Florida accounts for one-fourth of the nation’s recreational boating activity and the number of boaters plying coastal waterways has increased at a rate that eclipses overall population growth. As demand for access to and use of waterways increases, so does the need for enhanced environmental protection and increased public safety and education. However, information available to managers and policy-makers does not adequately describe activities and desires of the boating community. Florida Sea Grant and the Florida Marine Research Institute are collaborating on the development of scientifically defensible methods, integrated processes, and effective tools to address boating related issues.
One such effort evaluates the use of the State’s Vessel Title and Registration System to identify the spatial distribution of boats. Comprehensive, up-to-date, accurate, and spatially-referenced boat population data will facilitate planning efforts to sustain Florida’s economic vitality and natural environment, while allowing for recreational boating uses. Knowledge of boat locations (where they are moored, anchored, or docked) and characteristics is key to planning efforts that address many issues, including: (1) channel maintenance, (2) siting of boating infrastructure, (3) origin and destination analyses, and (4) waterway service levels. Furthermore, vessel information that is updated on a recurring basis can provide valuable benchmark information and the basis to assess boat population trends. A robust vessel registration database will facilitate waterway planning and management throughout Florida.
Another effort involves a user derived on-the-water origin/destination/traffic route study. Methods include ramp intersect surveys and map-based questionnaires mailed to a random sample of boaters. The survey instrument contains questions on one side and a detailed map of a particular boating region on the reverse side. Questionnaire recipients mark the start and end point of their recreational boating trips, trace their travel routes, identify their favorite boating destinations, and the primary activities that they engage in while at a particular destination. The information collected from returned surveys is digitized into a geographic information system and is used for resource management and planning applications, and as the basis for developing map-based products intended to improve boating experiences and instill resource stewardship.
The approaches described above are designed to provide information that facilitates a proactive approach to resource management that considers activities and needs of a major coastal user group.