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Home / Special Report / Boating enthusiasts make waves
in local region

Boating enthusiasts make waves
in local region

With a Great Lake, picturesque and protected bays, the Finger Lakes and the Genesee River among the area’s watery attractions, boating and related activities make a big splash in the local economy and recreation scene.
Each year boaters buy gas, bait, equipment and supplies, in addition to the boats. They also pay for storing, repairing and transporting the vessels. The area’s boats come in all sizes, weights and modes of propulsion.
Monroe County has the most registered motorboats of any county in New York’s Great Lakes region, statistics from the New York Sea Grant program show. Monroe, according to 1995 figures (the latest available), had 28,629 boats, a 1.4 percent increase over 1994.
Two adjoining counties saw the number of boats increase roughly 3.5 percent: Wayne County to 6,130 and Orleans County to 1,947.
“Rochester has an awful lot of places to go boating,” says James McCann, president of the Genesee Region Marine Trades Association. He also owns Leisure Time Marina of Conesus Inc. in Scottsville.
He lists the Finger Lakes, particularly Conesus, Canandaigua and Honeoye lakes; the Genesee River; and the Irondequoit Bay as top area destinations for owners of small and midsize boats. The size and roughness of Lake Ontario attract bigger boats.
“Lake Ontario (requires) an entirely different style of boat,” he says. “Irondequoit Bay is very popular. Most of the people we see are interested in the Finger Lakes area.”
Some 23,000 of the 28,629 registered power-boat owners use their boats within Monroe County, the Sea Grant report shows.
Industry officials differ on their outlook on the health of the local boating industry. They agree, however, that personal watercraft–often referred to as Jet Skis, Wave Runners and other brand names–are changing the boating scene and driving sales in the boating industry.
“The only area of growth is in personal watercraft,” says Craig Bryce, president of Bryce Marine Inc. Boating sales overall are down from the booming 1980s and some companies have closed.
“It’s not all bleak, but it’s not booming either,” he says. “It goes in waves. I think we are beginning to see an upturn.”
The economy has hurt the boating industry, he says. “We are competing for the entertainment dollar. We are competing with everyone else for that dollar. We compete against the big-screen TVs.”
McCann agrees personal watercraft have boomed the past several years. Sales of larger boats remain strong, while the smaller fishing-type boats have waned recently. He attributes the small-boat decline to poor weather the past two springs.
“As far as boating traffic, I still think there is about the same traffic as other years,” McCann says.
Boating officials are counting on the popularity of the smaller personal watercraft to boost boating overall. The smaller watercraft introduce boating to many new people.
“The non-boating person looks for a small fishing boat. The small-boat operator looks for a bigger boat,” says Donald Suhr, owner of Riverview Yacht Basin. “Someone with a 25-foot boat wants a 35-foot boat. The guy with a 35 (foot boat) wants a 45 (foot boat). That’s how people progress.”
The personal watercraft also are turning more women into boat owners, Bryce says.
“Twenty to 25 percent of sales have been to women (as sole owners),” he says. Outside of the personal watercraft, women are the sole purchaser in just 5 percent of sales.
“The personal watercraft are smaller and less trouble,” he explains.
Area boating activity extends beyond power boats. Sailboats dot the Irondequoit Bay and the Finger Lakes, and use of canoes and kayaks is growing in popularity.
Jason Gotte, manager of Oak Orchard Canoe Experts in Pittsford, says this region’s canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts focus more on flat-water paddling. Other areas of the state–such as Waterport, northeast of Buffalo, home to Oak Orchard Canoe’s first store–gravitate toward white water.
“It’s a lot of local people trying to get out of the city and get away from it all,” he says. “It’s a lot of businesspeople (looking) for stress reduction and a change of pace.”
The increasing interest in canoeing and kayaking led to Bay Creek Paddling Center Inc. opening a year ago.
“It’s an excellent market,” says Stephen Skinner, president of the Penfield business, located where Irondequoit Bay meets Irondequoit Creek.
“Back to nature is a big thing. You get away from the rat race for a while,” he says.
Suhr says the same relaxation draws people to all kinds of boating.
“Being near the water draws you. It’s soothing,” he says. “The water has a strong attraction.”
Skinner says he is just starting to see interest in sea kayaking, popular on the West Coast and in many major cities.
“We have an untapped potential with Lake Ontario,” he says. “Part of our job is expanding kayaking.”
The canal and Mendon Ponds Park top the list of canoeing hot spots.
Skinner says the Finger Lakes Ontario Wayne Paddling Club is currently working with state officials on developing a white-water area along Lock 32 of the Erie Canal in Pittsford.
Surprisingly, neither the state nor industry has determined the economic impact of boating, but experts estimate the value to the region would be in the many millions of dollars a year.
Dick True, executive secretary for the Empire State Trades Association, located in Northville–northwest of Albany–says 65 percent of non-urban recreation time is spent on a boat.
“There are a lot of figures going around about the economic impact of boating,” True says. “We view boating as the keystone to the recreational index of New York State.”
He adds some 50 percent of recreational boating is done on small fishing boats.
Studies outside New York have shown that boating’s impact comes in several areas. The direct impact includes direct expenses by those involved in the activity or industry, such as buying gas, oil, new boats and trailers, food, lodging, boating fees, boat registrations and so on.
The broad range of impact makes it difficult to get an accurate survey, says David White, program coordinator for New York Sea Grant in Oswego.
“The industry has a very significant impact on the economy,” White says.

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