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Beware of Wake

By Mitch Furr

Photos by Ron Messina/DWR

When you’re on the water, it’s only a matter of time until you must cross another boat’s wake.

If you’re a new boat owner, you may be unfamiliar with the term wake. The wake is the wave created as the hull of a boat pushes through the water. The characteristics and speed of a boat will determine the size of a boat’s wake. This is important to know not only as you watch for other vessels’ wakes, but also in knowing the impact of your own. Always be respectful of others on the water, especially smaller craft and paddle crafts.

Now that you know the basics of wake, it’s time to discuss how to navigate it. The are several different scenarios in which you may encounter wake—discussing all of them would take some time, so instead, we’ll discuss some basics that are applicable across all scenarios.

Identifying an incoming wake will be the first step. Once you’ve recognized this, you can alert your passengers and make speed adjustments as necessary. Come to a comfortable speed that allows you to maintain steerage. If you’re going too fast, you risk launching off the wake and driving the bow of your boat into the following wake. This is known as stuffing the boat.

If you’re going too slow, you’re likely to be pushed by the wake, or surf it, unable to control the direction of your boat. Both can lead to taking on water. Depending on the size and speed of the wake, as well as your navigational constraints, you’ll want to approach the wake at a 45- to 90-degree angle and cross it in a controlled manner. Once you’ve crossed the wake, you can return to your previous speed and course.

Additionally, be aware of Virginia’s new move-over regulation. This new regulation requires boaters to slow to a no-wake speed within 200 feet of any law enforcement or emergency services vessel actively displaying flashing blue or red lights.

Now get out on the water and enjoy everything Virginia has to offer!

  • August 21, 2023