Wake Boats and Lakes

New Report from Wisconsin’s Green Fire

Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF) released a new report on the effects of wake boats on Wisconsin lakes. The increasing popularity of wake boats on inland lakes has prompted widespread and vocal criticism of the effects that these specially designed boats have on ecosystem health. Critics are demanding local and state regulations to curtail use of the wake boats.

WGF’s report “The Effects of Wake Boats on Lake Ecosystem Health: A Literature Review,” compiles findings from over 175 scientific studies in several U.S. states, documenting several kinds of negative effects from wake boats on lakes. Wake boats can spread aquatic invasive species, increase shoreline erosion, damage aquatic plants including manoomin (wild rice), worsen water quality due to re-suspension of sediments, and negatively impact birds and fish, particularly nesting loons and spawning fish. 

Author of the report, David A. Ortiz, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin—Madison says, “This project bridges scientific research and best practices on how wake boat use can be part of a long-term sustainability plan for Wisconsin lakes.” 

This WGF report provides the Wisconsin Legislature and local units of government with several pro-conservation recommendations that support recreational uses of lakes while protecting the health of lake ecosystems. 

Among those recommendations: 

  • Wake boating should only be done on lakes with at least 40 contiguous acres of open water where the entire contiguous area is greater than 20 feet deep and more than 600 feet from any shoreline. This does not mean 40-acre lakes—rather, it means limiting wake boat use to larger and deeper lakes where the impacts on shorelines, aquatic habitats, and wildlife, can be minimized. 
  • To reduce the spread of invasive species which can easily survive in leftover ballast and bilge water on wake boats, wake boat owners should hot pressure wash the boat or treat with bleach and let dry for at least 4 days before using their boats on different water bodies. 
  • Wisconsin’s Green Fire also recommends online training on proper use and risks of wake boats, along with informational signs at waterways. 

Wisconsin is not alone in dealing with controversy over wake boats. In January 2024, Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources approved a rule that prohibits wake boat use on lakes less than 50 contiguous acres and those less than 20 feet deep. Wake boats in that state cannot operate less than 500 feet from any shore. The WGF report provides details on policies that states and communities around the U.S. and abroad have taken to protect lakes from negative impacts of wake boats.  

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This infographic above summarizes the report (download a PDF version of the infographic here). Both the infographic and full report are free to download and share with attribution to David A. Ortiz and Wisconsin’s Green Fire.

2023 6-county lakes & rivers workshop

This year’s 6-county lakes & rivers workshop will take place on July 14, 2023, 8:30 am-12:30 pm, at Nicolet College in Rhinelander. The annual event is co-sponsored by the Oneida and Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Associations. In addition to expert briefings on timely subject areas by distinguished presenters, we will have a moderated panel to discuss the law enforcement challenges stemming from enhanced wake boats and other watercrafts, short-term vacation rentals issues, zoning violations and other areas that impact the health and enjoyment of our Northwoods lakes and rivers.

Eric Olson, director of UW-Extension Lakes, will be opening and moderating our workshop and panel. It should be a great event involving a prominent group of speakers to kick off meaningful dialogue about issues our lake communities deeply care about in the Northwoods .

As in the past, VCLRA will hold its annual meeting following the conference. The event is free and no registration is required. See draft agenda for more details. Updates may follow as the agenda is finalized.

For more information, contact Tom Ewing (VCLRA) at president@vclra.org or Ted Rulseh (OCLRA) at trulseh@tjrcommunications.com, or use the contact form at vclra.org/contact/.

Winter 2022-23 newsletter available

Our Winter 2022-2023 newsletter is available online (members who get print copies will get these by mail in a few weeks). Read about Hazardous Wake Issues, Blue Heron Stewardship awards, AIS prevention and much more…

View newsletter

Wake Boats a hot topic at Wisconsin NRB

The effects of enhanced waves from wake surf boats have been the topic of much concern and research in recent years. VCLRA and Vilas-based Last Wilderness Alliance (LWA) have been working together to inform the public and address hazardous wake issues. An article on our work will appear in the next VCLRA newsletter available in January 2023.

LWA leadership has appeared before the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB) to provide testimony about the safety and environmental concerns that Hazardous Wakes pose to Wisconsin lakes. Action by the NRB could lead to DNR regulation and possible state-wide legislation. Last week, the Wisconsin Natural Resource Board met to examine the issues surrounding wake boats to look at actions, including new laws, to address the issues. A presentation on boating regulations and enforcement by wardens relevant to wake boats is shown below.

NRB Meeting on December 14, 2022

An article also recently appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlighting the rising concern about wake boats in Wisconsin. Read the Sentinel article: https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/outdoors/2022/12/18/wisconsin-residents-seek-to-minimize-damage-to-nature-from-wake-boats/69735263007/.

2022 Six-County Lakes & Rivers Conference

Lake group leaders and members from six northern Wisconsin counties will convene for a discussion of the environmental impacts of wakeboats, the proliferation of short-term rentals, and other issues related lake recreational capacity on Friday, July 15th. The annual lakes event will return to an in-person event and is sponsored jointly by Oneida and Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Associations.

2022 Northwoods Six-County Lakes & Rivers Conference on July 15th to highlight wakeboats and lake capacity issues

The effects of enhanced wakes from wakeboarding and wakesurfing have been the subject of great concern and extensive scientific research in recent years. Meanwhile, concern is rising about the short-term rentals of lakefront homes and cabins and how they affect lake water quality, lake crowding, and the integrity of lakefront neighborhoods.

Other topics at the annual Six-County Lakes Meeting, from 8:30 am to noon at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, will include aquatic invasive species prevention, lake access and viewing corridors on lakefront properties, and an update on state legislation and policy related to water resources. Attendees are expected from Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, and Iron counties. VCLRA and OCLRA will separately also host their annual meetings immediately following the event.

See draft agenda for more details. Updates may follow as the agenda is finalized.

For more information, contact Steve Budnik (VCLRA) at 715-686-7852 or skbudnik@centurytel.net, Bob Martini (OCLRA) at 715-282-5896 or bobmartini@charter.net, or, use the contact form here: vclra.org/contact/.

Note from the President

The corona virus (Covid-19) has created an unprecedented global health and economic crisis. In this moment in time, we have in common with all other people on our planet the same fear, anxiety and stress over its impacts on the health of our family and friends, as well as its consequences for our society and economy.

Yet I look out the window and see an entirely peaceful and calming scene, seemingly detached from the human toll worldwide. It is amazing to look at our lakes and their natural surroundings and see that the natural world does not appear to have noticed our crisis or been impacted at all. Well, the skies are maybe a little clearer. Read more “Note from the President”