Last May, paddler Chip Stone spoke out loud and strong in his compelling VT Digger piece, Wake Boats Are a Genuine Threat to Paddlers. In addition to his love of paddling, Chip is a former state legislator, former commissioner of economic development, and a retired banker. Chip knows his stuff. In his VT Digger piece, he noted that, “Vermont has a long history of innovative laws to protect the environment and civil rights. We kept billboards from our highways; we created the bottle bill; we enacted Act 250; and we were the first state to recognize civil unions. We should be strong enough to protect our lakes and ponds for traditional use.”
Chip is not alone in his desire to protect Vermont’s lakes and ponds. Listen below to what other Vermont paddlers have to say about the many undesirable adverse present and irreversible environmental impacts of wake boats in our state … then please send us your paddler wake boat story (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Paddlers on Little Averill Pond with the Brousseau Mountain cliffs in the distance
Rick Yeiser, Worcester — “Why should one very small group of users be allowed to make life miserable and dangerous for the rest of us?”
Paddlers far outnumber wake surfers in Vermont. RWVL estimates that the Green Mountain State hosts more than 20,000 paddle craft and fewer than 200 wake surf boats. What do our canoeists, kayakers, paddle boarders, and rowers think of the proposed rule to regulate wake sports on our lakes?
Wake boats create conditions which eliminate most other uses of our lakes. Why should one very small group of users be allowed to make life miserable and dangerous for the rest of us? How would you like to be sailing a small sailboat when a wake boat happened by? How would you feel if your twelve-year-old daughter was peacefully riding a paddleboard when a wake boat appeared and swamped her with the wash from the boat? And, don’t forget that it’s not just the boat itself that is harmful; it’s the almost never-ending tsunami that the boat unleashes. There is no room for compromise here. Wake boats will dominate a lake to the exclusion of almost all other uses.
Steve Sease, Montpelier — “The 500-foot offset effectively precludes paddling and small boat use from much of the surface area of affected lakes.”
I have paddled extensively on flatwater and whitewater in canoes and kayaks for at least 50 years. Wake boating is not a normal use on Vermont lakes, and, in my opinion, it represents an existential threat to canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and use of other small craft. A four-foot wave generated by one of these boats would be almost impossible for a canoe to survive. Even waves two feet high are difficult to negotiate. Surviving a wave usually involves a change of course, quartering into the wave, and an aggressive brace. Experience, skill, good timing, and luck are necessary to avoid capsizing. I support the petition for a 1000-foot separation from shore, in water more than 20 feet deep, for protection of natural resources and prevention of property damage. This standard seems to be the minimum necessary for these purposes. The counter proposal being considered by DEC for a 500-foot separation from shore is not adequate. The 500-foot offset effectively precludes paddling and small boat use from much of the surface area of affected lakes. This is exclusionary and unfair to the majority of boaters on Vermont lakes. The 500-foot proposal delivers virtually exclusive use of huge lake surface areas to these large craft and ignores the thousands of small boat paddlers, sailors, and fishermen who have been paddling and sailing all over Vermont’s lakes for generations.
Chip Stone, East Montpelier — “Where use of wake boats is permitted you are effectively disallowing the safe use of paddle craft anywhere near them.”
I’ve had a lifetime of paddling experience from the Maritimes to the northwest territories, from Montana south to Arizona and Mexico. I’m an okay paddler. Two years ago, I was capsized at the Waterbury Reservoir by a wake boat passing a couple of hundred feet behind me. I was caught unaware when the wave chain reached me. Imagine a beginner paddling a 10-foot kayak a few hundred feet from shore and a wake boat delivering 3-4-foot waves a few hundred feet away. It will still be a threatening-sized wave when it meets them. That’s a pretty long swim to shore. From a safety standpoint wake boats and paddlers are not compatible. Where use of wake boats is permitted you are effectively disallowing the safe use of paddle craft anywhere near them. The proposed 500-foot buffer would mean that Waterbury, Marshfield, Groton and Caspian could all have wake boats … which means even semi-safe paddling would be restricted to a couple hundred-foot lane around the perimeter of the lakes. That isn’t fair.
John Dillon, Middlesex— “Wake boats and their large waves doubtless worsen the very problem we’re spending millions trying to fix.”
Three-foot waves can easily capsize canoes or kayaks. And if you’re a kid or a geezer like me on a stand-up paddleboard, forget it, you’re swimming. I was a journalist for 40 years and reported many stories on the worsening impact of toxic cyanobacteria blooms. These blooms are fueled by nutrient pollution often exacerbated by crashing waves that wash organic matter into our clean lakes. Toxic algae forced the city of Burlington to close its beaches 41 times in the summer of 2020. Now you see blooms more frequently on other bodies of water – such as Joe’s Pond – once thought safe from this plague. Wake boats and their large waves scouring shorelines would doubtless worsen the very problem we’re spending millions trying to fix. It’s clear this one activity favored by the few precludes numerous others treasured by the many.
Phil Dodd, Montpelier— “This draft rule suggests I should hug the shore when kayaking or sailing and not venture into the deeper parts of a lake farther from shore.”
A sudden, big wave from a wake boat could easily capsize me and fill the canoe with water, not a happy prospect for this 70-something geezer. I also have a Sunfish that I take by trailer to sail on Vermont lakes. That, too, could easily be capsized by a wake of the size generated by wake boats. At the other end of the age spectrum, my 6-year-old granddaughter got her own kayak for her birthday last summer. She is learning fast, but I know she couldn’t handle a two- to four-foot wave. Her mother (my daughter) has her own kayak and often has her other child, a 4-year-old, aboard. If there were one or more wake boats operating on a lake they visited, I am sure my daughter would turn around and drive home, fearing the lake would not be safe for her family.
The 500-foot rule seems primarily designed for shoreline protection. But this means that if I am in a small craft 400 feet from shore, I might be only 100 feet from a wake boat and could be hit pretty hard by a wake boat wave. This draft rule suggests I should hug the shore when kayaking or sailing and not venture into the deeper parts of a lake farther from shore. But when wake boats are active, why should so much of the lake be essentially off limits to those – the majority, by far – who want to fish, kayak, canoe, paddleboard, sail, swim, waterski, or use their normal motorboats or pontoon boats?
This is a case where a new and unusual use is not good for our lakes, and it impacts so many other users that it should be forbidden or sharply limited. Looking to the future, wake boats are likely to get bigger and make bigger waves, and there will be more of them. I urge you to act boldly now, while you can.
David Kidney, Joes Pond —“I … know from firsthand experience that a 1000 feet requirement is absolutely necessary…”
My family has had a camp on Joe’s Pond for 65 years. We love our pond. We experienced a blue-green algae bloom these past two summers. This algae is scary stuff. It is highly toxic to humans, pets, and wildlife. We need to do everything we can to make sure wake boats do not promote blue-green algae in our waters. One of the most effective things that can be done, is to adopt the DEC’s 20-foot depth rule. Another is to extend the distance from shoreline rule to 1000 feet. I also know from firsthand experience that a 1000-foot requirement is absolutely necessary to allow kayakers, canoeists, paddleboarders, sailors, and swimmers, to use and enjoy our lakes. It is also necessary to protect our fragile shorelines.
If we don’t do something now, the problem will only get worse. I remember the first wake boat on Joe’s Pond and the ones that have come after. They are bigger, produce more wake, and there are more of them. So, the time to act is now.
Karrie Thomas, Executive Director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Waitsfield — “The 500-foot distance from the shoreline falls short: paddlers rely on the shoreline as a safe space away from waves and out of wind.”
The proposed regulation falls short on the required distance from shore from the perspective of the safety of non-motorized users.
The 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail starts in the Adirondacks and ends in northern Maine. Our route traverses Vermont near the border with Canada and is a resource for thousands of paddlers of all ages and abilities each year.
There are places for wake boats in Vermont, but smaller lakes and ponds are not appropriate. I have personally heard reports from paddlers that have been capsized by wake boats and others that have been severely challenged by their wakes. The 500-foot distance from the shoreline falls short: paddlers rely on the shoreline as a safe space away from waves and out of wind. But even if 500 feet is sufficient to guarantee the safety of a paddler, a paddler needs a certain amount of water to float their boat and dig in their paddle. Shallow areas are irregular, and that might be a considerable distance from shore making them an unsafe distance from the source of the wake, which especially for inexperienced paddlers, can be dangerous.
Steve Donovan, Springfield VT — “Most kayakers are unaware of this [wake boat] threat — they would see a powerboat approaching and think nothing of it until they are swamped by their monster waves.”
Before the introduction of wake boats, Vermont’s waterscape had evolved into an equilibrium between the interests of lakeside homeowners, powerboats, and small craft.
I have a very stable recreational kayak and I was unaware of these boats. Before I heard of your rule making process. I count myself lucky that I have not encountered them on Willoughby or Great Averill Lakes where currently they can pass within 200 feet of me. I have successfully navigated the wakes generated by water skier boats without difficulty.
Wake Boat waves have already capsized kayaks and canoes and washed paddle boarders off their boards. Paddle boarders are a new exploding population on our lakes. I see no way to escape the nightmare scenario of me being capsized and floundering in the middle of a large lake with my boat full of water trying to tow it ashore. I am not a strong swimmer and always wear my life jacket — still I could drown trying to save my boat.
Most kayakers are unaware of this threat — they would see a powerboat approaching and think nothing of it until they are swamped by their monster waves!
Wake Boats will get bigger, their numbers will only increase, their waves will become taller. More small craft will be swamped — people will drown — people will Die! … The state police have stated that enforcement of any regulations are almost impossible. Milfoil and Zebra mussels will spread. The honor system only goes so far.
I feel no sympathy for these people who have paid between $100,000 – $200,000 for their boats and do not feel that this gives them the right to destroy the safety and tranquility of our Vermont lakes.