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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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July 19, 2019

6/22/2019 7:25:00 AM
Lake Where You Live: Making wakes
Ted Rulseh
Special to The Lakeland Times

Go to any meeting these days where lake issues are discussed and you're all but guaranteed to hear two words: Wake boats.

Invasive species, yes. Shoreland protection, of course. Fisheries improvement, definitely. But wake boats have risen to the top tier of issues about which lake property owners and lake visitors are concerned. For those not yet familiar, these are power boats with ballast tanks that fill with water so the boat creates a large wake to enable a person towed on a wake board to execute high leaps over the water.

I keep this column non-political on purpose, but I see this as an issue I can't ignore because it is so pervasive and has potential to affect your lake, and mine. Those who know me will tell you I favor the quieter lake pursuits, so I might as well make that disclosure. However, I'll try to present this issue objectively.

Though I have never gone wake boarding, I can see it would be great fun, especially for younger athletic folks who enjoy waterskiing but want to up the ante on thrills. The leaps they make can be spectacular and entertaining to watch. What's concerning is the impact of the boats on lakeshores and lake users.

The wakes from these boats can be so large even water skiers complain about them. Wakes have been known to capsize kayaks and canoes and badly jostle boats tied to piers. They're at minimum an annoyance for anglers in smaller boats.

What's more, the wakes can cause shoreline erosion; a secondary effect is for homeowners to install seawalls or rock riprap to protect their properties. That in turn means loss of natural shoreline and scenic value.

There have been and always will be conflicts between those who favor quiet versus motorized activities on lakes. Issues involving personal watercraft (JetSkis) and water skiers are often resolved quite nicely by establishing quiet or no-wake hours in the morning and evening.

But establishing hours won't do anything to mitigate the effect of huge wakes on other lake users and on shorelines. Many argue that some lakes are too small to absorb the impacts. I know of a 55-acre lake in southeast Wisconsin where a single wake boat has caused great consternation. I know of a 300-acre (or so) lake in Oneida County where there are four wake boats.

This issue isn't going away; there are passionate people on both sides of it. Some wakeboarding enthusiasts and wake boat manufacturers are advocating in effect a code of conduct, a kind of self-policing that prescribes staying certain distances from shorelines and not traversing any given area of a lake repeatedly.

That shows respect for others, and it's welcome. The question is whether that is or can ever be enough, given how large these wakes are and how far they travel.

Many lake residents are quite up in arms about wake boats are quite adamant about finding a solution. Accordingly, it won't surprise me if the controversy ends in some form of regulation, at the association, county or state level. What's your opinion?

Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, "A Lakeside Companion," published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at

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