What many boaters do not realize, however, is that the absence of a no-wake designation is not a license to act with impunity. The simple truth is that, regardless of where you are operating, you are always responsible for any damage or injury caused by your wake.
Large wakes are dangerous, destructive and completely avoidable. In periods of high water levels, large wakes also aggravate shoreline erosion issues.
Having lived on the river for about 10 years, I have experienced more than my fair share of property damage from passing boats, and I have seen an increased number of near misses of swimmers, skiers and kayakers.
Last summer, I had my 3,400-pound boat bounced right out of my boat lift cradle by a passing cruiser, and was partially swamped by another while recovering a skier. Both events could easily have been avoided had the passing boat operators shown some courtesy and awareness of the damage potential of their large wakes.
Having conversed with many boaters over the years, I have picked up on a few prevailing myths regarding boat operations and wake damage.
— Myth 1: My boat does not make that big of a wake.
Reality: Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but even a flat-bottomed bass boat makes a wake. When moving along nearshore at 60 mph, even a small wake — moving at nearly that same speed as the boat — can cause considerable damage when it hits the shoreline, moored boats, docks, etc. In addition, the speed limit is 55 mph unless you are at least a mile offshore. I’m pretty confident that if you limit your speed to one that is safe for the conditions, the fish will still be there when you arrive at your destination.
— Myth 2: No-wake speed rules only apply between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Reality: No-wake regulations apply all year long. The applicable county ordinances are not date specific.
— The Biggest Myth: No-wake requirements only apply in areas marked as no-wake zones. Boy, do I hear this one a lot. It usually comes from someone screaming, “This is not a no-wake zone” as his wake upsets kayaks, bounces boats off docks and pops mooring lines.
Reality: State boating regulations requires no-wake operation within 100 feet of: a shoreline (if operating in water less than 3 feet deep); any moored or anchored vessel; a dock or raft; any marked swimming area or person(s) in the water (this includes downed skiers/boarders); and, even if you are more than 100 feet away, you still own any damage you cause.
I know it seems to take forever to transit the extended no-wake zones on Spring Lake and the Grand River. When you finally reach the end of one of these zones, it feels good to give it some gas and get your boat back up on plane. That said, all I ask is that you consider the size and effects of your wake, adjust your speed accordingly and keep a safe distance from docks, boats and swimmers. There really is room for all of us.
Please have a safe boating season and be considerate of your fellow boaters. If you see someone causing damage or injury, report them to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol or U.S. Coast Guard. You will be doing the rest of us a favor, and you may prevent an injury or loss of life.
— By Roger Dubuc, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander and a Grand Haven Township resident