Written by Bob Arrington
April 2022

Spring can be a mixed bag for many of our readers, for those in the northern latitudes who are looking forward to boating again, it’s also time to prepare your annual tax returns. Even if you’re civic minded, it’s easy to ask yourself exactly what do I get from all this money I pay the government? It just so happens boaters get more than the average citizen.

Federal, state and local governments use a portion of the money they collect in taxes each year to support your favorite pastime. Actually, a surprising amount of money is spent annually to make boating safer and more enjoyable.

Keeping You Safely on Course

U.S. Coast Guard - smart boater - marinalife
U.S. Coast Guard | Tidewater Muse

Let’s begin with one of the most important yet least appreciated government agencies: the U. S. Coast Guard. I don’t mean just in the comfort we get knowing they’re there to save our bacon when we get in over our head. Can you imagine what it would be like to boat without navigation aids? No markers to tell if you’re in the channel or about to run aground?

Put a price on the haul-out and repair from tearing up props and rudders, and you can already see tax dollars going back into your pocket. You can thank the men and women of the Coast Guard for being out in all kinds of weather making sure our route is clearly marked.

Keeping the marked channels dredged is a combined effort with funds provided by federal, state and local governments. Boaters regularly navigating the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), may not think enough is spent on dredging and maintaining it, and they might be correct, but we can be thankful the Coast Guard does a good job of keeping the markers moved to identify where deeper water runs through trouble spots.

Watching the Weather for You

Your favorite navigation app or chart plotter couldn’t work without the information National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides for embedded charts. If you still use paper charts, you’re equally dependent on NOAA for those as well.

noaa - smart boater - marinalife
Courtesy of NOAA

NOAA also operates the National Weather Service. Can you imagine going boating without accurate weather forecasts? How about planning a day of fishing and not being able to predict what the wind and waves will be?

Staying safe on the water involves staying in touch with help and services on shore, as well as other boaters around you. The Coast Guard and NOAA made this easier with advanced features in VHF radio like the emergency Digital Selective Calling (DSC) button, wherein boaters with a properly programmed radio can call help to their exact location by pressing a single button.

Knowing what other boats around you are doing with Automated Identification Systems (AIS) has increased boater safety and enhanced the enjoyment of boating more than anything since the invention of VHF radios. The Coast Guard publishes everything you could possibly want to know about AIS, VHF and a host of other important information on the Coast Guard’s Navigation Center website. Check out this well-organized site and be amazed at the wealth of information for recreational boaters. The AIS link to frequently asked questions: navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=AISFAQ

Building Nearby Boat Ramps

For many, access to the water is the local boat ramp, and most in this country are public ramps constructed and maintained by state parks and natural resource agencies. Without these publicly funded facilities, we all may have a nice view of the water, but it would be difficult or expensive to get out on it.

boats under bridge - smart boater - marinalife
Boats passing under bridge in Chicago | Needpix

The quality of the coastal water these boat ramps give us access to has improved considerably in the last 50 years, thanks to four programs enacted by Congress. NOAA is celebrating its achievements of the last 50 years through “The Ocean Coastal Conservation Campaign” (noaa.gov/50-years-ocean-coastal-conservation)

As reported on NOAA’s webpage: “Fifty years ago, in October 1972, the leaders of the nation took action and passed four key laws to help protect, conserve, study and inspire public appreciation for our coasts, Great Lakes and ocean: The Coastal Zone Management Act governs the use of our coastal zones through federal/state partnerships and created the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects and recovers marine mammals and their ecosystems. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act created the National Marine Sanctuary System. Lastly, the Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into our waters.”

Anglers may benefit more than cruising boaters with additional funds going toward maintaining healthy fishing grounds. The National Marine Fisheries Service provides funds for habitat research and protection. They also shell out grants to local communities to plant sea grasses and preserve wetlands, which act as nurseries for many coastal species, and develop artificial reef programs.

If it were up to road builders, boaters would be severely restricted in movement, but thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Bridge Administration, bridges over navigable waterways are not allowed to restrict maritime commerce. The next time an operator opens a bridge to let your boat pass beneath it, thank the Coast Guard for making that possible.

Except for a few public courses, the government doesn’t spend much money helping golfers enjoy a round of golf or for skiers to hit the slopes. Hikers and campers make out okay with the National Park Service, but no other recreation receives more money than boating. The reality is much of this funding is allocated to support maritime trade and commerce, but recreational boaters receive a direct benefit as well. So, if you haven’t paid your taxes yet, maybe knowing your next day on the water is made more enjoyable by government funds will make it easier to write the check.