Letter to Lake Ozark Boaters from Captain Matt Walz Assistant Director, Water Patrol Division

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Letter to Lake Ozark Boaters from Captain Matt Walz Assistant Director, Water Patrol Division

Boaters who are careless with their wake have an increased chance of being pulled over this year, according to the assistant director of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Water Patrol Division, Captain Matt Walz.

Walz submitted a letter to Lake Expo directly addressing boaters, warning that they can expect increased enforcement related to wake control on the water in 2016. Specifically, boats that are plowing (the operation that causes the largest wake) in coves are at risk of being pulled over by a trooper.

Last year, an increased focus on wakes that can capsize other boats, result in injuries, and damage docks and shorelines led to the proposal of legislative action.

No new laws about the Lake of the Ozarks or boat wakes were approved in the 2016 legislative session, but Walz says troopers have plenty of laws on the books that they can enforce more rigorously.

Walz acknowledged the law is a “little vague”, and said that is why the Patrol’s focus is on educating boaters about courteous operation. Initially troopers will simply be issuing warnings to boaters who are creating an excessive wake in areas where they can do harm: near docks or other boats.

However, he emphasized, “When an operator travels at a speed which endangers another person or property of another person, it is a violation of the law.”

The full text of Walz’s letter is below. Here are a few highlights:

  • Unnecessary plowing in a cove may result in being pulled over
  • Creating an excessive wake should be avoided
  • The stricter enforcement of these wake violations will be introduced by marine troopers as warnings.
  • Smaller boat captains should help protect their passengers by driving carefully and warning them when a large wake is coming
  • There will be stricter enforcement of state statutes, including the prohibition of creating a wake within 100 feet of a dock

Dear Lake Expo Readers,

It is important for us to reach out to boaters to keep them informed of boating safety issues and enforcement of boating laws on the water.  Reaching those boaters who we serve through the various media sources is certainly a valuable tool.

There will be stricter enforcement of wake related statutes, particularly on Lake of the Ozarks, as we go into the 2016 boating season.  We would prefer to educate the boating public on our state boating laws as we approach the primary boating season to avoid inconveniencing you on the water.  Keeping boaters aware of key enforcement issues will hopefully allow us to avoid those interruptions.

Many of you may have heard the discussions going on regarding large boat wake problems over the past year, most notably on Lake of the Ozarks.  Further regulation has been and continues to be discussed.  As a method to address this problem and potentially avoid further regulation, a campaign to promote boat wake courtesy and stricter enforcement of existing state statutes will be implemented this year.  

Our cove locations need to be addressed first and foremost regarding the wake issue.  The primary concern is continuously plowing, that speed in which most vessels transition from a fast idle speed to operating on plane.  As we all know, plowing speed is when vessels typically create the largest wake.  Unnecessarily plowing within a cove location in a vessel which is capable of creating an excessive wake should be avoided.  Missouri law requires a vessel to stay at least one hundred feet from docks while operating above idle speed, but creating an excessive wake while traveling more than one hundred feet from a dock may still violate state law.  Traveling at a speed (plowing) which creates an excessive wake in the vicinity of docks may endanger property or other persons and could be considered a violation.  There are options other than plowing when traveling into cove locations.  Idle speed, a fast idle speed with minimal wake, or when you are able to safely do so (and capable of doing so), traveling on plane, are all options.  

We are asking for a change in behavior from boaters, particularly in cove locations.  Likewise, if a vessel must travel at a speed which creates an excessive wake in the main channel, the vessel should operate as close to the middle of the channel as possible, far away from docks, giving boat wakes time to lose energy.   

The creation of an excessive wake, which endangers other boaters, should be considered as well.  Lake of the Ozarks has a diverse group of boaters.  The key is to be aware of your surroundings on the lake when you are boating and to be courteous to those smaller boats attempting to navigate larger boat wakes.  Depending on your role, capsizing or swamping a boat with an excessive boat wake from your vessel may have legal ramifications.   

The stricter enforcement of these wake violations will be introduced by marine troopers as warnings.  The intention is not to go out and write citations to boaters; however, repeat offenders or blatant violations may necessitate citations be issued.  

In recent years, all types of law enforcement agencies have realized the importance of partnering with our communities in order to be more effective.  Marine law enforcement is no different and we want to partner with, not only our local communities, but also our boating community.  Our boating community has made significant changes for the better in recent years, such as the tremendous increase in the number of “designated boat captains.”  This has been a noticeable change in boating safety and it is an appreciated change.  Relatively speaking, Lake of the Ozarks is a very safe lake.  We want to continue to improve on that by communicating with our boaters.  Boat wakes were the most significant contributing factor in boating injuries on Lake of the Ozarks last year.  It is an area of boating safety where we could improve, and we ask for your help in accomplishing that goal.

Smaller vessels and their captains have a role in limiting injuries due to boat wakes as well.  Staying alert as to changing environmental conditions present on the lake is the responsibility of the boat captain, along with navigating wakes at a safe speed and angle.  The proper seating of passengers and appropriate warning to passengers regarding significant boat wakes approaching should also be considered duties of a good boat captain.  

Reaching out to our boating community is meant to minimize any divide between our marine law enforcement and the boating public.  Avoiding the “us versus them” attitude on either side is the best way to communicate important safety information.  Law enforcement will always be more effective with the support of the community it serves.   

Lastly, I would encourage you to contact the Water Patrol Division about general concerns with the marine law enforcement duties within Missouri.  Our email address is boatinfo@mshp.dps.mo.gov, or you are welcome to call 573-751-5071.  We take pride in providing the best service possible to our citizens and our visitors.  Please contact us if you need clarification on any information or misinformation that may be out there.  Specific situations or emergencies on the water may be reported to the troop where you are boating by calling *55 on a cell phone, or by calling 1-800-525-5555.     

Sincerely,

Captain Matt Walz

Assistant Director, Water Patrol Division

Missouri State Highway Patrol

source: Lake Expo