Richmond, VT — Wake boats have caused a wave of controversy in Vermont, as a petition was submitted in early March to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, calling for new rules about their use. The citizen group coined “Responsible Wakes for Vermont Lakes” who submitted the petition are centering around the idea that wake boats are hurting both the environment around smaller lakes and the water quality itself.

The 54-page petition is calling on the Department of Environmental Conservation to tighten regulations. The group estimates that the percentage of wake boats on Vermont’s waterways is just under one percent of the total number of vessels, but despite that, they are still making a difference in terms of the health of Vermont’s bodies of waters.

Wake boats are powerboats or motorboats designed to create large wakes for activities such as wakeboarding or wake surfing. The boats work mainly by using their weight to displace water. While Vermont regulates boats, there are no rules specifically for wake boats. The petition, which cites 56 scientific studies, calls for keeping these boats at least 1,000 feet from the shoreline, a number that is currently at 200 feet. It also calls for establishing a minimum depth requirement for the boats to operate in, and designating areas as wake sport zones.

“A wake boat in surf mode would be prohibited in lakes that don’t meet their three criteria,” said Oliver Pierson, Supervisor of the Lakes and Ponds Management and Protection Program. “However, a lake that doesn’t meet those three criteria, a wake boat just operating like any other monetized vessel would be allowed.”

 Multiple people at the meeting had an issue with the language in the petition, calling some of it “fear mongering” and that studies are unsubstantiated.

“Some of the verbiage behind it kind of goes back to sales 101,” said Ben McLaughlin, a Lake Fairlee Association member. “Using fear, uncertainty and death, using some anecdotal evidence whether it’s real or not on the nature of wake boats. I can tell you that I have been lake surfing on Lake Fairlee since 2009. Interestingly, our loon population has continued to grow and grow.” 

Others called for more dialogue and synergy on the matter.

“I don’t know what kind of outreach has been done to the conflicting use here which is wakeboarding,” said Bruce Epstein, President of Green Mountain Water Skiers. “We support amending the rules to include wakeboarding as a normal use but we want to see a procedure that is fair and just. Right now the participation hasn’t existed yet with the wake-boarders or the wakeboarding industry.” 

There were a number of meeting-goers that agreed with the petition, and think that wake boats could overcrowd certain lakes, and disturb the environment, its wildlife, and other boat users.

“Wake board activities disrupt water quality and contribute to the root cause of why nonnative species exist in the first place,” said David Kaminsky, a proponent of the petition.

The Department of Environmental Conservation can either approve all the rules proposed in the petition, amend the list of rules, or deny any rule changes. The department is not conducting its own research according to Pierson, but it reviewing published research to help guide its decision, which could come as early as August.

As of Wednesday, the department has not taken a stance on the accuracy of claims made in the petition. If the rules in the petition are adopted, Vermonters and visitors would have 19 lakes that permit wakeboarding. There will be another meeting discussing the petition in Manchester next week.