Lake Martin boating etiquette, including the PWC driver

As many times as I have had people say “Write about this, or write about that” I’ve never taken requests.  However, I’ve had enough people ask me to REWRITE a few things and I feel like it needs to be addressed.  I should probably make it a yearly “refresher” article every season.  maybe this article will get sent out digitally and people can share this via social media so more boaters will take note.  So… what is it that everyone wants me to address.  Boating etiquette, particularly to the wakeboat drivers and also  to the personal watercraft drivers.  If there was one  scenario that I hear the most and this is NOT all on the wakeboard boats; it’s big wakes and their impact on docks.

I will say that wakeboard boats do have hulls designed to create large wakes, wakesurfing is the fastest growing sport in the industry of which requires a large wave to push the rider. I will also say that boats large or small, wakeboard style or not that are driven above idle and not planed off while occupants are looking at houses doing the same thing.  They are producing a huge wake in close proximity to the docks.  The wakeboats all have ballast systems and surf systems to accomodate and these watersports and is a lot of fun for the entire family.  HOWEVER it is our responsibility as drivers to watch where these wakes go from there.  It is NOT ok to wakesurf or wakeboard in a small tight slough lined with homes. It is not ok to run these sloughs and then turn a fully loaded wakeboard around at speed in a slough with homes down each side. This is a problem for lots of reasons: the wake is rocking docks as you come in, then again as you come out of the slough. When the boat begins to turn and slow it’s cranking out another huge roller perpendicular to the long ones breaking from center to shore. (needless to say practicing double ups, falls into the same “don’t do it” category) Seawalls which protect shore from erosion compound the wave problem by sending it  back out to the dock and the boat into the slough.  A wave of that size, from either surf or wakeboard can do a lot of damage to docks, and to the boats tied to those docks.  i’ve even heard of people literally being thrown off their dock by a wave.
I put in a call to the Alabama Marine Police and asked about safe distances for driving and towing riders from piers.  I called because there is no rule or law stating a minimum distance required to recreationally drive or when towing a rider to stay away from a dock.  I had a great conversation with an officer on this topic.  Staying 100ft or more from a dock is a good starting point.  If you think about it in terms of a standard wakeboard rope is 75ft and 25ft added to that for safety was agreed to be ok.  In Alabama every year our lakes have accidents where a rider crashes into a dock or pier.  Obviously they were driving much closer then they should to a dock.
 Here is where some real etiquette needs to take place.  First, you don’t ride around homes, if you do, then you should be a considerable distance from them.  With 752 miles of shoreline, of which a very larger percentage is undeveloped and this lake is 44,000 acres of water, there is a place where you can ride and not cause this problem for the residents.  Here’s where we have to work to share and respect areas where we don’t bother the people that have homes here.  A problem that I have discussed with some of the drivers on the lake:  Personal watercraft riders, tend to follow wakeboats to jump their waves, they go into sloughs where wakeboats are trying to tow riders away from homes.  The PWC riders don’t leave and the boat does to find sanctuary and end up back where homes are.  The PWC riders have got to back off and stay away from the wakeboats. I assure you when I or anyone I know is towing a wakeboarder or surfer, the last thing I want anywhere around me is someone on a PWC. ( more than one PWC is 10x worse)  The PWC drivers are not usually watching for the kid in the water.  The long and short of this is, PWC riders need to stay out of sloughs where boats are towing riders, and by no means should they follow them.  I’ve been a driver, a passenger and a rider in uninhabited sloughs on more than one occasion when a boat just drives in at speed going nowhere.  They have no respect for a rider up or waiting in the water.  When the slough gets crowded, the driver goes where it’s not.  If you guys want the wakes out of the home area, your going to have to leave them alone when they are riding where there are no homes.
Two boats sharing a slough, it’s not ideal but if it’s that busy out you have to work with the other boat.  Let them get sets in, and they should let you.  Stop and talk with your fellow rider.. make a friend.. maybe you can ride together sometime.. but acknowledge your going to let them ride and then you or your crew are going to take another set when their rider get done..alternate.
I try not to harp on the tubers, I understand it’s fun for kids, but that can literally be done in any water condition.  Waterskiing/slalom skiing, wakeboarding, & wakesurfing can not really be done in choppy water.  It’s just plain rude to come barreling into a slough pulling a tuber when someone is riding, or about to start.  Unfortunately, I see it happens all the time when I’m coaching or riding myself.  Please let drivers and riders take advantage of calm water and keep the tubing away from them.
We all need to try to be considerate to the other people out trying to have fun on the lake, there’s room for everyone.
See you on the water-
Sawyer