Alarm over larger “wake” boats have Upper Saranac Lake (USL) residents concerned with the impacts on the ecosystem, wildlife, and their personal property. New recreational water sports such as wake surfing and wakeboarding are on the rise in popularity in the watershed, and while the challenges and excitement of these sports are undeniable, they do require large wakes which can cause side effects fort the watershed.

While many associate waves with high-speed boating, it is moderate speeds of 6 to 12 mph that are of most concern. Off-plane, a boat’s bow angles up and the propeller downward, creating large wakes and stirring up the bottom sediment.

The wakes that are of primary concern are generated by both slow speed activities such as “plowing the water,” as well as large wakes generated by boats that have ballast tanks for added weight to the stern of the boat.

Unfortunately, these activities can damage docks, moored boats, loon nests, and limit the enjoyment of small watercraft like paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks. Large wakes also erode the shoreline and stir up bottom sediment, decreasing water clarity. Bottom sediment often has a high phosphorus content. Phosphorus, when released into the water column, can cause algae blooms, degrading the aquatic ecosystems, and contribute to the degradation of the fish population.

The Upper Saranac Foundation (USF) has received numerous inquiries regarding excessive boat waves this summer. USL shore owners have reported boat and dock damage, and the loss of shore frontage property to erosion due to excessive wave action. Wakes from motorized vessels accelerate erosion by exposing or uprooting vegetation and causing banks to collapse.

Ballast tanks on wake boats can also be a concern in regard to the transportation of invasive species. Standing water in boats that is transported from waterbody to waterbody are known vectors to invasive introductions.

With caution, these sports can be enjoyed and their impacts on shoreline erosion can be mitigated.

The extent of erosion caused by wakes depends on the vessel’s distance from shore, hull size, weight, and speed, as well as the depth of the water. While New York State Navigation Law, mandates that boats do not exceed 5 mph within 100 feet of shore in an effort to prevent shoreline erosion, there is more we can do:

  • reduce speed to less than 5 mph within 500 feet of shore;
  • do not add ballast or other extra weight to your boat, as it artificially enhances wakes and can transport aquatic invasive species;
  • visit different areas and towards the center of the on a lake to minimize impact in any one area;
  • motor near rocky, undeveloped shorelines as opposed to sandy or marshy areas or sensitive wetlands;
  • avoid motorboating in tight circles;
  • avoid motoring in shallow or heavily vegetated waters;
  • make sure to adhere to all NYS and local laws regarding passenger safety, noise levels, and environmental regulations before heading out on the water.