The US government has sponsored a survey of boaters in the Northeastern US as part of a long-term ocean development plan. The federal government has said it wants to balance recreational uses of the ocean with long-term plans to develop wind turbines, liquefied natural gas terminals and aquaculture pens along the coastal waters.

About 68,000 boaters were invited to participate in an online survey which measures usage habits. There are about 374,000 boats registered in the six states that the survey covers, from Maine south to New York. The survey is being conducted by SeaPlan, an ocean research group, in partnership the Northeast Regional Ocean Council, state coastal planners and researchers at the University of Massachusetts.

"If they're going to be encroaching in areas where there is a lot of recreational activity, I don't think it's good for anyone," Rob Harris, a lawyer from Salem, New Hampshire, told Businessweek.

Data on recreational boating in the Northeast is sparse, despite heavy usage along the coastline. but makes it tough to truly measure its impact because people just do their own thing, Grant Westerson, head of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, told the website that “freedom” of the sport makes it hard to measure boating activities. "Everybody's got their own clock and their own calendar and their own desire to go to different destinations," he said.

But John Weber of the Northeast Regional Ocean Council said that policymakers need to know how boating fits into the overall scheme before broad changes can be instituted. "The stuff that we're talking about right now, wind turbines ... all those sort of new uses out there, we weren't talking about 20 years ago," he said.

A survey done in Massachusetts last year estimated that boating contributed US$806m annually to the state's economy. The regional impact could be worth billions of dollars.

The survey’s organizers said they need about 13,600 respondents to get solid enough information to influence policymakers as they plan projects near busy boating routes.

Harris thinks that boaters will participate in the survey. "The boating community is pretty vocal," he said. "I think they're going to be very happy to have the forum."