Enhanced wakes lumber across the US

US map with locations of wake boat legislation under consideration

This spring has brought a variety of state actions to address the personal safety and ecological impacts of enhanced wake watersports.

Vermont is now implementing the toughest restrictions in the US. Maine has passed a bill calling for a 300’ distance from shore and a new study. Michigan introduced legislation but the uproar was enough to stall it out for now. Wisconsin passed legislation calling for a study.

And MN COLA is continuing to follow the path we agreed to with our lobbyists with MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates to first get science completed, then build a strong base with the watercraft operator’s license and mandatory education including best practices for enhanced wake watersports.

There’s more to each story, so read on.


Vermont’s new rule for managing wake boats on inland lakes and ponds went into effect on April 15, 2024. The new rule includes three important changes described below:

  1. It defines a wake boat as a “motorboat that has one or more ballast tanks, ballast bags or other devices or design features used to increase the size of the motorboat’s wake.”
  1. It includes a “Home Lake Rule” provision, which states that during the summer boating season, wake boats must remain in the same lake (the designated home lake) unless decontaminated by a State-certified service provider.
  1. It restricts wake sport activities on Vermont’s inland lakes and ponds to areas where: 

• The water depth is at least 20 feet.

• The wake boat’s distance from shore is at least 500 feet; and

• The wake sport zone (determined by 1 and 2 above) is more than 50 acres.


Despite hurdles that rendered legislation dead in 2023, a new law was signed by the Governor on April 9, 2024, with provisions including:

  • Boat dealer requirements to inform purchasers about boater safety and education courses offered by the state, as well as information related to those operators who are required to complete those courses.
  • A 300-foot minimum distance from shore and a 15-foot minimum depth for all wakesurfing activities, with civil fines not to exceed $100. If convicted 3 times in 5 years the conviction is reclassified to a Class E crime
  • The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) shall develop an outreach program to provide boater safety and education to persons engaged in wakesurfing activities in the State.
  • MDIFW to submit a report focused on wake boats and wakesurfing activities in the State by February 1, 2027, to include detailed information on enforcement mechanisms and the level of enforcement undertaken, as measured by statistics when data are available, including the number of reported incidents, the number of complaints and the number of boats checked. The report may include information on enforcement challenges, the department’s view on the appropriate water depth and distance from the shoreline for users engaged in a wakesurfing activity and any recommendations for statutory changes related to these issues.


House Bill 5532 was introduced on February 29, 2024, specifying thata person shall not operate a vessel in wake sport mode on waters of this state where the water depth is less than 20 feet. A person operating a vessel in wake sport mode shall maintain a distance of not less than 500 feet from the shoreline or a dock, a raft, a buoyed or occupied bathing area, or a vessel moored or at anchor.

The negative response to the bill introduced was anticipated, but the sheer volume of emails against responsible regulation was staggering. Unfortunately for political election reasons, this bill might not get a committee hearing until after the November General Election.


Senate Bill 1016 with prohibitions for lakes smaller than 1,500 acres and minimum distances of 700’ from shore and 20’ depth of water is off the table because the public pushback was very powerful.

In a compromise, Assembly Bill 1171 requires the University of Wisconsin System to submit a plan for conducting a wakeboat study and request funding for conducting the wakeboat study in the 2025-27 fiscal biennium. Even the bill for the study didn’t make it out of committee in time, so it is dead.

Wisconsin can do local ordinances and a few local jurisdictions that have started creating limits for wake boats.


Cook County received approval from the MN DNR on their proposed wake surfing ordinance for Caribou Lake near Lutsen. This is a first surface water use ordinance on wake surfing and enhanced wakes in Minnesota. Specifically:

WAKE SURFING: Wake surfing, defined as the untethered use of a surfboard behind a watercraft, is prohibited on Caribou Lake in any area that meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • Any area that is less than 500 feet from the shoreline or another watercraft.
  • Any area in which the water depth is less than 20 feet.

WAKE ENHANCEMENT: No person may operate a boat on Caribou Lake in an artificially bow-high manner, in order to increase or enhance the boat’s wake. Such prohibited operation shall include wake enhancement by use of ballast, mechanical hydrofoils, uneven loading or operation at transition speed. Transition speed means the speed at which the boat is operating at greater than slow-no-wake speed, but not fast enough so that the boat is on plane. It shall not be a violation of this ordinance to operate a boat through the ordinary transition from no wake to up on plane and from on plane to no wake.

MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates (MLR) published an overview of their strategy and approach to the wakes issue. Nothing changed from their previous direction.

MN COLA embraced the MLR direction early on, and we are committed to the approach. We worked hard to get the research funded. We worked hard to get the Watercraft Operator’s License bill passed. We embraced the Phase 1 report from the St. Anthony Falls Lab when it was published, and we look forward to the Phase 2 report addressing the depth of water concerns. With the Phase 2 results, we will be able to push to include both distance from shore and depth of water in the best practices section of the mandatory education component of the Operator’s License.

Elsewhere in the US

There are actions happening in other states, but these are some of the most interesting. And as expected, the watersports industry is pushing back hard on any proposed regulation, so each state action is quite a slog.