There’s one — or perhaps a few — in every harbor, every marina, and on virtually every body of water. You’re ghosting along in a light breeze on your sailboat, paddling your canoe or kayak along a quiet lake shoreline, or perhaps enjoying some quiet time at anchor, when some inconsiderate boater buzzes by at half throttle, burying his stern and creating a nasty wake.

At best, it may rock the boat, knock over a food or beverage item, and perhaps inspire the offended party to shake fists or offer a single-finger salute. In worse cases, someone can be knocked around, or even overboard, perhaps suffering serious injury, and boats sustain considerable damage.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of boaters who repeatedly violate rules for “no wake” or “headway speed” zones. It’s hard to believe that all of these violators do so deliberately; there’s a good chance that many of the offenders simply don’t realize what is happening behind their boats.

First, a summary of Maine regulations about the topic seems in order.

Maine law prohibits operation of watercraft at a speed greater than headway speed while within a water safety zone or within a marina or an approved anchorage in coastal or inland waters.

A water safety zone is the area of water within 200 feet of any shoreline, whether that shoreline is on the mainland or an island.

Headway speed means the minimum speed necessary to maintain steerage and control of the watercraft. Other than a few exceptions for boats actively fishing and picking up or dropping off water skiers, the law on headway speed applies to everyone.

Laws like this were put in place for a number of reasons — for the safety of other boaters, to prevent damage to boats in marinas, and to reduce shoreline erosion that might otherwise occur if an area is constantly subject to large boat wakes.

Many boaters might think that it’s good enough to just slow down a bit as they get closer to shore or as they enter an anchorage.

But all too often, that actually does more harm than good. Partially throttling back will often cause a boat’s stern to dig deeper into the water, thus increasing the wake that boat puts out. Half throttle often creates maximum wake.

Boat U.S. offers a few tips on how boaters can avoid being offenders.

First, gain a strong awareness of your boat’s wake at various speeds and hull trim. The best way to do this is to glance backwards whenever you increase or decrease speed. And keep an eye on your depthsounder — boat wakes tend to be bigger where the water is shallow.

Second, when you enter a water safety zone, marina, or anchorage, slow down so that the boat is level and wake is negligible. No cheating allowed! Even an extra knot or two can create a much larger wake.

You can also position passengers to keep the boat level. Too much weight aft lowers the stern and consequently, increases the size of the wake.

Slow down before you are abeam of another boat, marina, etc. Your wake moves at right angles to the path of the boat, and waiting to slow down until after you’ve passed doesn’t impress the people you just “waked.”

If the good karma you generate for being a considerate boater isn’t enough to motivate you, think about this: A boater can be held responsible for injury and damage caused to others by his/her boat’s wake. The last thing any boater should want is to add to the expense.

But even with laws on the books, there will always be occasions where boaters must encounter excessive wakes. Here are a couple of things you can do to help minimize the aggravation and reduce the likelihood of damage or injury.

If you know you will be encountering a wake, be sure to warn your passengers so they can brace themselves ahead of time. A timely shout of the single word “Wake!” has saved us many bumps and bruises.

Position your boat to take the waves at an angle. Quartering the waves will generally cause a lot less on-board turbulence than hitting them head on. You definitely don’t want to take large waves at the beam, especially if you’re in a small boat that could capsize.

Finally, here’s a tip for sailors who like to raft up — be sure to offset your rigs. Setting them a good 3 feet fore and aft of one another will keep them from coming into contact should someone come by at half throttle and throw a big wake your way.


Gail Rice of Freeport and her husband, Randy, race and cruise their Pearson 30 sloop on Casco Bay. Contact her at:

[email protected]