DNR urges boaters to ‘Own your wake, for everyone’s sake!’

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With the St. Croix River near Stillwater finally dropping for the first time this spring below the level where slow no-wake speeds are required, many people might be eager to throttle up and make some waves.

Not so fast. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds boaters to be aware of the problems that can be caused by large wakes and to be responsible when operating near shorelines, docks and other recreationalists.

Driven by a growing number of calls and complaints about excessive wakes, the DNR this week is launching an educational effort urging people to “Own Your Wake – for everyone’s sake.” The agency will be working with marinas, boat dealers, local water patrols and others to spread the word about the importance of minimizing wakes that might pose a nuisance or hazard to others.

“In Minnesota, our waters belong to everyone, and everyone has equal rights to enjoy them – whether you run a speedboat, paddle a canoe, or own shoreline property,” said Adam Block, the DNR’s boating law administrator. “But shared resources require shared responsibility, everyone working to minimize the impact of their activities on others.”

The proliferation of speedboats, large watercraft, and “wake boats” (boats that sit low in the water and produce big waves that someone being towed can surf on) has given rise to increasing concerns around large wakes and the problems they can cause. Block said hardly a week passes that someone doesn’t call him and ask for guidance addressing the issue somewhere around the state.

Large wakes can cause shoreline erosion, which results in impaired water quality. They sometimes damage others’ property, such as docked boats. And they may pose hazards to swimmers, paddlers, bystanders on the shore, and cause disruption to other boaters.

A growing number of states and jurisdictions around the country are imposing special surface water use restrictions to deal with excessive wakes. It is already against the law in Minnesota to operate a watercraft so that its wake endangers, harasses or interferes with any person or property. But the law can be challenging to enforce except in the most egregious cases, and many people may be unaware of the waves their boats kick up and the problems they cause. That’s leading some communities to seek localized no-wake speed limits on certain waters.

About a year ago, the city of Stillwater asked the DNR to impose a no-wake speed limit on the St. Croix River near its downtown area. After consulting with other agencies and units of government, the DNR decided to hold off on further restrictions, preferring to pursue efforts aimed at increasing awareness and voluntary compliance. A similar proposal was put before the city of Oak Park Heights, but the city council there tabled it.

“One person’s pleasure shouldn’t turn into another person’s problem or property loss,” Block said. “We want to work with our partners to get boaters to comply with existing rules and basic principles of on-the-water courtesy, to own your wake for everyone’s sake. But if boaters don’t accept that responsibility, it may well lead to more rules and restrictions.”