Advocates: Crumbling ramps may sink Florida's boat businesses

Boating advocates in Florida are calling on the state to invest money in their crumbling infrastructure before it’s too late.

"The boating industry is a big industry in Florida, and customers can't get to the water because the ramps are falling apart, or there's huge lines,” complained Scott Deal, the president of Maverick Boats in Fort Pierce.

Deal has been selling power boats in southern Florida for years. Lately, he's been warning his customers they can buy the boat -- but they may have a hard time getting it on the ocean.

“They have to get up at 4 in the morning, 5 in the morning to try to beat the big lines if they want to go on a Saturday or a Sunday,” he continued.  “Heaven forbid they want to go Memorial Day or Labor Day weekend."

In 1980, there were eight million recreational boats registered in the United States.  Today, according to the Coast Guard, that number tops out at 12 million, translating to 130 million boat users.

At the same time, experts say very little has been invested in boating infrastructure.

"If the boat ramp is not well maintained, you got the danger of actually launching and recovering boats and having something catastrophic happen,” warned Spud Woodward, the former director of the Coastal Resources Division in Georgia.  “First responders that cannot get into the water in a timely manner, they simply can't do their job."

There are 50,000 boat ramps in the United States, most of them, Woodward fears, are overcrowded or don't work the way they're supposed to -- particularly the ones on the ocean.

"You've got the corrosiveness of the salt air and the water, you've got the erosion caused by the rising and the falling of tide, so we sort of laughingly say that there's no such thing as permanent boat ramp along the coast."

Boating advocates are calling for tens of millions of dollars in state and local investment for new boat ramps, and to fix existing boating infrastructure. 

Deal calls the investment an investment in more than just boats.

“There's over 650,000 people that work in the marine industry in the United States right now, and with the infrastructure improvements that are clearly needed, there could be so many more people getting employed in our industry."

Deal fears that if people can't use their boats, they're going to simply stop buying them.

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