At Last, Kayaks Overpower Jet Skis

While launching my kayak on Maine’s Rangeley Lake the other day I took a short detour to avoid a particularly annoying personal watercraft rider who had been buzzing around in circles, seemingly oblivious to loons, humans and other nearby life forms.

Soon enough, though, after emerging from Smith Cove near Bonney Point, I steered toward one of my favorite destinations a couple miles across the lake, South Bog Stream, and the roar of the PWC (popularly known by the brand name Jet Ski) faded in the distance.

En route I waved to half a dozen other paddlers but encountered no other PWCs, and it dawned on me: At long last, kayaks rule!

Back when I first started paddling, kayaks were so uncommon that people often would ask, “What kind of boat is that? Some kind of canoe?”

Now I’m happy to say that they are the most popular vessels on the water, according to statista.com, a statistics portal that compiles data from some 18,000 sources.

The website reports that of the 88 million adults who participated in recreational boating in the United States last year, the average person spent 11.2 days canoeing and kayaking, compared to 10.7 days riding a PWC.

The average spent on a sailboat in 2013 also was 10.7 days, followed by deck boat, 10.3 days; bass boat, 10.2 days; Sport fishing yacht, 9.3 days; cruiser, 9.1 days; wakeboard/ski boat, 8.5 days; bowrider/runabout/jet boat, 8.1 days; multispecies/ other fishing boat, 7.9 days; pontoon boat, 7.3 days; high-performance boat, 5.8 days; and center console boat, 5.5 days.

I know what you’re thinking, and the same thought occurred to me, too: When added together, all the power boats far outnumber the human- or wind-powered vessels, but hey, I’ll still take the most-popular listing for canoes and kayaks as an encouraging sign.

There’s one other wrinkle, though, that might skew separate statistics about kayak and PWC sales. Most of my paddling friends have several kayaks, whereas I suspect most PWC aficionados own only one or two.

Though I consider myself fairly non-materialistic, I confess to making an exception when it comes to kayaks. After all, you need at least one for paddling in the ocean, another one or two for whitewater, a couple for racing, a tandem, a sit-on boat, one for surfing, one for touring, a few spare boats for when friends stop by … in short, I regard them the same way Imelda Marcos felt about shoes – you can’t have too many.

I’m also reminded about what H.L. Mencken once said about statistics: You should rely on them the way a drunk relies on a lamppost – more for support than illumination.

With that in mind, here are some other interesting numbers supplied by statista.com:

  •  More than four times as many kayaks have been sold in the United States over the past decade than personal watercraft – though the numbers for both types of vessels have been slipping lately. The PWC market hit a high-water mark in the year 2000, when 92,000 were sold. Since then sales have plunged steadily to last year’s low of 39,400.
  • Kayak sales peaked at 393,400 in 2006, and last year dropped to 225,800. Still, since 2001 some 4 million kayaks were sold in this country, compared to fewer than a million PWCs.
  • 26.6 percent of all boaters went out in a kayak, canoe or rowboat last year.

I’ll take those numbers any day – especially when paddling out to South Bog Stream, a magnificent, hidden tributary loaded with trout, salmon, great blue heron, bald eagles.

Once you disappear among the reeds and marshes you’re in a world that seems to have bypassed the 20th and 21st centuries, where not even the whine of a distant PWC can penetrate.

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