Frequently Asked Questions about Wake Sport Regulation

What are wake boats and wake sports?
Why do wake boats need to be regulated on Vermont’s lakes?
How should wake boats be regulated on Vermont lakes?
• Why are 500 Feet Not Enough?
How are wake boats regulated in Vermont today?
Which Vermont lakes would be affected by the rule?
Do other places regulate wake boats?
Why does your petition target wake boats specifically?
What does the wake boat industry think of your petition?
Isn’t this problem better solved through education, rather than regulation?
Are you trying to prohibit all motorized water sports?
How do waves from multiple wake boats create problems for other boats?
Have there ever been incidents involving a swimmer and wake boat?
How many wake boats do we have in Vermont, and what are their effects?
What do other lake users think of wake boats?

Why do wake boats need to be regulated on Vermont’s lakes?

Wake boats can spoil Vermont’s…

  • Their wakes can erode our shores.
  • Their deep-draft propellors can raise phosphorous that nourish cyanobacteria.
  • Their ballast tanks can spread aquatic invasive species.
  • Their engines and loudspeakers make noise.
  • Their engines consume fossil fuel.


  • Their wakes can swamp small boats.
  • Their wakes can spook fish and ducks.
  • Their wakes can endanger swimmers.
  • Their wakes can spoil water skiing.
  • Their wakes can damage docks.


  • Their wakes can inhibit small-craft enjoyment.
  • Their wakes can preclude normal and traditional uses of our lakes.
  • Their wakes can prevent our most vulnerable citizens from enjoying the lakes.
  • Spoiled lakes discourage tourists.
  • Spoiled lakes reduce property values.

How Should Wake Boats Should be Regulated on Vermont Inland Lakes

  • On large lakes, keep them in the deep middle.
  • On small lakes, ban them completely.
  • Require decontamination of ballast tanks before every launch.

To be specific:

  • Prohibit wake sports within 1,000 feet of the shore.
  • Prohibit wake sports in water less than 20 feet deep.
  • Require a 60-acre contiguous zone that meets these conditions.
  • Require boats with ballast tanks to get them decontaminated at a state-licensed facility before each launch on a new lake.

Our petition to the Agency of Natural Resources, and our website at responsiblewakes.org, provide extensive scientific research and personal testimony to support these findings.

How are wake boats regulated in Vermont today?

They may operate in wake surf mode on any of the 69 lakes that allow motorboats, many of those very small bodies of water. They may operate anywhere on the lake that’s beyond 200 feet of the shore, other boats, swimmers, or docs. The DEC, following a request by Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes, is drafting a rule that would require them to operate farther from shore, and in deeper water.

Which Vermont lakes would be affected by the rule?

RWVL has prepared a list of lakes, and a map, that show which lakes would permit wake boats at offsets of 1,000 and 500 feet from shore.

Do other places regulate wake boats?

Dozens of counties, towns, and lake authorities around the country have banned wake surfing completely, or limited it to large bodies of water. See the news item, Vermont is not alone.

• Why does your petition target wake boats specifically?

By design and operation, wake boats have an outsized impact on the area they are operating in compared to traditional lake uses, e.g., paddle sports, fishing, and skiing. This impact can be seen in the size and power of the waves they generate. The petitioners are not looking to eliminate the use of wake boats on Vermont lakes and ponds; they seek to manage their use that balances the impact with more traditional uses of our lakes and ponds, a balance they believe many Vermonters want.

The 2021 Vermont Use of Public Water Rule § 2.2b states: “The public waters shall be managed so that the various uses may be enjoyed in a reasonable manner, considering safety and the best interests of both current and future generations of citizens of the State and the need to provide an appropriate mix of water-based recreational opportunities on a regional and statewide basis.

Vermont Use of Public Water Rule § 2.3 defines normal recreational uses as: “fishing, swimming, boating, waterskiing, fish and wildlife habitat, wildlife observation, the enjoyment of aesthetic values, quiet solitude of the water body, and other water-based activities.”

• What does the wake boat industry think of your petition?

As expected, they have opposed it. You may read our rebuttals to their comments here.

• Can’t this problem be solved through education, rather than regulation?

Education and awareness can and do play important roles in educating the public but through analyzing national and global research and studies on wake boats. As stated in the ANR petition, the petitioners believe that current wake boat use is inconsistent with 4 Vermont lake-related statutes:

  • Vermont Use of Public Waters Rules Environmental Protection Rule (ANR petition pg 40-41)
  • Vermont Shoreland Protection Act (ANR petition pg 41-42)
  • Aquatic Invasive Species Transport Law (ANR petition pg 42-43)
  • Water Quality Standards Environmental Protection Rule (ANR petition pg 12-13 and 43-45)As such, we requested that the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation adopt a revised rule for managing and regulating wake boat use under the Vermont Use of Public Waters Rules statute. The RWVL petition is not without precedent—a petition involving restrictions similar to the ones proposed to the ANR was submitted for the operation of personal watercraft. This was granted more than a decade ago and remains in effect today (ANR petition pg 45).The concerns about wake boats take on added concern in considering the next generation design for these vessels and manufacturers’ emphasis in their marketing materials on creating the biggest wake ANR petition (pg 10). Vermont is not alone in this concern. As initiated in the ANR petition (pg 7-8), at least 17 states and a Canadian province have or are considering managing wake boats and wake- enhanceing sports.

Are you trying to prohibit all motorized water sports?

The petition is very narrowly focused on addressing the significant impact of wake boats. We state in our petition: “The Proposed Rule does not apply to use of a wakeboard behind a conventional vessel that has not been modified with wake enhancing equipment.” Our intent is clear.

• How do waves from multiple wake boats create problems for other boats?

As one boater stated in the Georgia Water Environment Consultants (WEC) 2021 Report, “Two times ballast boat waves have come over the bow of my 22-ft bow boat. I felt there was a danger of sinking.”

Multiple wake boats operating near one another can create massive wakes due to the additive wave heights. Besides the tumultuous jostling of swimmers and boats, these super waves can cause passenger falls from their watercraft, possibly resulting in injury.

• Have there ever been incidents involving a swimmer and wake boat?

Yes. A swimmer on a lake in Vermont was relaxing while floating up and down on their back with the wave motion when suddenly the swimmer was flipped over and pulled under by the undercurrent from the wake boat. Had this occurred with a less experienced swimmer or child the outcome may have been tragic. Similar anecdotal examples of wake boats endangering swimmers can be found in the Georgia WEC 2021 Report.

The Testimony section of our website provides many examples of incidents that have occurred on Vermont lakes.

The energy produced by a wake boat increases as the square of the wave height. That means a two-foot wave is four times as powerful as a one-foot wave, and a three-foot wave is nine times as powerful. The corresponding safety risks and damage increase accordingly. Wake surf boats with their bottom-angled propellers generate wakes that are 10 to 25 times more powerful than that ski boats.

• How many wake boats do we have in Vermont, and what are their effects?

Even though Vermont hosts only about 200 wake boats (out of more than 40,000 boats total), the large wakes from these boats disproportionately impact the traditional uses of our lakes, including swimming, fishing, kayaking, waterskiing, and paddling. Even a single wake boat on a lake can cause flooding, swamping and capsizing of smaller craft. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, flooding swamping are the most or second most common type of boating accident. “Force of wave or wake” has been cited as a primary contributing factor in 14 deaths and 182 injuries by the Coast Guard. Oregon has reported from 2010 to 2017 that 12% of wake-related injuries —including three deaths—were from wake-related accidents. Testimony from Vermonters include first-hand accounts of the negative safety impacts on other lake users, and on shoreline structures. When wake sports are under way on a small lake, those wishing to participate in the more traditional uses must go ashore to avoid the negative safety issues associated with the large waves.

• What do other lake users think of wake boats?

Many Vermonters have witnessed the negative impacts of wake boats, as documented in the Testimony section of our website. When asked in the Georgia WEC 2021 Report, “Do you believe wake from wake boats create a boating safety issue?” 75% of 478 members of local lake associations responded that they do present a safety issue, compared to 18% who responded they do not. Numerous respondents gave examples of safety issues, primarily for toddlers, young children, and the elderly.

• What is the science behind the 1,000 foot from shore rule? 

The science is summarized in the Science section of our website, and also in the petition.

 In the last seven years, there have been numerous studies that measured wakes produced by wake sports and how they dissipate with distance. The wakes consist of a train of individual waves called a wave train. The studies measured wave height, total wave train energy, and peak wave train power. The most recent study (SAFL, 2022) measured these parameters to a distance of 625 feet. They measured the shoreline impacts of wake surfing compared to traditional water sport to those of traditional uses, such as waterskiing. Among the most harmful environmental impacts of large wakes are shoreline erosion, shoreline structural damage, and resuspension of near shore sediments as the power of the wave is absorbed. We argue that a wake surfing shoreline protection distance be defined as the distance at which the maximum power in its wake is comparable to the maximum power in the wake from waterskiing at a distance of 200 feet, the current shoreline protection distance. According to the “best fit” formulas derived from experimental data (SAFL, 2022), the equivalent distance is 1,000 feet (see ANR Table 4 pg 17). While this is an extrapolation of the data in this study, a conservative approach is justified since wake boats are likely to be heavier and more powerful in the future should design trends continue.

For Public Users. Recent studies have shown that the present 200-foot shoreline safety zone is inadequate to protect against shoreline erosion, shoreline structural damage, and near shore water quality and habitat degradation. These impacts result from the power of these wakes. To make the power comparable to that from waterskiing wakes at the present safety zone distance of 200 feet, predictions from recent studies indicate that wake surfing must be at least 1,000 ft from shore.

• What is the science behind the 20 foot depth rule? (see ANR petition pg 25-30)

For the Regulators. Several studies (see ANR petition Table 5 pg 25) have used acoustic Doppler technology to measure the slipstream turbulence at various depths. Velocities sufficient to entrain fine sediments characteristic of many Vermont Lake bottoms have been measured at depths greater than 20 feet. Most of the vulnerable “littoral zone” of lakes is in depths less than 20 feet, so this minimum depth would also help protect this most critical lake habitat. “Bottom scouring” from wake boat activity has been observed in many shallow lakes. Imposing this depth limit would also prevent the fragmentation of milfoil and other plants by the deep-running wake boat props.

For Public Users. As any experienced wake surfing skipper will tell you, wake boats can stir things up when operated in shallow water. With horsepower ratings up to 600 HP and downward-directed propeller slipstreams in wake surfing mode, this is not hard to understand. Water speeds sufficient to stir up bottom sediments have been measured at depths greater than 20 feet. A 20-foot limit would also protect critical fish habitat and aid in reducing the spread of milfoil by fragmentation.

• What is the science behind the prohibition of ballast-enabled wake boats on small lakes? (see ANR petition pg 35-40)

To enhance the wake, wake boats use water-filled ballast tanks that can contain many thousands of pounds of water. It is impossible to guarantee that these tanks are fully empty when these boats are transported. It is also impractical to inspect or decontaminate these ballast enclosures. Even if a ballast system indicates “empty,” studies have shown that gallons of water may remain. In several cases veligers (larval mussels) have been found in “empty” ballasts. Other invasive species are also small enough to be pumped into these voluminous ballasts. If a wake boat is used for wake sports and then transported to a lake too small for a Wake Sport Zone, the petition proposes to prohibit the use of this boat unless the ballast system has been disabled. This is proposed to minimize the spread of AIS that may be hidden in these chambers while allowing wake boat owners to continue to enjoy their boats for waterskiing and cruising.

Hasn’t the wake boat industry criticized this science?

The wake boat industry has claimed that the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory study contains several myths. RWVL has studied their claims, and released a report that rebuts their arguments.


• If the rule proposed in the petition is adopted, how will that affect someone who owns a wake boat on a small lake with no Wake Sport Zone? (see ANR petition pg 39)

Boats with wake-enhancing tanks and devices can be easily modified to disable the wake-enhancing characteristics of the boat so that they then be used for all other water sports activities allowed on all lakes.

• If a wake boat is modified to disable its wake-enhancing characteristics, could it be transported to a lake with a Wake Sport Zone and used there for wakesurfing?

Yes. While most “resident” boats that are moored at lakeside residences or marinas are not frequently transported from lake to lake, this would be possible. Wake boat manufacturers are aware of the problems caused by wake-enhanced sports and have cautioned wake boat purchasers and owners to minimize these problems and resulting conflicts by keeping a greater distance from other water users than otherwise required by local law when producing large wakes. The wake boat industry is fairly young, and it might be expected that marinas and boat dealers will develop effective means to address these problems. By limiting wake-enhanced water sports to Wake Sport Zones, the proposed rule allows all the normal use of Vermont public waters to be enjoyed in a reasonable manner by the greatest number of individuals in appropriate venues.

Opposition Arguments

Most opposition to the regulation of wake sports comes from the wakeboat industry. The Water Sports Industry Association and the National Marine Manufacturers Association outlined their arguments to Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation in the summer of 2022. Here RWVL responds to the key points they make.

Opposition: Petitioners seek to ban wake boats from most Vermont lakes..

RWVL: The petition seeks only to restrict wake sports to environmentally appropriate locations. The petition does not seek to regulate wake boats unless wake-enhancing features are used.

Proposed regulation is overreach because wake boats make up less than 1% of Vermont watercraft.

As our petition and website testimony attest, this 1% has already caused many negative impacts. Just because a growing, known, problem is small does not mean it should be ignored.  Regulation is needed, before enthusiasts, unaware of their impacts, purchase wake boats.

Wake sports can be enjoyed by all generations and promote American family values.

Traditional uses of our lakes, such as kayaking, fishing, swimming, and boating promote the same family values at much lower environmental and safety risk. 

Wake sport regulation will negatively impact lake property values.

Just the opposite. Lakefront property values are highest on clear, unpolluted lakes with many traditional recreational pursuits available. Wakesports close to shore or in shallow water increase nutrient loading, degrade water quality, and can infringe on traditional uses of lakes.

Wakesport regulation is an affront to personal freedom in the enjoyment of a public resource.

Wake sports pose a safety risk to other users, thus infringing on their freedom to enjoy this public resource, and threaten, over time, to destroy that resource by degrading water quality.

Wake Sport Zones are arbitrarily defined and unnecessary.

Each parameter defining these zones is extensively justified in the petition.

Boater education should be tried first before restrictions are enacted.

The industry’s education campaign is based on depths and distances unsupported by science.

The petitioners cherry-pick the science to arrive at extreme regulation.

The petitioners reviewed and prioritized the recent studies most relevant to Vermont’s situation.

The petitioners do not cite a recent peer-reviewed study (Cotty, et al.) showing minimal environmental harm.

The Cotty study did not test wake boats in the water. It appeared in a disreputable journal after RWVL submitted its petition. It is reviewed here.

The Minnesota study does not address wake surfing impacts on shoreline erosion.

The Minnesota study did not measure erosion. Boat wake erosion is well documented elsewhere. The Minnesota study shows wakesurfing wakes are more powerful than ski boat wakes at a similar distance.

If wake boat rules are adopted, Vermont will soon regulate all motorboats similarly.

The petition explicitly states it does not apply to motorboat sports such as waterskiing or tubing.

Wake boats are purchased at significant expense; owners should be compensated.

Under the proposed rule in the petition, wake boat owners can enjoy wakesports in 18 lakes with 300,000 acres of wake sport zones and use their boats for traditional uses on all other lakes that allow motorboats.

Property owners should install more robust structures to avoid wake-induced damage.

Wakesurfing wake forces far exceed those of severe wind and traditional boats. By Vermont law, a boater is responsible for damages caused by his or her wake.

Wake sport regulation will hurt the Vermont economy because of boat industry losses.

As RWVL’s Economic Impact Analysis shows, unregulated wake sports will cause much higher economic losses as traditional pursuits are sidelined.

Lake property owners supporting the petition just want the lake for themselves.

Lakes are public property regulated to protect traditional water uses and the environment.

Why pick on wake boats for their large waves when other motorboats do the same?

A few other motorboats create momentary large wakes while getting up onto a plane; unlike other boats, wake boats are specifically designed to create much larger continuous wakes for wakesurfing.

Eight Compelling Reasons
Why RWVL Supports the 1,000-Foot Minimum Distance from Shore

Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes enthusiastically applauds the Department of Environmental Conservation moving forward to regulate wake sports. However, their draft rule proposing 500 feet as the minimum distance from shore for wake boat operation does not go far enough. The DEC’s draft needs to be extended to 1,000 feet, for these eight compelling reasons:

  1. Existing Science. Existing studies from Minnesota (2020) and Quebec, Canada (2015) recommend minimum distances of “over 600 feet” and “300 meters” (984 feet) respectively. These recommendations were made by the world’s leading hydraulics researchers: Jeff Marr, MS, Associate Director of Engineering and Facilities at the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Research Laboratory; and Yves Prairie, PhD, and UNESCO Chair in Global Environmental Change at the University of Quebec at Montreal.
  2. Future Science Wake boats arrived on the scene nationally less than 20 years ago — and in Vermont only in the past five to ten years. It is too soon to expect that science has fully explored and measured the impact of wake sports on lakes. We don’t know for sure how much damage they are causing. In the meantime, any rule we adopt must be conservative, maximizing the protection of our lakes and those who enjoy them.
  3. The Precautionary Principle. Because the measurement of the of impacts of wake sports is in its infancy, more time, evidence, and caution are needed. When a new activity such as this raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures need to be taken — even if cause-and-effect relationships have yet to be fully proven. In many countries, this important principle serves as the basis for developing their environmental health policies. Examples include the establishment of acceptable risk-based chemical levels. The Vermont Use of Public Waters Rulesaim to ”ensure that natural resource values of the public waters are fully protected.”
  4. Benefit to Future Generations. The Vermont Use of Public Waters Rules aim to guarantee that “various uses may be enjoyed in a reasonable manner, considering the best interests of both current and future generations.” Over the past 20 to 25 years, wake boat weight and power have doubled. The most relevant and important studies on the distance from shore were based on wake boats from model years 2013 to 2019. Since that time, the dry weight and horsepower of wake boats have increased by 10-30%. The boats being sold today are heavier, more powerful, and produce stronger wakes. Thus, a rule must exceed the distances recommended in the existing research which does not provide for these increases.

  5. First-hand Testimony. Science begins with knowledgeable individuals — such as those who live on lakes —making repeatable observations that reveal a potentially consistent story about important environmental, economic, and safety issues. Based on this testimony, scientists formulate a hypothesis that can be tested in the lab or natural world. The results of these tests, and the gathering of more observations from the lakes themselves, produce yet more results. The rule proposed by RWVL is based on both eye-witness testimony from Vernon lakes, as well as the result of scientific measurements.

  6. Economic Benefits. Fewer lakes will have wake sport zones if the 1,000‑foot minimum distance from shore is implemented. Lake-to-lake spread of new or existing invasive species will be reduced. Vermont’s critical recreational tourist industry will grow faster because visitors will continue to be attracted to Vermont’s quiet, clean lakes. Maintaining such lakes will maintain the state’s reputation as being at the forefront of green tourism and leading environmental practices. This is indicated in RWVL’s Economic Impact Analysis.
  7. Benefits to Traditional Lake Users. The 1,000-foot distance will result in fewer lakes with wake sport zones. In those lakes, motorboats will be able to continue to enjoy waterskiing, angling, and cruising, on calmer water. Paddlers and rowers will be able to continue to enjoy exercise, viewing nature, and competitive sports. Sailors will be able to tack and gybe wherever the wind takes them. Swimmers will be able to enjoy exercise and competition. All will be able to enjoy the lake without fear of enhanced wakes from wake surfers.
  8. Public Support. A growing number of Vermont lake associations have supported the 1,000-foot minimum distance from shore. Although wake boats currently account for an estimated 1% of watercraft in Vermont, a large majority of the public has recently become aware of their adverse impacts, especially on small, shallow lakes. The 11 associations that already support RWVL’s 1,000-foot minimum distance from shore include Lake Fairlee, Joes Pond, Echo Lake, Lake Parker, Woodbury Lake, Shadow Lake, Lake Elmore, Lake Eligo, Peacham Pond, Little Averill Pond, and Great Averill Pond.

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