Cottagers encouraged to ‘be wake aware’ ahead of May long weekend

Wakeboard Boat Photo by Shutterstock/Maksym Fesenko

As we approach the May long weekend, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA), in partnership with the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) and Safe Quiet Lakes, is promoting its #WakeAware campaign, reminding cottagers to be wake aware and conscious of the damages motorboat wakes can cause to a lake.

The group first launched the campaign in 2021, prompted, in part, by a major increase in the use of Ontario’s waterways during the pandemic. In 2020, the number of new Pleasure Craft Operator Cards (PCOCs) issued in Ontario reached an all-time high of 237,000. In 2021, there were an additional 200,000 new boating licenses issued.

More motorboats on the water threaten other recreational users, said the #WakeAware group in a statement. A large wake can swamp swimmers, kayakers, canoeists, and paddleboarders, posing a drowning risk.

In addition to threatening other recreational users, a study published in the North American Lake Management Association’s journal, Lake and Reservoir Management, found that the wake generated by motorboats can erode the shoreline, damage docks, and disrupt aquatic ecosystems. This is particularly concerning for loons, which create nests close to the shoreline at this time of year. A series of large waves caused by a boat could flood the nest, sweeping away the eggs. Due to loons’ low reproduction rate, the loss of any eggs has a major impact on the species.

The study reported that during one summer season on Whitestone Lake near Magnetawan, Ont., motorboat wakes accounted for 61 per cent of total wave energy generated on the lake.

The most damaging wakes, said the ‘be wake aware’ group, are caused when you plow away from a dock, boat launch, or marina with your bow up, when you decelerate quickly, or when you make a turn close to shore. To avoid causing any damage, the group suggests reducing your speed any time you’re near the shore or approaching narrows.

You also want to limit the amount of time driving with your bow raised out of the water. This occurs when you transition from a slow speed to a fast speed or vice versa. Position your passengers throughout the boat to evenly distribute weight so that you don’t spend unnecessary time in this transitional phase, said the #WakeAware group. And if you plan to waterski, wakeboard, or tube, start the activity in the middle of the lake, at least 200 metres from the shoreline.

To help promote the ‘be wake aware’ campaign this year, the group has introduced a Marine Ambassadors program, which involves marina operators joining the group’s coalition to promote wake awareness among its customers.

“A lot of people don’t realize when they whip out of here how much damage their wake does to docks and other boats,” said Dawn Campbell of Balsam RPM, a Haliburton County marina, in a statement. She was one of the first Marine Ambassadors to sign up for the program.

If you want to find out more about how boats’ wakes are affecting your lake, you can check out the #WakeAware group’s website.

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