Wake Boat Best Practices

Wakesurfing is an exhilarating water sport that combines the thrill of surfing with the speed and power of boating.  However, wake boats can have negative effects on the lake ecosystem depending on how they are operated.  Read on to learn about best practices for wake boat operation so that you can protect Hutchins Lake for generations to come.

The Impacts of Wake Boat Operation

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) conducted an in-depth study that concluded that operating wake boats in a manner that creates large waves can lead to loss of habitat, resulting in the decline of aquatic ecosystems and angling opportunity.

When operating in waters shallower than 15 feet, the turbulence from the propellers can disrupt the lake bottom, resuspending sediments, uprooting aquatic plants, and displacing valuable habitat. This resuspension of sediment reduces water clarity and introduces phosphorus to the water column, increasing the chance for algae blooms.

When a wake boat navigates at full-wake speed near shore or structures, the massive waves crash with more energy than any other recreational craft.  The force of these waves erodes the shoreline, uprooting plants and degrading fish habitat.

Michigan DNR Best Practices

The MDNR concluded that these concerns can be mitigated by following these voluntary wake boat best practices:

  1. Operate at least 500 feet from docks or the shoreline, regardless of water depth when operating in wake-surfing or wake-boarding modes during which boat speed, wave shapers, and/or ballast are used to increase wave height

  2. Operate in water at least 15 feet deep when operating in wake-surfing or wake-boarding modes

  3. Completely drain ballast tanks prior to transporting the watercraft over land.

These recommendations are not rule or law, but are meant to educate wake boat owners on how to most responsibly operate wake boats to care for Michigan’s inland lakes.

Hutchins Lake Best Practices

The Hutchins Lake Improvement Association retained Progressive Companies to conduct a study from current and historical data on Hutchins Lake to determine its capacity for wake boat operation and provide recommendations to the association board.  Progressive staff biologists used the MDNR’s literature review to assess areas of impact on the lake from wake boats operating in full wake mode/wake surf mode.

The figure below shows the recommended wake boat operational area for Hutchins Lake based on the MDNR recommendations.  The area in white indicates the area for full wake operation, while the area in blue should be avoided if in full wake mode.

More Information

To learn more about the effects of wake boats on aquatic habitat and what you can do to protect Hutchins Lake for future generations:

The introduction of MI House Bill 5532 with bi-partisan support comes in response to the significant findings of MDNR Fisheries Division Report 37.  If passed into law, it would restrict the operation of powerboats operating in wake sport mode in a manner what will help to minimize their risk of endangering swimmers and other passive water resource users, and also help to mitigate their potentially harmful impacts on shorelines, docks, and on fish and wildlife.

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