Wake Surfing Pix 1Michigan Lake and Stream Associations has received an increasing number of phone calls and e-mails in the past two summers from lakefront property owners expressing concern about the collateral damage rendered to docks, boats and natural shorelines from an increasing number of wake enhancing boats operating on Michigan’s inland lakes. Wake boarding and surfing has increased  in popularity in recent  years and with it has come a boom in sales of wake enhancing boats designed to create large, high energy waves. Nationwide, sales of boats used for wake surfing and similar watersports increased 14.6 percent last year. Increased sales of wake enhancing boats has helped revive the ski-boat industry after the Great Recession, according to Jay Povlin, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Vonore, Tennessee-based MasterCraft.

Most modern wake enhancing boats are designed with variable ballast systems which allows the user to pump water into and out of ballast tanks from the surrounding water. Increasing the volume of ballast water drastically increases the boat’s water displacement which consequently enlarges the wake produced. The potential for damage to docks and moored boats as well as the probability of  shoreline erosion increases with the wake boat displacement, hull size, weight, and speed.  The operation of wake enhancing boats can also create choppy, unpredictable water conditions that are hazardous to small water craft such a kayaks and light weight fishing boats.

Ballast laden wake enhancing boats operating near inland lake shorelines are capable of producing wave heights and frequencies that dramatically exceed those produced during even the most intense summer thunderstorms and/or high winds.

The increasing negative impact resulting from the operation of wake enhancing boats on inland lake fish and wildlife habitat, water quality and on personal shoreline property strongly suggests that the operation of these boats  on Michigan inland waters may require increased state regulation in the near future.

In the interim, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations recommends the following operating guidelines which are intended to help minimize the ecological and environmental impacts of wake boats. Wake enhancing boat operators  should be advised to:

  1. Reduce their speed within 300 feet of shore;
  2. Not add ballast water or other extra weight to their boats;
  3. Not operate their boats near sandy areas,  wetlands or lakefront residences;
  4. Avoid turning their boats in tight circles (tight circles increase wave height and frequency);
  5. Avoid operating their wake boats in shallow water or near natural shorelines


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