Concord—March 2, 2022—The House Resources, Recreation and Development Committee last week voted that HB 1071, relative to wakesurfing, was “inexpedient to legislate.”
The vote was along party lines, with 11 Republicans opposing it and 10 Democrats supporting it. Two of the six bill sponsors were Republicans, both representing parts of Carroll County. Though hobbled by the vote, the measure will move to the full House of Representatives for consideration.
HB 1071 would establish a minimum distance of 250 feet from the shore, docks, and other boats for wakesurfing activities on inland waters. The current setback for power boats is 150 feet.
The bill was written to address complaints that large waves generated by wakesurfing were eroding shorelines and endangering swimmers and small craft. The boating industry opposes limits on the boats even though it has published studies showing the craft are more impactful than other types of boats.
Research sponsored by the Water Sport Industry Association in 2015 found wave heights for wakeboarding were 43% higher than when the same boat was cruising and not towing a boarder. Waves for wakesurfing were 114% higher, using the same comparison.
Last month a University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering study reported that wakesurfing boats produced wave heights two to three times higher than traditional boats, wave energies six to nine times stronger, and maximum wave power six to twelve times more powerful.
The university researchers concluded that wakesurfing boats would need to operate between 425 and 500 feet from shore in order to have the same wave dispersal pattern as non-wakesurfing boats—a much larger distance than proposed in the current legislation.
Social Media Voices
The debate over wakesurfing is being waged in part on social media, where the issue of boating limits is often positioned as a threat to individual liberties and a pathway to bans on the sport.
A February 7 Facebook post by MacCallum’s Boathouse, an Epson boat dealer, stated that “Should this poorly-crafted bill [HB 1071] pass into law, it will restrict, prohibit and potentially ban wakesurfing from a significant number of lakes within our state.”
NH Families for Wake Sports, a 334-member Facebook group, focuses on “Education on wake responsibility, advocacy for wake sports and updates on legislation that aims to restrict or ban the right to recreate on NH waterways.”
Formed in August 2019 to oppose HB 137, a bill that established a commission to study the effects of wake boating, the group lists as its website the home page of the Water Sports Industry Association, an Orlando, Florida, boating trade group.
In a February 23 post, co-administrator, Keith Mayotte, wrote that the House Committee had voted “to kill” HB 1071 for reasons that included “NH is a live free or die state.” A January post last year by the group’s co-administrator, Karen Mayotte, urged members to oppose HB 229, which would have defined wake boats as a class of boats, because the bill was “for the purpose of future bans and restrictions.”
Concord-based non-profit NH LAKES testified on behalf of the current legislation and urged the committee amend the bill to be “more protective” of lake health and safety, pointing to the results of the University of Minnesota study.
Most complaints about wake boats on Ossipee Lake have come from the bays, especially Berry Bay. Residents there have documented waves causing shoreline erosion, capsizing canoes and kayaks and creating hazards for children in the water.
But complaints have come from elsewhere on the lake as well, sometimes combined with more general complaints about noise, erratic boating behavior and crowding—all issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
Seeking a middle ground was “Wake Boat Person,” who wrote on Ossipee Lake Alliance’s website that “there is no reason for a wake boat to be towing on Berry Bay or Leavitt Bay,” as they are “much too small.”
“However, those waves are nothing compared to the waves hitting the beaches of Broad Bay during the busy hours of the day. If there is going to be a restriction on wake boat operation there needs to be a speed limit set during busy hours in order to cut down on the waves that are causing more damage than the 10 or so wake boats that are on the lake,” he concluded.
As Jessica Johnson Eldridge put it on Ossipee Lake Alliance’s Facebook page, “there needs to be some sort of happy medium.”