Once you have everything needed to wakesurf, found a suitable body of water, and have the boat you’ll be surfing behind, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how the boat drives. This includes how the boat works mechanically along with what is expected of you, as the driver, to create the best experience for those in the boat while keeping everyone safe.
Some on-water regulations differ state-to-state, but there are others that are common and fairly universal on all bodies of water. These rules include everything from age restrictions for drivers to how many people can be towed behind a boat at one time. These common rules can be found below:
Different regions and states have different speed limits. For example, international waters have no speed limits. Minnesota has a top speed of 40 mph on most bodies of water while Michigan has a limit of 55 mph on it. Check with your local authorities for what the speed limit is for you.
You won’t be reaching anywhere near these speeds when you’re surfing, but you may want to speed to a place on your body of water where it is less crowded. When doing this, be conscientious of your speed.
Driver Age Restrictions
Most states have an age restriction for children behind the wheel of a motor-powered watercraft. These restrictions affect children younger than 10 in some states and up to the age of 18 in others. Check with your local authorities about the age limit in your area.
In most states, a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved life jacket needs to be present and readily accessible for each person on board. To denote that these life jackets have USCG approval, the inside of each life jacket will have a tag. Some types of inflatable life jackets are approved, but in these instances, the life jacket needs to be worn at all times. Another common state law requires all children under the age of ten to wear a life jacket while the boat is moving. In boats larger than 16 feet, a Type IV throwable needs to be available in the case of an emergency.
Unsafe Sitting Arrangements
Hanging over the edge of the boat or dangling your feet off the front or sides is prohibited when the boat is in motion. This goes for sitting on the engine compartment and the swim deck while the engine is running and the boat is moving.
Before embarking out on the water, make sure the horn works, fire extinguishers are present and are not expired, and navigation lighting are all on board and in working order. These will be the first items that officers patrolling the area will ask for in the case of being pulled over.
Under the Influence
Everyone likes to have fun, right? And wakesurfing can be some of the most fun experiences of the summer, but stay in control. Some states have recently increased the penalty for boating under the influence, bringing the severity to the level of receiving a DUI in a car. Much like a car, the legal limit to be behind the wheel is a 0.08 BAC so please plan ahead with a designated driver if you plan to be drinking.
Wake surfing boats cause considerably larger wakes than other motor boats. With that in mind, be cognizant of the area that you are surfing. Make sure to continue to move around a body of water and not go back and forth in the same area continuously. A calm, glass-like lake can become a wave pool quickly, ruining the area for other boaters.
According to the Minnesota DNR, large wakes are the biggest issue that residents and fellow boaters have with wakesurfing. Please be courteous on the lake!
Display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise to alert other boaters of your position in low lighting.
Common Towing Requirements
When towing anyone behind the boat, there are additional guidelines that drivers need to take into consideration:
- No more than 3 people can be pulled behind the boat at one time. Although this doesn’t always necessarily apply to surfing one person at a time, there have been instances people will surf multiple people on one wave.
- There needs to be another observer or “spotter” other than the driver to watch the surfer. This allows both to focus on one thing, the driver on other boats and the shore and the spotter on when the surfer falls. Mirrors that allow the driver to watch the surfer without turning around do not count as a spotter.
- One note with the spotter, they must be over 12 years of age and have the ability to communicate with the driver
- All towable watersports (surfing, water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, etc.) must be stopped around sunset. The exact time depends on when sunset is and what state you live in. We wrote another post that outlines these times, During What Time Is It Legal To Wakesurf.
- A life jacket, buoyancy belt, or another flotation device must be worn while surfing. The jacket doesn’t have to be USGA-approved, but there must be a USGA life jacket on board for the surfer
- The driver needs to make sure that they keep the boat at least 150 feet away from other boats, swimmers, docks, or any other structure.
- Do not tow anyone while you are going through channels and slow wake zones
- Unused tow lines (lines that are in the water with no one holding on) should be brought into the boat and not left unattended
Laws and rules for wakesurfing differ from state to state, but the overarching theme is to keep people safe. Make sure to take the above rules into account the next time you go out on the lake. Following these rules will not only make your time on the water more enjoyable but will also make a safe environment for those around you on the lake.