Home News and Features State Hearing On Draft Wake Boat Rule Feb. 15

State Hearing On Draft Wake Boat Rule Feb. 15

Boat creating huge wave on a lake with a person surfing in the wave.
Surfing behind a wake boat. The boats have water ballast tanks to make them heavier and create large waves. Photo by Island Lake Marine and Sports.
In recent years, a new and growing water sport has arrived in Vermont. It involves surfing behind wake boats, expensive motorized watercraft that feature an integrated ballast tank below the boat, filled with water. With their much greater weight, wake boats create a large, surfable, artificial wave that can be two to four feet high. A recent magazine article on the boats described them as providing “an ocean-surfing experience on calm, inland lakes.” 

In response to a petition filed last year by lake users calling themselves “Responsible Waves for VT Lakes,” a group concerned about possible adverse impacts from wake boats, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has drafted a rule to regulate wake boats that would limit their use to portions of 31 larger lakes in the state, plus Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog, and reservoirs on the Connecticut River, which come under federal rather than state control.

A public hearing on the rule is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro. Anyone interested in speaking or attending in person or online can find more information about the rule and the hearing at tinyurl.com/54cfd2t5.

Those in favor of regulating the boats maintain they pose threats to shoreland preservation, water quality, wildlife, and would contribute to the spread of invasive species (see responsiblewakes.org). They also say that the boat’s large wakes can potentially swamp or capsize other lake users such as kayakers, canoeists, paddleboarders, and small boat sailors. 

To limit the impact of wake boats, the proposed rule would require them to operate 500 feet or more from shore as a way to reduce shoreland erosion, and to areas that are 20 feet or more deep to prevent stirring up the lake bottom and disturbing plants and phosphorus. The petitioners originally proposed and still maintain that the boats should be used no nearer to shore than 1,000 feet, which would leave 15 Vermont lakes available for wake boats.

The DEC rule would also implement a “home lake” rule to require each wake boat to operate only on one lake per calendar year, since wake boat tanks are difficult to decontaminate as they move from one lake to another. The concept is designed to limit the further spread of invasive species such as milfoil, which since 1962 has spread to about 100 bodies of water in Vermont, and zebra mussels.

Wake boat enthusiasts say they enjoy wake boarding on the big waves, that they should have the right to enjoy Vermont lakes, and that they can regulate themselves. While some other states regulate wake boats to an extent, the Vermont rule would be the most comprehensive state rule to date and has brought boat manufacturers to Vermont to oppose the rule. To go into effect, it would eventually have to be approved by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.

Currently, wake boats could legally be used on many smaller lakes, such as Wrightsville Reservoir or Curtis Pond locally. Under the draft DEC rule, they could still be operated on some larger lakes not far from central Vermont, including Waterbury Reservoir, Molly’s Falls Pond (Marshfield Reservoir), Joe’s Pond, Peacham Pond, Groton Pond, and Lake Caspian.

The DEC rules could potentially include a provision to allow petitions to alter wake boat rules for specific lakes.