Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wake Restriction Legislation Has Been Filed for 2016

Update May 2018: HB 2116 is ready to sign!

Update Dec 2017: Representative Wood has pre-filed a new bill, HB 1591 to address the wake issue on the lake.

I've waited until the final bill proposal was filed in the Missouri House of Representatives before weighing in on the issue of large wakes on the Lake of the Ozarks.

After a very public comment period, Representative David Wood has filed House Bill 1885 to propose boater operating changes on all lakes in Missouri, not just the Lake of the Ozarks. So what is in this bill? How would it affect lake traffic? More importantly will it solve the problem of large and damaging wakes on the Lake of the Ozarks?

While Bill 1885 would retain the current restrictions for operating any vessel within 100 ft of any pier, dock or buoy, it would also add a new 300 foot restriction for all vessels, especially those over 45 feet in length that fit the proposed definition of a "cruiser".

"Cruisers shall not be operated within three hundred feet from the shore at a speed in excess of slow-no wake speed on any portion of a Missouri lake. For purposes of this section, "Cruiser" means a vessel measuring over forty-five feet in length measured from the swim platform to the tip of the bow with a living space below the main deck."

In summary this law would restrict any boat over 45 feet in length from being closer than 300 feet from just about everything, unless running at no-wake speed. For boats less than 45 feet, things get slightly less clear as any boat over 30 feet in length cannot "plow", defined as "intentionally operating a vessel with the bow elevated", within the same 300 foot restriction.  In addition, vessels of any size must maintain this distance if said vessel has additional ballast to promote the creation of large wakes (do people really do this?).

The rules are relatively straightforward, and while I'm sure some portions of the potential law will be contested in court at some point, enforcement is going to hinge on how law enforcement interprets the legal definition of "plowing" or "cruiser".

All boats are not created equal, an old 40ft foot Sea Ray Express can kick up plenty of wake even on plane. On the other hand, a 50 foot catamaran at 50+mph produces less wake than many smaller boats. This is where that definition of "cruiser" really matters. I believe the part of the cruiser definition that reads "with a living space below the main deck" is intended to separate true large cruisers from racing catamarans. I don't think a catamaran would qualify as a "cruiser" since what's below deck on them can hardly be considered living space by any reasonable person.

Keep in mind, there are many boats less than 30 feet not be subject to these new rules (unless purposely taking on additional ballast) that are quite capable of producing large wakes, So what does this bill offer to protect property owners from smaller boats that can still put out punishing wakes just outside of 100 feet from shoreline and structures?

The solution is possibly contained within the most promising portion of the bill, namely the creation of "Cove Watch" programs.

"The water patrol division of the state highway patrol shall work in conjunction with local law enforcement to provide guidance to citizens residing on or near bodies of water who wish to establish cove watch programs."

As defined,

"..."cove watch" means a group of people living in the same area in residences located on or near a lake who want to make their neighborhood cove safer by working together and in conjunction with the water patrol and local law enforcement to reduce crime, promote safe water practices, and improve quality of life."

This provides neighborhoods and areas the means to establish associations with authorities to help control activity in their immediate area of the lake. This could possibly be the most effective part of the bill in the end as law enforcement alone will not change the complexion of the lake. Giving property owners a means of involving Water Patrol in the monitoring of activity in their coves should help. The real solution to keeping the lake enjoyable for everyone lies within ourselves as both property owners and boaters. Posting notices on docks that coves are being "watched" let's boaters know that property owners are on the lookout for bad behavior and more importantly have the support of Water Patrol to help with enforcement.

This bill has a long, long way to go but it does at least try to address the issue.  At this point I can get behind the establishment of Cove Watch programs and let the boat size restrictions go for now. My guess is that this bill will slowly fade away and never even make it to the Senate for discussion because when push comes to shove, legislators are always afraid of bleeding the golden goose that is the Lake of the Ozarks.

Update January 2016 - This Bill is going nowhere