Skip to Main Content

Better Boating for All: Partnerships supporting recreation on the water

Fort Smallwood before (top) and after (below); staff photo

Fort Smallwood before (top) and after (below); staff photo

Maryland boasts a rich maritime history, a vast array of freshwater and saltwater venues and an enthusiastic constituency of recreational boaters who have more than 180,000 recreational vessels. Standing by to serve citizens and visitors alike are more than 600 marinas and 500 public boat ramps and launches.


Oak Creek before (left) and after right); staff photos

Oak Creek before (left) and after (right); staff photos

Boosting the economy

Recreational boating is not only good for the spirit but also is a boon to Maryland’s economy. It supports more than 13,000 jobs and adds $2.4 billion annually to the economy, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The lifeblood of the Department of Natural Resources Boating Services’ efforts is the Waterway Improvement Fund—the five-percent vessel excise tax paid when a boat is registered and titled in Maryland.

Since its inception in 1966, the fund has provided more than $300 million for 4,500 projects at more than 300 public boating access sites. The fund also supports services such as ice breaking, navigation aids, as well as the management of the Clean Marina Initiative.

In fiscal year 2017, nearly every county will receive a portion of the $10.5 million allocated for the improvement fund. Governor Larry Hogan and the General Assembly approved a list of 60 projects, including dredging local navigation channels, developing and maintaining public boating access facilities, installing marine sewage pumpout facilities, and purchasing safety and rescue vessels. Funds can also be used to leverage federal grants for various boating projects. 

Did you know? The department receives a big financial boost from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the federal Sport Fish Restoration fund. A portion supports three recreational boating programs by providing funding for up to 75 percent of eligible project costs:

Clean Vessel Act: Aids with the cost of marinas’ purchasing, installing and maintaining pumpout facilities.

Boating Infrastructure Grant: Supports the cost of constructing tie-up facilities for recreational transient vessels 26-feet long or greater.

Boating Access: Provides grants for constructing and renovating publicly owned boat ramps.

Pumpout facility; staff photo

Pumpout facility; staff photo

A history of success 

The Clean Marina Initiative began in 1997 as a collaboration with the Marine Trades Association of Maryland. This voluntary program provides incentives for marinas to embrace best management practices for pollution reduction. To date, 131 Maryland marinas have become certified through the program and 24 other facilities have become Clean Marina Partners.

The Marine Sewage Pumpout Grant Program is one of the most successful pumpout initiatives in the nation. More than half of the 600 marinas statewide have used federal Clean Vessel Act and state Waterway Improvement funding to purchase and install pumpout facilities.

Together, these marinas properly dispose of approximately two million gallons of boat sewage each year, helping clean up Maryland waterways. Many of these marinas receive additional money to help pay for operation and maintenance costs.

Annapolis City Dock before (left) and after (right); staff photos

Boating Infrastructure Grant funds have supported 15 projects throughout the state. Notable projects include renovations of the Annapolis City Dock, the Baltimore Inner Harbor Marine Center and the Oxford Town Dock.

These projects help ensure that the owners of larger recreational transient vessels are able to enjoy the cultural and historic opportunities that make Maryland one of the premier boating destinations in the world.

Boating Access funds, matched by Waterway Improvement and local funds, have supported the renovation and construction of 33 boat ramps from the Atlantic Ocean to the upper Potomac River. Three of these projects—West Ocean City Harbor, Franklin Street in Cambridge and Talbot County’s Oak Creek Landing—received the States Organization for Boating Access Outstanding Project Award.

Most recently, Boating Access funds were used for the renovation of Broad Creek Landing in Harford County and the Coulboune Creek ramp in Somerset County.

Additionally, in one of the most significant local projects of its kind, these funds covered $1.3 million of the approximately $2 million Fort Smallwood Park Boat Ramp, the first ramp owned and operated by Anne Arundel County.


The bottom line

When the federal, state and local governments work together with a supportive marine trades industry, good things happen. The department’s Boating Services unit is pleased to be a part of that mix.


Article by Don O’Neill— Boating Services federal grant management specialist.
Appears in Vol. 19, No. 3 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, summer 2016.