trace tail of speed boat on water surface in the river

The boat driver is responsible for any adverse effects caused by the wake.

When Lake Martin is at full pool, it is not unusual for a boat wake to cause property damage by washing over seawalls, lawns and patios. It is a common sight to witness boats and floating docks “rocking and rolling” when large waves – some as high as 2 feet – are created by careless, inconsiderate boaters and come rolling in. 

There have been reports of small children being knocked off docks and floats into the water and being placed in very dangerous situations when these large waves are created in swimming areas. Some inexperienced boaters are unaware of this potential danger while many others are just simply rude and inconsiderate.

Boaters are always encouraged to not operate vessels, pull skiers or wakeboard/wake surf in narrow sloughs and to always travel at idle speed within 100 to 200 feet of floating docks, moored boats, swimmers and shorelines. Common courtesy and concern for safety should come into play at all times when operating a boat of any size. This seems to be as much of, if not more of, the problem. It is not just the wake boats that present the problem; any size boat with a motor attached can create damaging and dangerous wave action. 

In February 2012, at the initiative of Lake Martin Resource Association, a meeting was held in Alexander City with representatives from all of the major Alabama lakes, along with representatives from the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources and the marine police. The group agreed this was a statewide problem that was growing each year as a result of an increase in the number of boats on the water, as well as an increase in the popularity of wakeboarding and now wake surfing. The Commissioner of DCNR was asked to establish a 100-foot proximity regulation, creating a No Wake zone within 100 feet of piers and floating docks. Fearing a strong backlash from the state fishing groups, the commissioner denied the request. 

At the suggestion of the marine police, though LMRA strongly disagreed, the group decided the next best alternative was to tackle the growing problem with a statewide public education campaign.

The slogan “Watch your Wake, Share the Lake” was developed, and efforts began to bring awareness to the boating public.

“Watch your Wake, Share the Lake” signs have been posted at many docks and most marinas on Lake Martin, and who knows whether or not there have been some positive results. What we do know is that the issue has not been resolved. There is some hope that we will see a bill introduced in the next legislative session establishing a No Wake proximity restriction. Even with a law, there is an issue with enforcement. Our marine police division is thinly staffed, and officers have their hands full with other serious issues. 

So do we throw up our hands and learn to accept the dangerous nuisance? 

On the contrary; there are some action steps that property owners can take to protect themselves, their families and their property:

  • Place “swim balls” in front of your floating dock; marine police are OK with these as long as they are within 25 feet of your dock.
  • Try to flag down those causing the problem and point out the issues they are creating.
  • Take pictures of the offending boat and the occupants and post them on social media with a description of their offense; perhaps you will embarrass them into good behavior.
  • Follow closely any potential legislative action and encourage your representatives to support passage; at LMRA, we certainly will be doing this.

The size and make of boat is not the problem; the problem is that there are inconsiderate operators who show no concern for others. Making them aware and pointing out consequences could help.  

If you are not a member of LMRA, please join us in working to solve this problem and other threats to Lake Martin.


John Thompson is president of Lake Martin Resource Association. Learn more at