Abstract Scenic value has long been recognized as an important feature in land use planning and management. In the US, several states have included scenic value provisions in their coastal zone legislation and required that reviews of project proposals consider scenic or aesthetic effects. In Rhode Island, all permitting decisions must take into account the effect of a proposed activity in the coastal zone, such as a new dock or expanded aquaculture facility, on scenic or aesthetic value. However, there is limited guidance for how the terms scenic value or aesthetic value should be interpreted. A mail survey of 500 recreational boaters registered in Rhode Island was conducted to investigate: (1) what scenic value of the coastal zone means to RI recreational boaters; (2) how different factors, including characteristics of boat owners, features of boats, and presence of boats in the landscape, relate to perceptions of scenic value; and (3) the relationship between perceptions of scenic value and destination choices of RI boaters. Findings indicate that RI recreational boaters preferred settings with less human influence and more natural features, but scenic value did not necessarily mean no human influence for participants. There were no strong relationships between scenic value ratings and respondent characteristics or boat features, yet there was a strong positive relationship between scenic value ratings of certain types of settings and the frequency with which respondents visited those types of settings. Coastal zone managers, land use planners, and local decision makers can use results from this study to better understand the meaning of scenic value, to guide planning and permitting in the coastal zone, and to help anticipate public response to proposed activities that could affect scenic or aesthetic value of the shoreline and adjacent coastal waters.