Senate Punts on Wake Boat Setback Bill

Concord—May 31, 2024—The State Senate on Thursday ensured that there will be no change to wake boat regulations in New Hampshire this year.

On a voice vote, the legislative body “non-concurred” with a House bill that would have increased the shoreline setback for wake boats to 300 feet. As a result of the vote, the wake boat setback will remain 150 feet, the same as for all other powerboats.

The vote ends several months of legislative wrangling that began after Republican members of the House led a successful effort to block consideration of a House committee-approved bill to increase the shoreline setback to 300 feet.

That’s the minimum that research shows is needed to reduce the environmental damage caused by the large waves that wake boats generate.

A similar setback bill in the Senate, SB 431, proposed a setback of 200 feet, a benchmark heavily promoted by the watersports industry, the adoption of which would have put New Hampshire in sync with setback regulations in Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

State Senator Denise Ricciardi says awareness from the wake boat debate will result in boaters keeping their distance from shorelines. WMUR Photo

In a letter writing campaign, lake activists asked the House to oppose the Senate benchmark and amend the Senate bill to 300 feet. The House did so and voted 214-148 to approve it.

That is the bill the Senate “non-concurred” with on Thursday in the face of an almost certain veto by the Governor, had it voted otherwise.

Republican State Senator Denise Ricciardi introduced the motion to non-concur, saying that reducing the operating area for wake boats “will cause more dangerous and unsafe conditions.”

She said the wake boat debate has increased boater awareness of the danger of operating close to shore, and she expressed confidence that “improved operation on the waterways” will come this year from boater education provided by marinas and tourism officials.

“The continued division among shorefront owners and boaters [on this issue] needs to come to an end,” Ricciardi said.

“The waterways are for everyone. It’s time to get along,” she concluded.

Democratic State Senator David Watters responded to Ricciardi to bemoan the fact that the issue received a pre-emptive voice vote instead of going to a Committee of Conference for debate.

This is “not an issue that is going to go away,” Watters said, pointing to neighboring Maine and Vermont, where wake boat setback increases of 300-feet and 500-feet respectively will go into effect this year.

Ossipee Lake Responses
Local lake and conservation organizations have been meeting in recent weeks to discuss how to address politically what they say is the state’s benign neglect of its lakes, and they were quick to respond to news of the Senate vote.

“Wake boarding is a classic example of imbalance between the liberties of a few and the rights of the many,” said Green Mountain Conservation Group Executive Director Matt Howe.

“We would respectfully ask Senator Ricciardi to recognize that the 300-foot setback already is a compromise, and when canoeists, kayakers, sailboats and small motorboats are routinely imperiled by large wake, any assertion that the 300-foot setback heightens danger on the water is not at all helpful.”

Roberta MacCarthy, co-president of Berry Bay Association, said the wake sports bill would have been a significant benefit to smaller water bodies like Berry Bay.

“Berry Bay is negatively impacted by large and powerful wakes too close to the shoreline and lake bottom,” she said in a statement.

Her organization has publicly pressed the state for relief from the shoreline damage it has experienced from wake boats over a period of years, and from the danger to swimmers because of the shorter distance to shore from the outsized wakes.

MacCarthy said the 300-foot setback is already a compromise from the 500 feet recommended by the research.

“This issue is not going to go away, so we all need to work it out,” she said.

David Smith of Ossipee Lake Alliance issued a statement saying he found Senator Ricciardi’s comments condescending and uninformed.

“Pointing the finger at lake property owners for being “divisive” about lake environmental and safety issues is a tell that the legislator doesn’t actually understand the issues,” he said.

“We look forward to the senator’s report next year on how education by marinas and the tourism industry reversed the environmental damage being caused by these boats in areas where they should be regulated.”


  1. Megan F. 2 weeks ago June 1, 2024

    I saw the state’s marine safety patrol a couple of times this May on Ossipee Lake when very few boaters were motoring around. From June to August, the patrol boat is not nearly as visible and rarely enforce the law. This wake boarding bill is important, but the state needs to put more accountability for monitoring Ossipee Lake (in particular).

    Wake boats can produce wakes that are 2-3 times larger than motorized nonwake boats and transfer up to 12 times more power to shorelines, requiring more than 600 feet to dissipate. 300 feet was a fair compromise.

    In addition to shoreline erosion, about 30% of the biodiversity of lakes are within 25 feet of the shoreline. Rafts and swimming areas are out further. Most lake home owners in New Hampshire privately own about 200 – 300 feet of shoreline, but they are stewards for the 100 – 1,000+ acres of public waters. Good for them for trying to push this through this year. I’m saddened that retiring Senator Jeb Bradley didn’t make this a priority. Fingers crossed next year is a success and that enforcement also becomes a general focus.

  2. Rosemarie Rung 2 weeks ago June 1, 2024

    Thank you OLA for bringing attention to this issue. The reason this and other beneficial legislation fails is because the public elects officials who do not understand or accept facts of a situation and/or are under political pressure to comply with party positions. It is vitally important for all voters to vet candidates on their positions on lakes and wake boats. Educate them. Make sure friends and families get out to vote. Unless we elect different candidates, we will get the same results. Thank you in advance!

  3. ted m. kramer 2 weeks ago June 1, 2024

    Your comments David to the misinformed Senator were
    right on. ted


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