It’s no secret that sometimes people don’t follow the rules when on the water. It may be that they don’t care about following the rules. Maybe it’s that they just don’t know the rules. But the one rule that seems to be the most widely abused or ignored involves no wake zones.

A no wake zone is an area of the waterway where vessels are required to slow down to avoid potentially dangerous situations or damage to property or the environment. These no wake areas are usually marked by buoys or signs that indicate where the no wake zone starts. It is common to find these markers around marinas, bridges, docks and narrow channels.

There seems to be a lot of confusion on just how slow you must go when entering a no wake zone. Unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one. In other words, the answer is: “It depends.” Different vessels have different handling characteristics. Therefore, the speed for what constitutes no wake differs from one vessel to another depending on the type: propulsion and steerage. The US Coast Guard’s definition of the proper no wake speed is the slowest speed at which the driver can still maintain steerage of the vessel.

Many personal watercraft have a “no wake” setting that allows you to automatically set the speed of the vessel to a no wake speed. For boats, it is simply setting your throttle to a minimum speed that allows you to maintain control of the vessel in current conditions.

An area of a waterway may be designated as a no wake zone for many reasons:

  • Safety – Local authorities may have determined that lower speeds are required in an area to allow for the safety of marine life or because there is congestion.
  • Property Damage – A passing vessel creates waves that can do damage to vessels that are docked or anchored nearby. It must be noted that on many waterways, the vessel operator is responsible for damage that occurred as a result of wake from the vessel.
  • Environmental Damage – Wake created by a vessel can do damage to shorelines and natural habitats.
  • Limited Sight Lines – If there is limited sight distance due to a turn in a channel or due to an obstruction such as a bridge, local authorities want to ensure that traffic moves slowly through these areas.

Although these are all good reasons not to violate a no wake zone, there is another good reason. Violating a no wake zone can lead to a hefty fine from the local authorities. I’m sure that many of us boaters have looked over to one side or the other and seen the local authorities standing by observing traffic passing by, just waiting for someone to get a little too antsy with the throttle.

When you are on the water, play it safe for your environment and your wallet. Don’t be afraid to slow down and enjoy the trip. Besides, when you are on a boat, the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination.