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Connecticut: Energy and the Life Aquatic

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 14, 2017

With around 108,000 registered boats in a state that is home to 3.6 million people – about one boat for every 33 residents – getting out on the water is broadly popular in Connecticut. No question, keeping this New England state’s boating appetite sated takes a lot of energy, and not just for filling gas tanks. Today’s natural gas and oil move us, but they also make summer recreation, including boating, better.

Download: Connecticut is Energy

From electricity (in Connecticut nearly 49 percent came from natural gas-powered generation in 2016) for manufacturing to petroleum for materials and gasoline for engines, energy is both the glue and the driver of summer’s maritime adventures. Even the transportation of boats to sellers, homes and marinas, typically on trucks and trains, depends on traditional fossil fuels.

From Bow to Stern

Most boats, from traditionally self-propelled canoes and kayaks to sailboats and motorboats, use a wide variety of energy-based materials for both superstructure construction and ancillary components. For example, light and durable fiberglass is popular for use as the hull of recreational boats, including sailboats, motorboats and fishing boats. It is a material that depends on energy for both its manufacture and its composition, as it typically uses petroleum-based polymers and other plastics as binding agents.

Shareable: Energy Makes Summer on the Water Possible

Fiberglass is not the only petroleum-based polyurethane product found on boats. Marine and spray foam insulations are used in a variety of ways, including seating, climate control, engine insulation and to aid in keeping boats afloat. And those are just the pieces attached to the boats, as there are plenty of other items related to boating that also depending energy for their manufacture. Life vests, which keep you buoyant if you go overboard, depend on petroleum for several aspects of their construction. This includes a polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene closed-cell foam core that does not become weighted or saturated by water, allowing it to retain its ability to float. They also typically use petroleum-based vinyl and nylon as a cover fabric and belting, respectively. Additionally, sunglasses – with lens made of plastic, which is petroleum derived, or glass – help keep the glare out of your eyes while on the water.

Even sailboats, which are designed to harness the power of the wind to move, depend on fossil fuels in a multitude of ways to reach their metaphorical sunset. From the aforementioned hull and insulation to their riggings and sails (and inboard engines to power them on calm weather days), sailboats, like their mast-less counterparts, depend on energy. Because unlike their wind-powered ancestors, modern sailboats benefit from the improved strength and durability of nylon and polyurethane ropes and Dacron sails, all petroleum-based products designed to last longer while providing increased ease of use.

The Power of Fuel

Before the development of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and before that the mid-19th century’s coal-fired steam boilers, there were two ways to keep a boat moving, either with the wind in its sails or the strength of rowers’ arms. Luckily, today reliance on a strong wind and muscle stamina are not necessary to go full speed ahead; as fuel-powered marine engines, both inboard and outboard, add ease to enjoying life on the water.

Collectively, the nation’s fleet of recreational marine vehicles consumed upwards of 2.1 billion gallons of gasoline in 2015, or around 1.5 percent of the total amount of gasoline used across all of our domestic transportation sectors. A sliver of our nation’s overall energy use, yet a huge benefit both for quality of life and local economies.

An economic anchor, recreational boating in Connecticut has an economic impact of around $1.34 billion each year and helps support more than 7,000 jobs in Connecticut alone. And beyond that, nationally, it supports nearly 35,000 related businesses and 960,000 jobs and helps contribute $121.5 billion to the economy. A major stimulus that would not be possible without energy.

These financial returns largely stay in country, as recreational boats often carry the “Made in the USA” stamp. In fact, 94.9 percent of the powerboats sold in the United States are also produced in the U.S. This category of boats includes everything from speedboats and cruising boats to bass boats and other recreational boat varieties that use inboard engines.

So as hundreds of thousands of Connecticuters and millions more of their fellow Americans spend this summer boating, they and their local economies have energy to thank, for making it all possible.


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Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.