Etiquette / Own Your Wake

for everyone's sake

Wake Awareness

Almost every motorboat can create a wake, which is why boaters must be aware of the danger wakes present and the damage they can do. While common courtesy dictates boaters should control their wakes, there are consequences beyond how wakes may affect people. So, what do boaters really need to know when it comes to owning their wake?

Under Minnesota law, the damage your wake causes is treated the same as damage caused by an actual collision. Personal watercrafts (PWC) must stay at least 150 feet from shore. There is no required distance for boats, but by staying at least 200 feet from shore or other structures boaters can reduce the likelihood their wakes will cause damage.

Be aware of your environment and what's going on around you – this applies to everyone on and around the water.
  • Have a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other boats, objects, and swimmers.
  • If crossing a wake, cross at low speeds and keep a close lookout for skiers and towables.
  • Comply with all signs and respect barriers. This includes speed limits, no-wake zones, and underwater obstructions.
Stay at least 200 feet away from shorelines, docks or other structures. Backing a boat up to a riverbank or lakeshore can damage the area and lead to erosion. Travel slowly in shallow waters.
  • Travel slowly in shallow waters and avoid boating in water less than 2½ feet deep. High speeds near shorelines lead to large wakes that cause shoreline erosion.
  • Check local ordinances, restrictions, closures, and permit requirements for the body of water you are on.
  • Ask permission from the landowner(s) before crossing private property.

Minimize repetitive passes. Once you've run a line, move on to another area. Comply with all signs and respect barriers.

Respect the rights of others so everyone can enjoy their time on the water – keep the noise down, be courteous to other boaters, and show consideration to all recreationists on and around the water.

Environmental impacts of wakes

Large wakes produced by watercraft can result in a variety of negative environmental consequences, including:

  • Shoreline erosion;
  • Impaired water quality resulting from increased sediment in the water;
  • Loss of shoreline vegetation, which helps stabilize the shore and provides important habitat for fish and wildlife.

These impacts are greater when water levels are high and shorelines are saturated.

Disappearing shoreline, lost habitat, and dirty water are big prices to pay. And the threat is real. One DNR study on the Mississippi River near Red Wing showed that boat wakes can accelerate natural erosion greatly and cause banks to erode as much as 2 feet per year on the inside of a riverbend and up to 14 feet over a three-year period on the outside of the riverbend.

Boaters must be aware that their actions directly impact the environment. They should take steps to reduce their wake when operating near shore or when water levels are high.

Boating Etiquette – the unspoken rules of the water

Recreational boating has an etiquette – the customary code of accepted behavior on and around the water. Boating etiquette is about safe behavior, as well as what's socially accepted. Here are some of the basics to help you navigate the boating world with ease while not creating a stir among fellow users of the water.

Top 10 rules to respectful boating – make the right kind of waves

  1. Respect the ramp. Good boating etiquette starts before you enter the water - at the dock. Prepare your boat and equipment before getting into position to launch. Anything else is disrespectful to fellow boaters.
  2. Own your wake. The fastest way to make the wrong kinds of waves is to literally throw a big, obtrusive wave at another boat, swimmer, angler or shoreline owner. This is much more than being a nuisance or disrupting others' experience on the water. It's dangerous to those unable to tolerate a large wake. Stay at least 200 feet from the shoreline and other boaters.
  3. Keep the tunes in check. Sound is amplified over the water, so keep the music at a decent level. Not only is it a disturbance to others but the operator may not hear the spotter.
  4. Pack in. Pack out. Seems like common sense, right? Yet shorelines are still lined with trash being thrown overboard. Take care of the body of water you love and dispose of any trash you have. Do not throw it overboard!
  5. Slow your roll. Does the body of water you're on have a speed limit or slow-no-wake restriction? It's your responsibility to know it and respect it. You are responsible for any damage you cause to other people's property.
  6. Rules of the road. Become familiar with waterway markers and navigation rules, which dictate how you operate your vessel in order to prevent collision.
  7. Be prepared. If you are the captain, you need to be prepared with the safety rules for your craft and make your guests aware as well. Know state and local laws for the body of water you're on. Set a good example by always wearing a life jacket and have enough life jackets for each person onboard. Beyond that, make sure to have the appropriate fit. 
  8. Fuel and go. At the fuel dock, get fuel, pay your bill and move out of the way. If you need to buy additional supplies, relocate your boat. Don't forget to run your blower before starting.
  9. Anchoring and mooring. Enter an anchorage or mooring area at a slow speed. Don't create a wake that will disrupt other anchored boats. The first boat sets the tone. Mimic how they tie off, how much line you use and how much distance you allow between you and other boats. The busier the boat, the more space you should give yourself.
  10. Be polite – give a wave. When passing another boat, give a little wave hello. Boating is all about having fun and being part of the boating community. Embrace it, enjoy it, and share it for generations to come.

Remember, these are guidelines and should not serve as a replacement for learning the rules, regulations and laws for your local body of water. Whether you're a novice or veteran boater, learn more by taking a boating safety course.