University of Minnesota Wake Study: myth vs. fact


Recently, the University of Minnesota published a field study of maximum wave height, total wave energy, and maximum wave power produced by recreational boats on a freshwater lake.

As industry professionals review and analyze this study they are pointing out many inherent problems, stemming first from the fact that the study was apparently not funded by the University of Minnesota, but rather was crowdfunded by groups and individuals critical of wake surfing, Second, it appears that the study never underwent any independent peer review process, but rather underwent a “technical review process” by a small, handpicked group of people.

The study also compares a 2019 25 ft. wake boat (designed to make waves) to two 20-plus year-old 20 and 21 ft. ski boats (designed to make no wake.) Is there a reason why the study did not use comparable boats in size, weight and date of manufacture? For example, why were boats such as a 2019 25 ft. tri-toon or 25 ft. cruiser not compared to the 25-foot wake boat?

Despite the desire for some to target wake boats, the public has been assured by several national marine trade associations and experts in the field that no science (or findings in the UofMN report) suggests wake boats affect water quality, fisheries, or erosion. In fact, according to an earlier UofMN study, “shoreline erosion is driven mainly by wind-generated wave energy.”

Like many other industries, the boating industry in Michigan and across the country advocates for inclusiveness and education, rather than unreasonable restrictions or banning the use of certain products. Banning is a slippery slope and typically leads to more bans. Michigan has strong boating laws in place and an admirable safety record. Under current law, all boaters are responsible for their own wakes, no matter what boat type they are operating.

All sports lakes should be just that, available for all sports. However, a study such as this is a clear indicator that all boaters need to be courteous on the water and work together so everyone can enjoy the lake respectfully.

To help create a harmonious environment on the water, our industry promotes a robust education campaign to assure all boaters work together to safely enjoy Michigan’s waters. The campaign, led by the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA), focuses on three pillars of this education for wake boats. Please help us share this information with all operators:

  • Stay at least 200 feet away from shoreline, docks, other boats;
  • Keep music at reasonable levels; and
  • Minimize repetitive passes.

The Michigan Boating Industries Association (MBIA) is a statewide, nonprofit marine trade association which works to advance, promote, and protect boating in Michigan. Our industry locally and nationally supports education, not restrictions. We are engaged and intent on defending the rights of boaters in Michigan, as well as educating them on their responsibilities to protect the waters on which they recreate.

Michigan’s boating industry brings a $7.8 billion economic impact to our state’s economy each year – supporting 32,000 jobs and 1,500 businesses. Boating and access to the water also brings quality of life to more than 50 percent of Michigan’s residents. Hopefully that number continues to grow.

Nicki Polan is the executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association and a Michigan State Waterways Commissioner.

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