Time To Wake Up About Wakes?

By Pat Piper

Wakes can be a blast for skiers and wakeboarders. But bystanders on the receiving end of aggressive wakes are being put in real danger.

Photo of a wake behind a boat

When you think about it, some trailer-boat owners like wakes. They may be pulling a wakeboard, or the waterskier being towed may jump a wake or two; the result is always a lot of thumbs up and fists in the air followed by a triumphant "Yes!" when the ride is over. The thing is, enjoyable as wakes are, people and property can be injured.

Here's an example: A Trailering Club member was kayaking on Kentucky Lake last year, trying to get a photograph of a bald eagle. She had positioned the boat to catch the sunshine as it came across the eagle's white crest. There were a few boats tied up at docks along the shoreline, but the regal bird seemed unfazed by this hint of civilization. After a few images were shot, the bird suddenly took off and the kayaker turned to see a powerboat coming right at her from mid-lake. Figuring they were heading to a nearby boat ramp, she started paddling away, only to realize they were towing a skier who now was outside of the wake as the boat made a tight turn to head back out. They "whipped" the skier in the kayaker's direction.

The skier was unable to cut inside and avoid the kayak so he dropped the rope, and the wake from the boat swamped the kayak, turning it upside down. The kayaker’s digital camera sank to the bottom as she tried to right the vessel. Instead of offering to assist the kayaker, the skier started yelling at her about "being in the way." This occurred because the boat operator was absolutely clueless about his wake and, maybe more to the point, the lookout onboard with the operator didn't signal to drop the tow rope sooner.

Some Basic Information To Know About Wakes

  1. Making a tight turn at a speed fast enough to pull a skier is going to create a larger wake as a result of more of the hull pushing the water to one side. This is great for letting a skier try their luck at the "whip," but it also requires thinking ahead — for the skier (where does this take me?) and for the boater (will the wake damage anything?). Neither participant in the story above did that.
  2. Keep maneuvers, such as the one described, as far as possible from shore. In many areas, it's illegal to have a boat operating at high speed within 100 yards of shore. Some places require a boat to be 300 feet offshore. Know the local rules before you launch the boat. If there's plenty of room, use it.
  3. If you're underway and encounter a large wake, slow down and try to take it at a 45-degree angle rather than at 90 degrees. This keeps your prop in the water. Also, avoid letting a wake hit your boat from the stern because some models are cut out to allow for the outboard, and the waves can swamp the boat.
  4. Warn passengers about potential wakes coming toward the boat and don't let them sit on the bow while underway. Wakes can throw people in the air, causing many injuries, especially to less agile or older passengers.
  5. Don't wait until you're in the middle of a wake to throttle back, and don't come to a complete stop, because you lose ability to steer.
  6. A boat that is half on plane creates a larger wake than a boat fully on plane.
  7. Slow down before you are abeam of another boat or marina. Waves move at right angles to your boat. 
This article was published in the Summer 2012 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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