An Analysis of Recreational Boating on Narragansett Bay

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Increases in recreational boating during recent decades have resulted in increased competition and conflicts among boaters and other coastal users. Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, a premier boating area in the Northeast, supports varied and widespread usage which could ultimately result in serious use conflicts. However, the exact nature of this use and resultant conflicts must be identified in order to foster a thorough understanding of the bay and its resources. This study hypothesized that differences exist in the manner in which recreational boaters use Narragansett Bay, and that use conflicts may exist in terms of type, intensity and location. To test these hypotheses, the study examined detailed survey responses from approximately twelve hundred local and visiting recreational boaters, including spatial information on actual bay trips, which were integrated with a grid-cell map of Narragansett Bay. This methodology allowed for in-depth analysis of the boaters' demographic characteristics, attitudes, vessels, and usage of the bay in terms of location and frequency. Forty-six maps and associated overlays were generated to compare usage by selected subgroups of the survey sample. Statistical tests were performed to examine the significance of observed usage differences. The study found that significant differences do exist in the way that recreational boaters utilize Narragansett Bay. These differences and possible reasons for them are discussed on a geographical basis. The generated maps identify specific areas and intensity of usage which suggest the nature of conflicts that may currently exist or may develop in the future. The developed methodology of mapping detailed usage patterns for variable user groups provides a new tool in identifying and analyzing water surface usage. This study and the methodology utilized make a significant contribution to our understanding of the bay and its usage, and should prove valuable in future efforts to prudently manage this resource.

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