Photo by Terry Bone via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Maximize Your Colorado Boating Lifestyle

Boating is a big deal in Colorado. You’ll find jam-packed marinas and lakes even in the heart of the Denver metro area, you’ll see boat-laden trailers and kayak-topped roofs heading west on I-70 on Friday afternoons, and even in the foothills and mountain towns, you’ll spot trailered boats in driveways and yards.

The numbers support the anecdotal evidence: Coloradans love boating. According to Ellen Hopkins, the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s vice president of marketing communications, state residents spent $91,864,218 on powerboats, engines, trailers and marine accessories in 2013, which is a 5.5 percent increase over 2012. She also said the Centennial State had nearly 90,000 boat registrations in 2012.

“We conducted an economic impact study in 2013 that showed the economic impact of boating in Colorado is $850.2 million,” Hopkins added.

Not bad for a landlocked state.

Where are these thousands of people going? Believe it or not, Colorado is home to more than 2,000 navigable lakes and reservoirs. So if you’re thinking you might like to embrace the boating lifestyle here, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains, you’re certainly not alone.

For many people, choosing the right boat is the most important decision. But it’s not the only decision. To make the most of your Colorado boating lifestyle, you need to determine what that lifestyle should look like. Here are a few things to consider:

Do I Trailer My Boat or Rent a Slip?

There are pros and cons to both choices. If you choose to rent a slip at a marina, you’ll become part of an on-water community complete with new neighbors, organized social activities, and perhaps an on-site convenience store, restaurant, and/or repair and maintenance services. Best of all, your boat will be in the water and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation offers an online marina locator as a resource.

On the other hand, trailering gives you the ultimate freedom. You’re not bound to one lake or reservoir; you can simply hitch up and take off for whichever of the state’s top boating destinations is calling. You can check out the larger lakes’ locations through Google maps. It’s also worth taking a peek at Colorado’s 42 state parks, many of which offer outstanding boating opportunities.

Which is the Best Marina for Me?

You need to decide if you want to keep your boat close to home, or if you want to choose an attractive weekend and holiday destination for your boating adventures. For example, if you live in metro Denver, you might want to keep your boat at Chatfield Marina or Cherry Creek Marina. Proximity means you’ll be out on the water quickly with minimal fuss, and you even can cast off the dock lines midweek if schedules allow.

Or you could choose a location like Dillon Marina or Frisco Bay Marina on Lake Dillon; Elk Creek or Lake Fork marinas on Blue Mesa Reservoir; or Grand Lake Marina near Colorado’s glorious Rocky Mountain National Park. At locations like these, your boat becomes your vacation cottage — a welcome respite from daily life in the city or ‘burbs.

Tip: Make sure to incorporate slip fees and other related boating expenses into your monthly budget. Yes, you need to plan for your monthly boat loan and insurance payments, but don’t forget expenses such as slip/storage fees, fuel and routine maintenance. provides an online budget primer that includes a spreadsheet that you can use to plan your annual boat budget.

How Do I Choose a Great Marina?

Sailing Magazine offers the following criteria for choosing the right marina:

  • Mooring rates
  • Dockage types
  • Security
  • Long-term, free, secure parking
  • Easy water access
  • Knowledgeable staff
  • Cleanliness, maintenance and safety
  • Amenities
  • Location: Look at the surrounding area and make sure it suits you.
  • Proximity to shopping, restaurants and other valued destinations
  • Customer confidence/convenience: Walk the docks and talk with other boaters.
  • How you plan to use your boat

Trust your intuition. If it feels like your kind of place, it probably is. offers some additional advice for choosing the right marina for you and your family.

Get Ready to Trailer Your Boat

If you’ve made the decision to trailer your boat, prepare a detailed checklist before you hitch up. Discover Boating has valuable towing/trailering advice on its website; another good resource for trailering and launching tips is You don’t need to have a pontoon boat to make use of these tips; they’re valid for any type of trailerable vessel, from personal watercraft and sailboats to fishing boats and day cruisers.

The RBFF’s online marina locator can be modified to search for launch ramps. The search tool also incorporates navigable rivers, which will come in handy for kayakers and canoeists as well.

Finally: What About All the Paperwork?!

One last tip, for marina boaters and trailer boaters alike: Don’t forget to check Colorado’s state boating requirements and make sure your documentation is correct and up to date.

See you on the water!

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