Sharing The Lake – The Ongoing Dance Between Boaters and Lakefront Property Owners

Published with permission from GRDA

It feels like a dance as old as Grand Lake itself, but really it’s a newer battle that is waged each year between the Grand Lake property owners and the boaters enjoying Grand Lake.

What is at the heart of the battle? The wakes from boats and the impact on docks and property.

GRDA Regulations pertaining to wake violations mandate that you are required by law to be at idle speed any time you are within 150 feet of any structure, including docks, bridges, boat ramps, anchored vessels or marked No Wake zones.

[Visit or The Ultimate Guide to Boating at Grand Lake for current rules and regulations]

“Normal Idle Speed” means the vessel is in the forward gear with no additional throttle applied.

But the reality is, like drivers that ignore speed limit signs, boaters often drive faster than they should in a no-wake area, plus many visitors to our lakes, especially those from out of state or operators that are not familiar with boating laws may not know the regulations that apply to boating at Grand Lake.

GRDA Police regularly receive calls from property owners on the lakes voicing concerns about the damage created by boat wakes.

Dock owners and lakeside businesses have a great deal of money invested in their docks, and the constant bombardment of excessive wakes creates damage to the structures and docked boats resulting in expensive repairs.

Plus, they have the constant concern that as their family and friends enjoy a swim or paddle craft in the lake near their docks that an errant boater may put them in harms’ way from excessive wakes and operating too close to their loved ones in the water, or that someone on the dock could be ejected off the dock from a high wake.

On top of that, the constant waves and wakes created by passing boats create erosion to the shoreline.

But What About The Boater’s Rights?

Of course, the flip side of that issue is that GRDA lakes are public waters, and boaters have the right to go anywhere on the lake that has not been restricted by officials.

GRDA Police have taken a number of steps over the years to try to mitigate these conflicts.

For instance, the installation of No Wake buoys in high traffic areas and the designation of special speed restrictions for larger vessels in some areas of the lake helps to reduce the destructive wakes created by large boats.

Riding The Wake

The advancement of technology in recent years has shifted the focus of complaints away from the larger vessels creating wakes to smaller boats used for wakeboarding, since they are manufactured to create a large wake.

These boats now have innovative designs to produce larger wakes for surfers that leave large, clean wakes to ride, which while fun, can damage shoreline, docks, and other boats according to some lakefront residents.


Officials are now being placed in the middle of the debate of allowing small vessels to maintain plane speed while trying to solve the issue of the large wakes created by wake boats that do not fit the criteria of special idle speed in specially designated areas of the lake.

Nationally, other states have grappled with bans on wake-enhancing devices in response to concerns about shoreline erosion and other issues.

The problem has been growing each year as a result of an increase in the number of boats on the water, as well as an increase in the popularity of wakeboarding.

The busy season we have had this year has exacerbated the number of complaints received by police, who are now in the position of trying to solve what has become a property dispute between homeowners who live on the water and use boats themselves, and those who want to use the water for the day.

This is not to suggest that the use of wake boats should be regulated or restricted, but to invoke discussion on their use and how they can affect lakeside properties, other boaters, and paddle craft.

The height of a wake is directly related to the vessel’s speed, the shape of the vessel’s hull, how it is operated, and the water depth, so any boat can create a wake large enough to generate complaints if not operated properly.

One of the reasons for the success of Grand Lake is the safety component of which GRDA has a large investment, and we are constantly looking at improvements that increase the overall safety around the lake.

Restricting large vessels, wakesurfing or the use of wake boats in certain areas are a possible solution recommended by some.

The regulation of wakeboarding, skiing or tubing within 200 feet of any structure or the shore could also be mandated to reduce these conflicts.

But, nobody, including GRDA officials, wants more regulations in an attempt to resolve these constant complaints between property owners and boaters.

But that may be the only course of action in the future if we cannot police ourselves.

What Can Be Done?

The issue of the rights of boaters to operate freely on our public waters can lead to conflicts with lakeside residents that invest a large amount of money to have the ability to enjoy the lake lifestyle.

This is a big problem on GRDA lakes, because unlike most lakes in the state, GRDA allows property owners to have docks on the shores of the lakes, which is generally restricted on most other lakes.

But this is also one reason why GRDA lakes are consistently the most popular lakes in the state and have the highest property values of any in the state.

So how do we resolve these issues?

The best solution is educating boaters about how they can safely enjoy their recreational activities without impacting others and encouraging property owners to invoke strategies to protect their property.

Boat speed wake graphic

What Boaters can do:

  • The obvious solution is for boaters to adhere to no wake restrictions. Be aware of navigation devices where you are boating and what they are there for.
  • Get to know the lakes. GRDA publishes lake maps that show where special speed restrictions are imposed and they are available at no cost at local sporting outlets, lakeside ship stores and on our website at
  • If you have taken a boater safety course, you would know the rules of navigation. Even experienced boaters will gain valuable information by attending these free courses.
  • When in doubt, assume you may be in a No Wake area. If you are in a cove and the navigable width is less than 300 feet wide, you are in a functional No Wake area and must be at idle speed, whether there are buoys present or not. If you are launching from a ramp that is not on the main channel, you are probably in a no wake zone.
  • Slow to idle speed before you reach the no wake buoys or when within 150 feet of any structure.
  • Stay away from the shoreline, especially if there are docks. Even if you are at the legal distance of 150 feet away, that doesn’t really diminish a boat-generated wake all that much. Your wake will continue for some distance and increase in height in the shallows near the shore, so keep as far away from the shore as possible when creating a wake. Just because you are outside the no wake buoys does not mean your wake won’t create problems for others, so be a responsible boater and stay as far away as possible.
  • Don’t make repetitive passes in the same area, especially when operating a wake boat. Take your activities out in an open channel away from docks and structures. Be considerate of the property of others.
  • In the open lake far from shore, cruise at a speed that minimizes your wake (planing speed) and trim your motors to maximize planing to reduce your wake.
  • Coming off of plane, pass through the transition phase smoothly and safely, getting the boat level in displacement speed without delay. Avoid “plowing” in the transition phase, because that is when your wake is largest and most damaging.
  • Position your passengers and cargo throughout the boat to distribute weight evenly in order to reduce the time spent while in transition speed, and don’t overload your boat with too many passengers.
  • When passing another boat or structure, stay as far away as possible, as your wake may cause the operator of another vessel to lose control or may cause damage to a dock.
  • Look behind you to see and understand the impact of your wake. Adjust your speed and trim to minimize the impact.
  • These same rules apply to your family and friends that are operating your vessel. Make sure they know the “rules of the road” before you hand them the keys to your boat or PWC. As the owner of the vessel, you could be held liable for their improper actions. This is especially true for teens 13-16 years of age. They are required by law to have a boating safety course certificate to drive a vessel!

The property and welfare of others may not be your concern when you are out on a boat, but don’t forget that you can be held criminally and civilly accountable for damage and injuries created by your wake.

waves entering shallow water

What dock owners can do:

  • Before you even install a dock, discuss the placement with your installer so you can orient the dock layout so that boats are moored inline to incoming waves, which can also improve vessel stability. Most dock owners prefer having their slip face the open channel, but this can also create concerns from waves and wakes that damage your dock and boat. An alternative placement may offer better protection, but will also be subject to permit approval by GRDA officials.
  • Breakwaters are one of the most effective methods of reducing wake impacts on your docks to reflect wave energy and create a calm, protected basin. But this can be an expensive investment to protect your property that will also require permit approval by GRDA.
  • No Wake buoys can be installed in front of your dock in certain circumstances as a physical reminder to boaters of the area where they are required to be at idle speed. However, navigation buoys must be permitted and purchased from GRDA, so that can also be a costly expense for dock owners, and nothing in the water is permanent, so you may have the reoccurring expense of replacing buoys periodically. Just remember that like regulatory traffic signs, some boat drivers simply choose to ignore navigation buoys.
  • For those that have a dock in a marked or functional no-wake area, the posting of NO WAKE AREA signs on your dock can serve as a good reminder to boaters of the restriction, especially if they are launching from a ramp within a cove they are not familiar with.
  • If you have concerns about the risk of swimmers or floaters while using your dock, make sure they can be seen by boaters. Use brightly colored, highly visible life jackets, and flotation devices. You can also place brightly colored temporary “swim balls” in front of your dock to mark the swim area for your family and to serve as a visual cue to passing boaters that people are in the water. You could also use a floating flag when you have swimmers in the water. These devices can be tied to a rope attached to your dock or use an anchor that you can pull up when finished. Keep these temporary devices within a reasonable distance of your dock, such as within 25 feet. Police have no issue with the use of these devices, as long as they are temporary, do not create a navigation hazard and are removed when finished with swim activities.
  • When you see a wake violator, especially if it is a repeat violator, grab your smartphone and take pictures of the boat. Should damage occur, at least you will have documentation of who created the damage. Taking photos of the boat will also serve as notice to the driver that you are documenting their actions. Police will need the registration number on the boat, and we must be able to identify who the driver was, so try to include photos of both. Photos posted on social media can also be an embarrassing, powerful deterrent. 
  • The natural reaction when you see a boater committing a wake violation is to yell and scream at the driver. Police certainly do not encourage this response, because, like any road-rage incident, you never know how the situation could end.
No Wake Zone signs

While many of these steps may provide property owners relief from costly losses, the increased activity during the peak boating seasons can still result in considerable fatigue to infrastructure and shoreline areas.

That’s a price you must be willing to accept to have property on the lake.

The reality is that a majority of these problems occur because of the lack of knowledge for many boat operators because any person over 16 years of age is allowed to operate a boat without any required education or knowledge of boating laws.

Maybe it’s time to discuss this issue with your state law-makers to see if mandated boater training courses should be required.

It is our hope that by bringing these issues to light that it will generate positive discussion on both sides, between lake users and lake residents. But all of us need to remember to Watch Your Wake, Share the Lake!

Watch your wake share the lake


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