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Counties with the most boat launches

CitizenShipper used Geological Survey data to rank the 25 counties in the U.S. with the most boat launches.
CitizenShipper used Geological Survey data to rank the 25 counties in the U.S. with the most boat launches. - Natalia Sokko // Shutterstock
CitizenShipper used Geological Survey data to rank the 25 counties in the U.S. with the most boat launches. - Natalia Sokko // Shutterstock
Andrea Vale, Data Work By Emma Rubin

There are 11.8 million recreational boats in use across the country as of 2022, according to the Coast Guard, meaning about 1 in 11 U.S. households own a vessel. Who knew having a boat was so popular in the United States? Well, despite stereotypes about boating, in reality, it’s not just a leisure reserved for the 1%—the annual household income for 3 in 5 boat owners in the U.S. is $100,000 or less, the National Marine Manufacturers Association reports.

In 24 U.S. states, as well as in Washington D.C., boating and fishing are the largest outdoor recreation activities, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the country overall, it’s the second-largest, at $32.4 billion, with Florida, California, and Texas contributing to that overall amount the most.

In recent years, however, droughts have unfortunately affected boating in many areas of the country, meaning getting vessels into the water is no longer a given. Extended periods of drought impact many Americans’ access to boat ramps, lakes, and reservoirs.

In October 2021, 90% of the western U.S. experienced extreme droughts. Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir by volume, had dried up to just 35% capacity. On other reservoirs and lakes across states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Illinois, boat owners could not access sufficient water to launch, with many boating and water sporting businesses suffering as a result.

The drought situation has since improved slightly. Total drought in the U.S. has dropped to 16.6% as of February 2024, and Lake Mead’s water levels are at their highest in three years, thanks in part to particularly heavy snow this winter. As warmer months approach, the effects those rising water levels will have on the boat industry will become clearer.

To see where boat launches are most prevalent in America today, CitizenShipper used 2022 Geological Survey data to rank the 25 counties in the U.S. with the most boat launches. (Note: The data has location information for nearly 25,000 boat launches across the country, but these numbers should be interpreted as estimates, as it does not feature every boat launch nationwide.)


Map showing Great Lakes region offers thousands of boat launches. Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes", has over 2,300 launches.

CitizenShipper

More freshwater sources often mean more boat launches

Boat launches tend to be clustered around lakes and reservoirs, so it’s no surprise that the Great Lakes region has the highest concentration of launching sites—however, not necessarily for the reason you might assume.

Although the Great Lakes region does dominate other areas of the U.S., it’s not necessarily due to boats being launched on the lakes themselves but rather on many smaller reservoirs that dot the geography of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The most boat launch-sparse section of the country encompasses Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, which is to be expected, considering those states have some of the driest climates in America. However, due to drought conditions in the western U.S., some states are considering constructing more reservoirs to hoard water, which could result in more boat launch sites in the future.

In coastal areas, there are options to launch boats into shallow depths of the ocean itself, often using the shelter of coves or bays, like the boat launch-dense Barnstable County along Cape Cod, Massachusetts’ famed Atlantic getaway. Even near the saltwater ocean, there are often reserves of freshwater rivers, lakes, and waterways—like the Dora Canal and St. Johns River in Lake County, Florida—that rank among the U.S. counties with the most boat launches.

Read on to find out where else to head if you want to set sail—whether by lake, river, reservoir, or sea.

 Beautiful sunset over the 561 bridge near Lake Minnehaha.

Noah Densmore // Shutterstock

#25. Lake County, Florida

– Total boat launches: 58
– Waterway with most launches: Lake Griffin (8)

Road to crater lake with scenic view of Mt Thielsen.

Checubus // Shutterstock

#24. Douglas County, Oregon

– Total boat launches: 60
– Waterway with most launches: Umpqua River (14)

Sunset on a dock with pontoon boat on Lake Reno.

Denise Gerdes // Shutterstock

#23. Douglas County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 61
– Waterway with most launches: Lake Carlos (3)

A sunset over Moses Lake.

alexmisu // Shutterstock

#22. Grant County, Washington

– Total boat launches: 65
– Waterway with most launches: Lower Crab Creek – Potholes Reservoir (10)

Pier jutting out into reflections of an island in the Chippewa Flowage.

Shelly Bychowski Shots // Shutterstock

#21. Sawyer County, Wisconsin

– Total boat launches: 68
– Waterway with most launches: Nelson Lake (4)

Sunset with Fishing Boat and Dock.

Debbie Center // Shutterstock

#20. Hubbard County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 69
– Waterway with most launches: Long Lake (3)

Morning sunrise of a kayak on a calm McKenzie Lake.

Aaron J Hill // Shutterstock

#19. Polk County, Wisconsin

– Total boat launches: 71
– Waterway with most launches: Balsam Lake (4)

A view of the Sabine Lake Bridge.

Sara Armas // Shutterstock

#18. Sabine County, Texas

– Total boat launches: 73
– Waterway with most launches: Sabine River – Toledo Bend Reservoir (31)

View over the harbour of Provincetown.

Alizada Studios // Shutterstock

#16. Barnstable County, Massachusetts (tie)

– Total boat launches: 74
– Waterway with most launches: Bass River (6)

Scott Lake Public Boat launch and dock.

Aaron J Hill // Shutterstock

#16. Barron County, Wisconsin (tie)

– Total boat launches: 74
– Waterway with most launches: Red Cedar River (7)

Reflection of autumn forest in a lake.

Oleksandr Koretskyi // Shutterstock

#15. Marinette County, Wisconsin

– Total boat launches: 75
– Waterway with most launches: Menominee River (16)

Close up of a truck pulling in a boat.

Daniele RUSSO // Shutterstock

#14. Aitkin County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 77
– Waterway with most launches: Mille Lacs Lake (12)

Winter view of Wolf Lake in near Grantsburg.

Ken Wolter // Shutterstock

#12. Burnett County, Wisconsin (tie)

– Total boat launches: 83
– Waterway with most launches: Saint Croix River (8)

Docks along the Oconto River.

Donnar // Shutterstock

#12. Oconto County, Wisconsin (tie)

– Total boat launches: 83
– Waterway with most launches: Oconto River (8)

Sailboats on a late afternoon on Fern Ridge reservoir.

Jamie Hooper // Shutterstock

#11. Lane County, Oregon

– Total boat launches: 84
– Waterway with most launches: McKenzie River (21)

Sunrise on wooden fishing dock.

Adam Outdoors Photography // Shutterstock

#10. Becker County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 87
– Waterway with most launches: Detroit Lake (4)

Docks on a lake in Washburn County.

Jennifer Tepp // Shutterstock

#9. Washburn County, Wisconsin

– Total boat launches: 99
– Waterway with most launches: Long Lake (4)

Canoe with paddle on shore of a lake.

Dan Thornberg // Shutterstock

#8. Crow Wing County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 105
– Waterway with most launches: Mississippi River (6)

The Orwell Dam and part of the Ottertail River.

Barbarajo // Shutterstock

#7. Otter Tail County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 114
– Waterway with most launches: Dead Lake (4)

Kayaks at the boat launch on Mac Lake.

Norm Lane // Shutterstock

#6. Polk County, Florida

– Total boat launches: 127
– Waterway with most launches: Saddle Creek Park (5)

Autumn Minnesota aerial foliage and swampy lake.

mpete714 // Shutterstock

#5. Cass County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 134
– Waterway with most launches: Leech Lake (16)

Fall Scene on the Wisconsin River.

Keith Bell // Shutterstock

#4. Oneida County, Wisconsin

– Total boat launches: 137
– Waterway with most launches: Rhinelander Flowage (5)

Forest trees frame a scenic view of Mabel Lake.

Jason Patrick Ross // Shutterstock

#3. Vilas County, Wisconsin

– Total boat launches: 148
– Waterway with most launches: Big Lake (3)

Sunset around the Duluth Lighthouse.

Frank Kennedy MN // Shutterstock

#2. St. Louis County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 184
– Waterway with most launches: St. Louis River (9)

Mississippi River flowing under railroad bridge on sunny morning.

Edgar Lee Espe // Shutterstock

#1. Itasca County, Minnesota

– Total boat launches: 192
– Waterway with most launches: Mississippi River (12)

Story editing by Jaimie Etkin. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

This story originally appeared on CitizenShipper and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

Stacker
Written By

Founded in 2017, Stacker combines data analysis with rich editorial context, drawing on authoritative sources and subject matter experts to drive storytelling.

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