Like fireflies trailed by children on a summer evening, large wakes attract other recreation. Going airborne is a thrill for tube riders and personal watercraft (PWC) drivers. Although it’s also against the law for PWCs to jump another boat’s wake, said Capt. Gary Buchanan, Central and Southern districts Commander for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, people rarely drive that way when a marine patrol officer is around to issue a citation.
“PWCs and tubers are out there looking for any wave in general, so they gravitate to the wake,” said Ben Watts, a Lake Martin native and Singleton Marine wakeboard pro. “A lot of the PWCs are driven by younger kids who are by themselves. They are just paying attention to the wake, not where they are going, and they’re not aware of the rider in front of them.”
Calm water also is important.
Choppy water causes problems for skiers, boarders and surfers, which makes glassy sloughs the preferred location for behind-the-boat water sports.
“We look for places where the wind is blocked and away from other boats that would make the water rough,” Watts said. “When I go out, I go early in the morning or on weekdays when the lake is not so busy, and I choose spots where there are no houses or docks, so I don’t disturb homeowners.
“The reason that I am so aware of wakes and the potential damage is that I have lived on the lake my whole life. We experience these problems with boats as much as others do. When our boat is on the end of the dock, we have to go run and catch the boat. It’s not just wake boats. We have had a lot of problems with PWCs going really slow, but it could be any boat. It’s a misconception that it’s just the wake boats.
“I was raised to be aware of the wake and the potential damage that it can cause, and everybody I ride with is very aware of where and how we are riding.”
Ideal conditions for wake sports, Watts said, include 15 feet or more of depth, as shallow water changes the quality of the wake.
“The middle of the slough is almost always the deepest, so wake boats generally perform better if they are not close to docks and shorelines,” Watts said.
While the center of a slough offers the best ride, Buchanan said what looks like the middle section of an area often is a matter of perspective.
“If I am in the boat, what’s close to the dock for me looks very different than for the person on the dock,” Buchanan said. “From the boater’s perspective, he’s plenty far from the dock, but the guy on the dock thinks, ‘Good grief! These people are coming close to me!’ There’s not a hard and fast requirement.”
A hard and fast requirement is what many homeowners would like to see, and there may well be one on the way.
House Bill 520 has moved through the Homeland Security Committee of the Alabama House of Representatives and could be under consideration when the legislature reconvenes. If it passes both the House and Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, it would be unlawful for a person to operate a vessel or personal watercraft at greater than idle speed within 100 feet of a moored or anchored boat, a dock, pier or bridge, a person in the water, a shoreline adjacent to a residence, a public park or beach, or a marina, restaurant or other public use area.
Improving general boating education and the licensing process also has been discussed as a potential solution, though no formal proposal has been introduced.
Currently, a boating license can be obtained online after passage of a basic rules-of-the-road type of test. No driving test is administered or required.
When a purchased boat is delivered, customers typically receive basic safety instruction and driving tips from a sales rep or marina employee, and several marinas post safety campaign signs on their counters, urging boaters to operate under self-imposed shoreline limitations. Russell Marine customers sign a compliance agreement to that effect at the time of purchase, Russell Marine president Dave Commander said, and boat manufacturers offer support and training sessions to marina employees with the intent information will be forwarded to customers.
“We do try to educate our customers,” Commander said. “If we want to survive, we have to practice safety and good wake responsibility.”
But thorough instruction and accountability for boat drivers is lacking on the lake, and many visitors to the lake are not required to hold credentials of any kind to drive a boat here. Visit lakemagazine.life for more on boat driving requirements at Lake Martin.
This coverage will resume in the Weekend Outlook.