the Department of Revenue’s Watercraft Excise Tax (WET) Depreciation Schedule to the price paid for the vessel by its current owner and the number of years owned, the total value of the active fleet is $1.9 billion. Based on lien documentation, 12.7% of boats are being financed.

Age of Fleet

The median age of vessels in the fleet is 25 years, based on their model year, 2019 being the youngest. In other words, 50% of the fleet has a model year 1994 or older, 50% 1994 or more recent. There are large differences when hull material is considered, however. Almost 50% of wooden-hulled vessels are over 50 years old, whereas only 2.7% and 1.7% of aluminum and plastic hulls respectively.

Geographic Distribution of Vessels

The fleet is split 74–26% between Western and Eastern Washington. Counties bordering Puget Sound account for 63% of the state’s fleet. The eight-county Seattle–Tacoma–Olympia Combined Statistical Area (CSA), the metropolitan core of the region, houses 56% of the state total.

East of the mountains Benton, Franklin and Spokane, the counties containing the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco and Richland) and Spokane account for 12% of the statewide fleet.

Where Are Vessels Moored or Stored?

For a variety of reasons owners may choose to moor or store their boats in a different county to one in which they live: Being closer to favorite fishing and cruising waters; finding available moorage; or, locating near a second home or vacation cabin.  Some residents in every county – the “sending” county – moor their boats in other counties; and every county – the “receiving” county – moors or stores boats from residents in the “sending” counties, both within and outside Washington State.

We ranked “sending” and “receiving” counties twice; first by the number, and, second, by the percentage of all vessels in the county that were sent from, or received by each county.

Western Washington Top Sending Counties

By Number of Vessels Sent

  1. King (5,475)
  2. Snohomish (2,292)
  3. Pierce (1,884)
  4. Clark (836)
  5. Thurston (734)

By Percentage of Vessels Sent

  1. Pacific (18.67%)
  2. Mason (17.05%)
  3. Jefferson (16.25%)
  4. King (14.09%)
  5. San Juan (11.97%)

Western Washington Top Receiving Counties

By Number of Vessels Received

  1. King (4,285)
  2. Snohomish (2,205)
  3. Pierce (1,949))
  4. Skagit (1,282)
  5. Kitsap (869)

By Percentage of Vessels Received

  1. Skamania (30.86%)
  2. San Juan (25.85%)
  3. Skagit (19.65%)
  4. Cowlitz (16.28%)
  5. Mason (15.53%)

Eastern Washington Top Sending Counties

By Number of Vessels Sent

  1. Stevens (902)
  2. Spokane (886)
  3. Grant (518)
  4. Benton (515)
  5. Chelan (513)

By Percentage of Vessels Sent

  1. Adams (36.08%)
  2. Stevens (25.05%)
  3. Douglas (23.73%)
  4. Kittitas (17.24%)
  5. Lincoln (15.13%)

Eastern Washington Top Receiving Counties

By Number of Vessels Received

  1. Spokane (1,400)
  2. Chelan (856)
  3. Grant (545)
  4. Benton (442)
  5. Stevens (391)

By Percentage of Vessels Received

  1. Garfield (30.95%)
  2. Ferry (26.82%)
  3. Columbia (26.19%)
  4. Pend Oreille (22.24%)
  5. Chelan (19.81%)

Some counties are net “exporters” of vessels owned by their residents while others are net “importers” of vessels owned by non-residents.

Western Washington Top Ranked Exporting and Importing Counties

Net Exporting Counties

  1. King (1,100)
  2. Clark (436)
  3. Thurston (145)
  4. Snohomish (87)
  5. Jefferson (69)

Net Importing Counties

  1. Skagit (661)
  2. Cowlitz (466)
  3. San Juan (358)
  4. Whatcom (312)
  5. Kitsap (191)

Eastern Washington Top Ranked Exporting and Importing Counties

Net Exporting Counties

  1. Stevens (511)
  2. Adams (155)
  3. Douglas (137)
  4. Walla Walla (119)
  5. Kittitas (98)

Net Importing Counties

  1. Spokane (514)
  2. Chelan (343)
  3. Pend Oreille (119)
  4. Ferry (61)
  5. Garfield (30)

When only vessels 26′ or more in length are considered we get a picture of where out-of-county demand for in-water moorage originates.

Western Washington Top Ranked Exporting and Importing Counties For Vessels 26′ or More in Length

Net Exporting Counties

  1. King (1,015)
  2. Snohomish (17)
  3. Clark (10)
  4. Island (3)

Net Importing Counties

  1. Skagit (447)
  2. Whatcom (184)
  3. San Juan (147)
  4. Pierce (115)
  5. Kitsap (30)

Eastern Washington Top Ranked Exporting and Importing Counties For Vessels 26′ or More in Length

Net Exporting Counties

  1. Yakima (19)
  2. Spokane (16)
  3. Kittitas (11)
  4. Douglas (9)
  5. Franklin (2)

Net Importing Counties

  1. Pend Oreille (37)
  2. Lincoln (34)
  3. Chelan (24)
  4. Stevens (19)
  5. Okanogan (11)

Ownership

Of the total fleet ownership, 99% live in Washington. Out-of-state owners live in 2,500 towns and cities from 45 states of 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’. Statewide, 93% of vessels are 26′ in length and under. East of the Cascades that percentage swells to 97.8%.

Type

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

Hull material

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

Propulsion

Outboards and outdrives are first and second in this category, powering 48% and 21% of boats respectively. Jet (10%) and sail (3%) power the rest of the fleet.

Engine Type

This vessel characteristic was added when DRIVEScame on line in 2017. Licensing agents appear to be having difficulty assigning the correct value, particularly Pod drive. This type of drive is usually found on larger vessels with inboard engines, certainly not on personal watercraft. The cross-tabulations TypxEng and EngxProp should therefore be treated with skepticism as they contain nonsensical entries.

Fuel

Gasoline engines power 92% of the fleet with diesel a distant second at 5.8%. Electric, sail and other power sources each account for less than 1%.

Summary

The most representative boat in the Washington fleet is an 18′ fiberglass or plastic-hulled runabout powered by one or more gasoline outboard motors.

A Changing Fleet

When comparing characteristics of the current fleet with those of new boats that entered the fleet over the last twelve months, some remarkable differences appeared. But, because the number of new boats is small compared to the fleet (5,750 versus 254,527 or 2.3%) it will take many years for new boats to influence the fleet characteristics in any significant way.

Hull Material

Aluminum hulls gained in their share by 16.1% while plastic lost share by 16.9 %.

Boat Type

Personal Watercraft gained 11.8 % points at the expense of cabin cruisers (-5.9%), runabouts (-6.9%) and sailboats (-4.4%).

Propulsion

Jet and outboard motors gained 11.2 and 8.1% respectively; outdrive propulsion lost 14.2% of their share while inboard engines lost 4.2% and sail 2.6%.

Length Classes

Vessels from 27′ to 70′ all lost share by margins of 0.02% (67′-70′) to 1.2% (35′-38′). Better than 3% gains were seen in smallest length classes (<10′, 11′-14′) but 15′-18′ saw a steep loss of share (-9.5%).