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What Boaters Need To Know About Missouri's New Boat Wake Law

Three new changes to Missouri's boat wake law that captains should be aware of, effective Aug. 28, 2018

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Boat Wake On Lake Of The Ozarks

Boaters love Missouri. Besides being home to the number one recreational lake in the country—Lake of the Ozarks—Missouri also boasts several other very popular lakes for recreational boaters and anglers, as well as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Homes dot the shoreline of many of the Lake of the Ozarks' countless coves, and in recent years, those homeowners have raised concerns about the increasing size of—and potential damage wrought by—large boat wakes in coves. While boat wakes are an inevitable part of boating, with the passage of House Bill 2116, legislators made two changes to try and mitigate some of property owners' concerns, and calm more coves.

First: How To Make A Wake, And How Not To

Boat wakes are a product of the laws of physics. A boat sitting in the water displaces a certain amount of water, and as it moves, it continues to displace water, but in a new space.

Idling = No Wake. A boat that is idling and very slowly moving will only create the small churn generated by the motors and minimal waves off the hull. 

On Plane = Small Wake. When a boat is moving slowly, it is pushing the hull through the water. But a boat gets "on plane" when its speed brings most of the hull up out of the water. At that point, the motors are gliding the boat across the surface of the water, rather than pushing it through the water. While some wake is generated, a boat traveling 45 mph on plane will likely not generate a large wake—or at least not as large as it would generate while "plowing"—because it is not displacing nearly as much water. Other things that affect the amount of wake generated by a boat on plane are the hull style, boat length, and motor trim. Depending on boat size/weight, different speeds are required to get on plane.

Plowing = Large Wake. "Plowing" is the term used when a boat is not yet on plane, but is moving above idle-speed through the water. The effect is that a large amount of water is displaced, creating a very large wake. Generally, the larger the boat, the larger the wake when it is plowing (though there are some exceptions). Plowing is a transitional speed that necessarily occurs between idling and getting on plane, but boaters should avoid continually plowing; rather they should stay at a slower/idle speed or get the boat quickly (and safely) on plane.

What Changed Under The New Missouri Boat Wake Law?

The new Missouri Boat Wake Law changed three major things, effective Aug. 28, 2018. (Here's a link to the full text of HB 2116, if you'd rather comb through the legal jargon.)

1. Boat wake violators can be charged a $25 fine. That means wakes are treated more like traffic tickets, rather than a violation that requires a court date. State Rep. David Wood, who represents some of the Lake of the Ozarks area and pushed for the passage of HB 2116, said he hopes that $25 fine will encourage Missouri State Highway Patrol/Water Patrol troopers to actually enforce boat wake laws and cite violators. (Wondering what counts as a boat wake violation? See below!)

2. Boat owners can be fined for drivers' violations. The new law specifies that if the operator of the watercraft that violated a wake can not be identified, the owner of that watercraft can be subject to the fine. MSHP Marine Division Director Matt Walz explained that could apply in situations where a dock owner obtains the registration number of a boat that violated a no-wake area; a patrolman could then contact the boat operator or owner to discuss the issue. Walz explained the Patrol's goal is to educate boaters on minding their wake and boating safely; some situations call for a warning and a conversation, while other call for a citation, he said. Dock owners that have photo or video evidence of wake violations—or even if they need to report a violation using the boat's registration number—can contact the Patrol by dialing *55 or calling Troop F. Walz emphasized troopers use the "totality of the circumstances" to determine whether a violation needs to be penalized.

3. More coves can now become No-Wake Coves... at least for the largest boats. Formerly, coves up to 400 feet at the mouth (entrance) could be designated "No Wake" by the Missouri State Highway Patrol/Water Patrol. But HB 2116 changed that. Now coves up to 800 feet wide at the mouth can be designated "No Wake." But this new class of coves—between 400 and 800 feet at the mouth—can only be "No Wake" for the largest boats: those 40 feet and longer. That special designation/specification will be displayed on No Wake buoys at the entrance of coves.

The Patrol already has the prerogative to set No Wake coves ad hoc (within the parameters of the law), but it also accepts applications from cove residents who want wakes banned in their entire cove. Seventy-five percent of property owners in the cove have to sign the petition, and the Patrol still has the option of rejecting it, after weighing the situation and holding a hearing. In 2016, Miller Hollow Cove—known as "Redhead Cove," since it's home to the popular Redhead Yacht Club/Redhead's Lakeside Grill/Performance Boat Center—became a No Wake cove, after property owners successfully petitioned the Patrol for the change.

Where Can't I Make A Wake?

No-Wake zones are spelled out in Missouri law. (Here's a link to current state statute.) But just because there's no "No Wake" buoy doesn't mean you're not under a No-Wake restriction.

Here are the situations in which a boater is prohibited from making a wake:

1. Within 100 feet of a dock

2. Within 100 feet of a pier 

3. Within 100 feet of an occupied, anchored boat

4. Within 100 feet of a buoyed restricted area on any lake -- this includes swimming areas and areas designated as "No Wake."

5. Anywhere within a No-Wake designated area. For example, on Lake of the Ozarks, certain coves may be designated as "No Wake," which means boaters may not operate with a wake anywhere inside that cove. For those coves, there will be "No Wake" buoys at the entrance. Under the new law, effective Aug. 28, 2018, larger coves may be "No Wake" only for certain classes of vessels (boats 40 feet and longer), which will be indicated on the "No Wake" buoy.

Boating With Courtesy - Watch Your Wake

You know those curmudgeonly fellows who always grumble about how "common sense and common courtesy aren't so common anymore"? Well, don't prove those guys right! Boating doesn't happen in a vacuum—there are plenty of other boaters sharing the waterway, of varying experience and operating boats in a variety of sizes.

The fact is, a large boat wake can swamp another vessel, and possibly even injure another boater. The best way to avoid this is to leave plenty of space between your boat and others, and to be aware of how your wake might be affecting boats or docks nearby. For example, certain parts of Lake of the Ozarks main channel can become relatively narrow: on a busy weekend, a big boat plowing through a narrow area can spell disaster for nearby docks or passing boats, as there's simply not enough open water to let the large wakes dissipate.

Here's to a safe, courteous, and fun time on the water. Anchors aweigh!