Marine News from the Great Lakes

Wake Control

Published: Monday, May 4, 2015


We’ve all experienced it; if you’ve ever been pitched violently against the gunwale, thrown to the deck, or had an ice cold beverage spilled in your lap, then you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a wake left behind by a careless or thoughtless fellow boater. The unsettling experience alone should be lesson enough to make us sensitive about the waves our own craft leave behind.  If it’s not, there’s another incentive for practicing wake management: Federal law requires that all vessels “reduce speed sufficiently to prevent damage when passing vessels or structures in or along all navigable waters of the US” including our Great Lakes.

Wake violators who are caught are usually cited for excessive speed, but boat operators are also held legally responsible for the damage to property and injury to others that has been caused by their boat’s wake. Personal injury claims are filed and won every year by people who have been injured as a result of another boat’s wake.Making Wakes

  • Simply slowing down does not automatically reduce the size of your boat’s wake. In fact, a boat on plane may leave a smaller wake than that same boat operating at anything over idle speed.  You may need to slow all the way down to idle speed to reduce your wake to a minimum.

  • Coming off plane quickly creates a large wake. When you are approaching a no-wake zone, don’t wait until you are abreast of the marker and suddenly back off on the throttle; doing so morphs your planing hull into displacement mode, creating a wall out of the water the boat is suddenly displacing and pushing out of the way.  Slow down steadily, in advance of the wake restricted area, to minimize the waves your boat creates.

  • Weight management, as well as speed, affects wake size. A level boat leaves little wake.  By balancing the load aboard your boat to keep the bow and stern even, you will minimize your wake. Wake-boarders do the opposite when trying to create a desirable wake: they weigh-down the stern of their craft so that the boat plows through the water, leaving radical waves in its wake.

  • Wake action is exacerbated by close quarters. Narrow channels and vertical shorelines, such as those found in canals, around bridges and locks, have the potential for radical wake-induced wave action and the damage that can result. That’s one reason why wakes are restricted in the vicinity of most bridges.

  • Planing hulls can create a larger wake than displacement hulls. The hull of a boat made to plane is flared and angled to create lift.  That hull shape can create a sizeable wake when the boat is operating at sub-planing speeds, plowing and pushing through the water with its bow up and its stern down.

  • Shallow water increases the size of a boat’s wake. For the same reason waves rise and crest as they near shore, wakes peak when created over shallow water. Keep an eye on your depth finder; a speed that left an acceptable wake in 20 feet of water may be over the top when the boat is in five feet.


Managing Wakes

  • Face oncoming wakes with the bow of the boat, but not directly head on. Always turn into a wake, but try to take the wave at a slight angle. Doing so allows the bow to maintain contact with the wave a little longer and keep it from being pushed high into the air.

  • Warn your passengers that a wake – and the resulting jolt – is pending, and have them sit down and secure hand-holds before you meet the wave.

  • Slow the boat before the wake arrives, but don’t stop completely. You need to maintain some headway when facing a wake so that the wave does not push the hull to one side, which could leave the boat beam-to ensuing waves and vulnerable to radical rocking or capsize.

  • When familiarizing yourself with the operation of any boat, take time to learn how speed, trim and water depth variables affect the wake it creates. You may be surprised at what you learn, and how its passing affects fellow boaters.


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