California Boater Survey Report Released

Byline: Taylor Hill

California Boater Survey Report Released

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Department of Boating and Waterways, in coordination with California Coastal Commission’s Boating Clean and Green Program, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation and Keep the Delta Clean (KDC) Program, released the findings of the 2007-2009 Boater Survey Report revealing California boaters’ habits and what avenues are best for informing boaters about crucial issues.

A total of 5,735 surveys were collected from boaters at various locations throughout California, including lakes, rivers, marinas and coastal access points, focusing on attendees at boating events such as boat shows and harbor festivals.

“What we wanted to do with this survey is identify any gaps in boater knowledge, in terms of clean water capabilities,” said Boating Clean and Green program director Vivian Matuk, who oversaw the survey. “The survey doesn’t represent California’s boating population as a whole, but it does give our program partners some new information and insight into what areas of outreach are working toward clean water, and which areas need improvement.

Questions on the survey asked about the types of boats owned (such as sail, power or sportfishing), how often respondents go boating, how frequently they change their oil, whether their vessel has leaked oil, how boaters clean up oil spills, how often boaters visit pumpout stations and what is the biggest deterrent to using pumpout stations, among other topics.

One area of interest Matuk said the survey revealed was that nearly 96 percent of boat owners said their boats leak oil most of the time, or every time they go out on the water. Only 2 percent said their boats rarely or never leaked oil.

Matuk said the findings show the need to further educate boaters on the importance of preventative engine maintenance and pollution prevention tools — including bilge pads and bilge cleaners — and proper containment procedures.

Pumpout stations were also a topic of interest. About 40 percent of the surveys returned indicated that boaters owned vessels with a Type 3 marine sanitation device installed onboard.

About 40 percent of boaters with heads on board noted difficulty locating pumpout stations while visiting other marinas. Boaters cited waiting in lines more than 10 minutes long to use pumpouts and finding pumpout stations in need of repair as the biggest deterrents to boaters properly dumping waste.

“Everything boils down to the fact that we need to make it as convenient and clear as possible for the boaters to properly dispose of oil, bilge pads and waste. That is the key,” Matuk said.

Findings from the survey indicated that further outreach needs to be conducted at local marine supply stores, Matuk said. Expanded outreach is expected at the upcoming America’s Cup in San Francisco, and oil absorbent pads will once again be distributed at marinas by local Dockwalkers as part of the Boating Clean and Green Program.

Dockwalkers are volunteers who visit marinas and boat shows to distribute boating kits, which include information on boating safety and environmental tools like bilge pads.

Other findings from the survey include:

• Boater Characteristics 

— Age and Experience: About half of all boaters surveyed were 50 or older and about three-quarters were age 42 or older. Only 3 to 5 percent of boaters were younger than 26.

— Boat Type: Ski boats and fishing boats were the most popular boats, and together accounted for about half of the boats owned. About one-fifth were sailboats with auxiliary motors, and less than 15 percent were motoryachts. Although only a small number of the boaters own sailboats with auxiliary motors and motoryachts, they tended to use their boats the most.

— Boat Size: More than half of the boaters surveyed owned boats 20 to 39 feet in length, 26 to 29 percent owned boats smaller than 20 feet and 11 percent owned boats 40 feet or longer. Most of the trailerable boats were found in the Sacramento Basin or Central Valley, while more residents from the Southern California coast and the San Francisco Bay Area owned larger boats.

• Boater Concerns 

— Common Concerns: Concerns common to most of the boaters surveyed, particularly older boaters, included intoxicated boaters, inexperienced boaters, trash and debris, and drinking water quality. Boaters expressed the least concern about speeding boats, abandoned vessels and bigger boats.

— Drinking Water: To more closely examine the boaters’ understanding of the link between water consumption and resource protection, program partners asked boaters to identify the primary source of drinking water in California. Across all years, only about 15 to 19 percent of boaters overall were aware that 51 to 75 percent of California residents receive drinking water from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, and 40 to 48 percent did not know the percentage of households served.

• Oil

— Oil Change: Almost half of boaters surveyed changed their own boat oil, and about half of those usually change it at home. Boaters who own sailboats with auxiliary motors or who use their boats to fish or camp are also more likely to change their own oil. Considering these results, Matuk said, program partners should continue providing educational messages to do-it-yourselfers on proper oil change techniques and disposal options.

— Oil Disposal: Between 43 and 46 percent of the boaters surveyed travel less than 1 mile to dispose of their used oil, from where they change it. About one-quarter traveled more than 3 miles to dispose of used oil. The provision of conveniently located certified used oil recycling centers, not only at marinas, could increase the proper disposal and recycling of used oil by the boating community.

— Oil Leaks: Of all boaters surveyed, 96 to 97 percent said their boat leaks oil most of the time or every time they go out on California waters, while only 2 percent said it rarely or never leaks oil. These findings support continued educational programs to target use of preventative engine maintenance and pollution prevention tools such as oil absorbents to reduce oil pollution, Matuk said.

— Oil Leak Cleanup: About 98 percent of surveyed boaters who reported oil leaks said they cleaned the oil — and of those who reported how they clean leaked oil, about half used oil absorbents, while 10 to 12 percent used soap or detergent. Those who cruise were also among those most likely to use oil absorbents. Boaters overall who use oil absorbents tend to take their used pads to oil waste receptacles at marinas more than using other disposal options, especially those surveyed in 2009. However, about 29 percent of those who use oil absorbents tossed them in the trash. Increased use of oil absorbents over the survey period suggests that the proper use of pollution prevention tools may be becoming a more common practice.

• Boating Activity

— Boat Usage: About half of all respondents boated at least once a year on the ocean, 41 to 45 percent boated at least once a year on inland lakes, 18 to 27 percent boated on the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and 14 to 17 percent boated on San Francisco Bay. Of the boaters who boated on the ocean, the average time spent per year is almost 50 days.

— Fuel Consumption: The highest proportion of the boaters surveyed consumed less than 12 gallons of fuel in a typical day on the water (around 48 percent). Overall, the state’s highest fuel consumers appeared to be Southern California coast boaters and southern inland residents. About 32 to 34 percent of these boaters reported using 21 or more gallons per day.

— Hours on the Water: Almost half of all boaters surveyed logged 50 or fewer engine hours annually, while about 10 to 11 percent logged more than 150 engine hours annually. Boaters who used marina dry storage facilities or who owned motoryachts, houseboats or fishing boats were among those most likely to put more than 150 hours on their engines per year; while owners of sailboats with auxiliary motors were those most likely to log 25 hours or less per year. Boaters who used their boats to fish were among those most likely to put more than 150 hours on their engines.

— Boat Storage: While the largest majority of surveyed boaters (47 to 48 percent) opted to store their boats at home on a trailer, a little more than one-third stored their boats at a marina, in the water. These findings suggest that future education and outreach efforts should target boat launch ramps and marinas, Matuk said.

— Boat Launching: Most boaters surveyed who launched their boats used public launch ramps. Residents from the Sacramento Basin and Central Valley were among those most likely to use public launch facilities, and their choice of facility was much more likely to be a marina. All boaters agreed that the top reasons for their choice of usual launch location were (in order of priority) good access, close proximity to a boat storage location, convenient trailer parking, fuel docks and restrooms.

• Sewage

— Sewage Pumpout Use: Overall, between 51 and 80 percent of boaters used pumpouts where they store or berth their boats. Those who refuel at marina fuel docks or bring their own gas cans tended to use pumpouts at marinas most often, while those who use shoreside gas stations tend to use pumpouts where they launch.

— Sewage Pumpout Obstacles: Waiting in line and encountering broken pumpouts are still common obstacles for boaters. Proper maintenance of existing facilities and installation of additional pumpouts should remain a priority, Matuk said.

— Illegal Sewage Discharge: About 70 percent of surveyed boaters do not know the penalty in California for illegally discharging untreated sewage is a $2,200 fine. Future education and outreach efforts should continue to focus on the environmental impact of improper sewage disposal, fines and regulations and make a particular effort to target age groups that tend to be the least informed about illegal discharges, Matuk said.

• Reaching Boaters

— Information sources: Boaters surveyed said they tend to rely on boat shows, marinas, marina supply stores and word-of-mouth for boating information. However, a significant proportion (16 to 24 percent) said they rely on boating newspapers and magazines, safety classes and boating associations as news sources.

— Boater Kits: Overall, the 8 to 13 percent of boaters who received boater kits in the past tended to be much more likely to use oil absorbents to clean leaked oil and somewhat more likely to correctly identify environmental service logos, according to the survey. This trend supports continued educational efforts, such as boater kit distribution and face-to-face outreach, Matuk said. Study results also suggest that there are subsets of the boating community that could benefit from additional educational efforts, such as younger and less-experienced boaters, as well as those who launch at public launch ramps and fuel their boats at shoreside gas stations.

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