Boat ramp traffic way down and fewer boats on the water?

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Sep 23, 2023
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Is it me or does it seem like every year over the past four or five years there's been fewer and fewer boats on the water?

I can remember having to wait in line to launch, now most of the ramps are empty, with only crowds of people fishing at the boat ramp or on the docks vs. launching a boat.
Weekends are busier but not by much.
I felt better about leaving my truck and trailer at a busy launch ramp vs at one that looks abandoned while I'm gone.

On the water, other boats are few and far between. There's plenty of jet skis and go fast boats but almost no runabouts and aluminum boats anymore.
I see more restored old wood boats being cruised up and down the river vs vintage aluminum or glass boats.

I'm thinking the cost of gas and everything has really taken its toll on boating lately?

I'm also seeing quite a few really nice motors and even whole boats sit for sale for weeks or months on CL and FB, boats that would have been gone in a heartbeat a few years ago.

I listed a few small outboards myself recently and got only tire kickers and people that had no idea what they were looking at. One guy was looking at a 6hp Evinrude and he was upset that it didn't have electric start. It finally sold to some old guy who I figured is likely going to part it out on fleabay because he paid me and tossed it into the back of his truck like a piece of firewood.

I'm also seeing issues with buying parts lately, the local dealers have nothing in stock, maybe an oil filter or spare prop or two but I needed a carb kit for a 2005 Merc 9.9hp four stroke and I was told they had to order it and it'll take two weeks. I ordered it off fleabay and had it in three days for half the price. Then you hear dealers complaining that they can't sell anything. You can't sell what you don't have.
They do have parts for current models but I would hope that a current model won't need many parts for a good many years. Not stocking parts for older motors makes no sense since those are the motors that most likely need parts and guys like me will never buy a brand new motor so long as there are estate sales and old timers dying with their widows selling things off for cheap.
People stopped caring during the pandemic. When inflation went sky high people just let their stuff sit, even their nice stuff ! Boat traffic last year was down but still good, a little early to know yet this year. For sure, there is a lot of boats and such sitting behind garages and barns or just sitting in driveways not even covered !! People just don't seem to care anymore. No one to fix things at an affordable cost anymore so everything becomes disposible. Around my area there are numerous boats sitting in yards that haven't moved in years ! All day they will be up for sale, advertised as well cared for and stored inside !!
Down here in Central Texas where I am. It's due to lack of water. Lake Travis, one of the closest largest lakes near me is over half empty. It seems. All the boat ramps are out of the water.
At the ramp I would say it is just as busy. Seems even a few more boats than normal early in the morning. I'm guessing because this year our lakes are full compared to last year. I'm seeing mostly fishing boats at the ramp and on the lake. Never counted, but would guess the majority are aluminum. I also see a fair number of kayaks decked out for fishing. Some with electric TMs. I avoid weekends like the plague. That probably explains why I see few pleasure boats/lake lice.

Shame that decent boats are sitting and corroding away.
Its been sort of dead here, a few boats are on the water but not nearly what I'd expect.
They also made it hard to renew boat registrations here if you didn't register in 2020 during the pandemic.
If you skip a year you have to go to a main or regional motor vehicle office to renew your registration. They won't let you renew online or by mail either. Two of my boats have sat because I don't have the time to kill a weekday to drive an hour each way, or make a special appointment just to renew my boat and trailer.
Many seem to be just running without registration, out of about 12 boats I saw the other day on the river only two had current registration decals. The state sort of brought that on themselves by closing the boat ramps in 2020. I for one certainly wasn't going to pay to register a boat and trailer I couldn't use for that year.

Boat ramps have also become a little sketchy security wise. Lost of thefts and break ins.

I just picked up a 2022 Honda 9.9hp short shaft motor off FB for $200. I actually didn't bother contacting the seller for over a week thinking that there's no way it would still be there or that its likely a scam, but after they added more pics, I asked for an address and went to see it, Other than a ton of duct tape glue all over the cover, it looks and runs like new. The woman told me I was the first person to reply with a real phone number. The only bad part about it was having to carry it by myself up the basement steps and through her kitchen. The steps were old and rickety and I could only lift it long enough to go one step at a time sort of bear hugging it as I made my way up the 30" wide staircase.
It looked like the old guy who owned it kept it and a few others in the basement. There was an outside entrance but it was bolted shut and she didn't want me to mess with the old doors.
For a $200 two year old Honda motor, I gladly dealt with it and got it done. My back and elbows though will be recovering for the next month though.

If things were normal, there's no way a running four stroke 9.9 motor of any brand would still have been there like that.
They did the same thing here, when you get a renewal for your boat its got a PIN number that you use to renew online but that PIN number is only good for up to 30 days after it expires, after that that you have to drive to a regional office to renew it where they'll make you pay for the missed year in order to renew the registration. Worse yet, they lost two of my renewals that were done and paid for online, out of 6, I only received four in the mail. now it requires a trip to a central office to fix the issue. They've done this before too mostly on boat and trailer registrations.
Used boats are all over the place, and there are lots of deals but people are brain washed that four stroke is the only choice. A few dealers are pushing electric motors but who in their right mind would pay that kind of money to power a $500 boat.
I did pick up a minty clean 1978 Johnson 35hp the other day off CL, it had been listed for a month, so I shot off a lowball offer of $50 and the guy took it. To my surprise it starts and runs, even pumps water but the plan is still to go over it and give it a new impeller and some new spark plugs. The guy was asking $250. The ad went up back in March. How anyone could let a running motor like that go for $50 is beyond me. I was thinking it would be a good parts motor for my boat but it may be better than the motor I'm running. In talking to the guy after loading the motor into my truck, he tells me I was the only one to answer his ads. Apparently he had ads on CL, FB, and Letgo.
I don't think its just boats or motors that have declined, a friend of mine sells at a local fleamarket, she tells me the only thing that sells these days is cheap used clothes and outdated food. Everything else is dead. When I was there two weeks ago the place looked like a ghost of its former self. Tons of empty tables and hordes of Mexicans roaming around digging through piles of cheap clothes. She also said that theft has run rampant. She said they steal something, then return an hour later wanting a refund for the item they stole saying it don't fit.
The lake is only 37% full.



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I think another aspect is that people don’t want to do business face to face anymore. It’s far easier and maybe less scary to go online and click on a motor or boat thing and have it show up on your porch. No confrontation, no haggling, no perceived risk of dealing with threatening people.

I’ve found so many deals on FB Marketplace in the last several years. And met some really nice people too.
Wow that’s a sad sight. How long since you have had rain? I just saw on the news where around Conroe Texas got flooding rains. Hopefully you got some of that.
We have had rains but they have to fall in the watershed. Getting rain right now but we would need at least weeks of worth of steady rain in the watershed to do any improvement to the lake.
Just driving by and eyeballing the ramp parking lot, looks like traffic is about the same as last year. Our lake seems very busy on any nice weekend, but during the week not so much. Love those days when got the whole lake to myself. We do have a so-called dredging project going on with 2-3 ugly barges out on the water and strings of buoys marking the submerged discharge line. Thought that would really kill traffic, but doesn't seem like it.

What gripes my a$$ is they are just randomly sucking up silt with what is basically a diesel powered shop vac. Year 2 of a 2 year project and they're still on the same end of the lake! 40' of sediment and they think they'll suck up enough in 2 years to make a difference. There goes a bunch of millions of dollars, literally down the drain! I also suspect all this constant discharge of a watery solution led to very low lake levels last year. OK, sorry to get off on a rant.
I think another aspect is that people don’t want to do business face to face anymore. It’s far easier and maybe less scary to go online and click on a motor or boat thing and have it show up on your porch. No confrontation, no haggling, no perceived risk of dealing with threatening people.

I’ve found so many deals on FB Marketplace in the last several years. And met some really nice people too.
There's always 'deals' on FB and CL but no takers. If I bought everyone of them I'd have 100 boats and motors.
A neighbor has been trying to sell his old boat for years now, a '93 14ft Starcraft with an older 9.9hp Evinrude and a welded galvanized trailer. He moved here with it from PA about 8 years ago but bought a bigger boat a few years ago. He's had it listed for $1500 for over three years with no takers. He told me if he don't find any takers for it by the end of June he'll sell it to me for $800. Its 20 years newer than my boat, but I'd run my four stroke motor on it
I've also been watching a later model Mercury 9.9 four stroke on FB for $250 for a month now, its a half hour away, if I happen to get over that way and its still there I'll likely grab it but how its still for sale is beyond me. Ten years ago there'sno way any motor or boat would last more than a few hours under a grand.
It seems that the younger crowd doesn't boat or fish here. Those of my buddies that were sportsmen have either retired or passed on with most of their boats just sitting unused with no takers.
First it was the bigger boats, then the runabouts, now even aluminum boats don't seem to sell.
Either they have so much money they're only buying new boats or they're dead broke and can't afford anything at all.
Back when I was 18 or so I'd have killed for a good cheap boat, I dealt with a patched up 12ft boat for years before I got the chance to buy a 12 year old 14ft boat with a gas motor. Even then it was a matter of making payments on it for a year. Now, those types of boats are everywhere for cheap with no takers.
I get it that the younger crowd is into video games and such but they still sell millions of fishing licenses ever year and bank fishing access is getting harder and harder to find here.
When I sold my old Grumman 14ft boat two years ago it was like pulling teeth to get $600 for it in absolutely mint shape. (Boat and trailer, no motor., I wasn't letting go of my then new Merc four stroke 9.9hp which was already on a larger boat. It finally sold but the buyer who bought it looked at it at least 5 times before showing up with cash. It had been listed for three years, it had a new transom, 12 Scotty rod holders, a 58lb thrust Minn Kota trolling motor, and two new deep cycle batteries the year before. The guy who bought it was only the second person to respond to the ad in all that time on CL and FB.

As a buyer, FB is a waste of time, about 3/4 of all the ads are likely fake here, its rare to get a response from someone, when they do respond its months later. CL is better but there's far less traffic or none at all it seems sometimes. When I listed an aluminum canoe, the only replies I got were from scrappers who wanted to take it for free.

It wasn't always like this, it started to go downhill around 2008 or so, it started to get better for a bit back in 2019 but now that inflation went nuts again nothing sells.

All I keep thinking though is how much this inactivity is helping the fish stocks, because of so little fishing pressure but I'm sure the commercial guys are reaping the results instead.
Boat traffic had a big uptick here during the pandemic, fancy decked out kayaks as well. It hasn’t really dropped off to pre pandemic numbers. Weekends are a zoo. I beat the crowds by going early mornings mid week. Maybe two or three others at ramps at that time. By the time I go to leave folks are filling up the lot. I don’t think anyone works anymore. I avoid weekends like the plague.
Lots of old boats dying slow deaths on properties around but seems that was always the case. I think you’ve always had those folks that thought they wanted to boat but found it wasn’t for them. Leading to boats sitting neglected. Lots of boats for sale online . The good deals don’t last long.
The weather wasn't as nice in April this year so I was 2 weeks later putting my dock in the river (we also had a lot of rain and the river was high and loaded with debris). I was still the first one in on the NJ side of the river in our area and I've been out 8-10 times now and caught a couple of fish. We have a private ramp so traffic isn't an issue and I usually only use it early in the season before the dock is in and late when we break the dock down and I still want to go out. The river was pretty crowded last year and we're getting more new members in our club each year. This weekend might be the last of the lousy cooler weather so it might start to pick up soon.

Edit: Spoke too soon, the long term forecast just changed again showing showers/thunderstorms for almost the rest of the week and next weekend now looks like another cooler upper 50;s low 60's weekend. Most of the locals wait until Memorial Day weekend to get their docks/boats in the water and the extended forecast doesn't look exciting so they'll probably be in no rush this year.
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Jet skis, eat huge amounts of gas for their size, so do go fast boats, so if you think cost is a factor that seems to fly in the face of cost. I'm just getting back into boating after nearly a 10 year layoff, so I can report locally in a few months as to how busy the waters are. For now as season is opening up the 2 marina's I'm dealing with are busy getting boats ready and in. How much that translates to people filling the tank and burning fuel IDK.

I think as the economy slows and tightens, you'll see more and more low HP boats taking to the water.
Lakes here got crazy in 2020 and 2021. Prior to then I never had trouble finding a parking spot unless it was a holiday weekend. Now it's every weekend in the warmer months. Weekdays are how weekends used to be.

It has tapered off some, but not like before.

That's one of the biggest reasons why winter is my favorite time to go out, the fishing can be just stupid good, and at most you will see a few other boats out there. Plus no pontoons or kayakers to tie up the ramp. No bikini girls either though, win some lose some I guess. 😄
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Around here this time of year is prime fishing time, but when i drive by the local lakes I see no boats and no cars. On occasion I see some migrant workers fishing off a few spillways but not boats.
A few lakes have gone private lately, with the new owners charging people to fish, park, or launch a boat. Those lakes are dead and for good reason. If I buy a fishing license to fish, I'm not also going to pay to get on the water.
I did see a few boats out one day at one state park but the norm used to be a full parking lot with trucks and trailers lining the road for half a mile. Now there may be one or two rigs in the parking lot.
The bigger lakes are the same way. You see a few real early on weekdays, usually retired guys who still get out on the local lake but they built a parking lot there to park 100 rigs about 10 years ago because it was always packed, they even added four more launch ramps and a second launch location further up the lake with an even larger lot but that lot is almost always empty now.
To be fair, the fishing there is limited due to water quality but it never stopped people before.
They closed several of the game preserves and they never reopened or when they did they were restricted to only certain hours. Those were the best fishing because they were more secluded and only a boat could get back to the fish. With a No Gas motor restriction, it kept out the big boats and most pros. A 14ft jon boat is about the limit in those places due to water depth between the various places to fish , stumps, and logs in the water, and a few submerged structures from days gone by.
The last time I was in there the truck next to me had its rear bumper cut off with a torch and they stole the guys trailer that was locked to it. Drugs are also an issue since its so secluded.
The issue generally isn't the water or the fish, its finding a safe place to launch where you can be fairly confident your truck and trailer will be there or intact when you return.

We have plenty of water here, it seems like its rained more this year than any in recent history. My sump pump has been doing double duty this year too. Most ramps are nearly covered completely with water and floating docks are at the top of their poles, even sometimes under water slightly. I was at one place, that has a seashell parking lot and short concrete ramp with no docks. The water was so far up past the ramp we couldn't find the ramp. We ended up just dropping the boat in what was usually the parking area and paddling it toward the river into water deep enough to lower the motor. It was only a 12-18" deep but being saltwater there I wasn't driving my truck in it maybe finding out its over the rocker panels at the ramp. I had never seen the water that high there in the 21 years I've been here.

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