One of the greatest pleasures of owning or renting lake or river-front property is the ability to launch a boat or canoe to be out on the water. Indeed, use of waters is a public good available to everyone. This right is noted in the Wisconsin constitution, “Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources, owned in common by all Wisconsin citizens under the state's Public Trust Doctrine.” (link here).

You already know: Remember safety basics

Of course, exercising this right carries with it responsibilities to operate a watercraft safely with respect for other people, for wildlife, and for the waterway itself. Reckless use of boats endangers all of these, and therefore, it is important to know boating laws and responsibilities. The State published a useful pamphlet, Handbook of Wisconsin Boating Laws and Responsibilities, found online here and in print at DNR offices. For example, there are age requirements for boat or personal watercraft operation. Children under 12 years of age may operate a boat only if accompanied by an adult and may not operate a personal watercraft at all. Boats must be operated safely and must be licensed. Life jackets are required. Running lights are needed to assure safety if operating at night. Of course, a person cannot drive a boat or ski when under the influence of alcohol.

Did you know: No-wake and wake boats

The State of Wisconsin requires that all watercraft observe no-wake (the slowest speed at which you can still steer your boat) within 100 feet from shore, docks, and swim rafts. For personal watercraft, the slow-no-wake distance from shore is 200 feet. Excessive speed near the shore creates erosion and can harm docks or other boats. In addition, it is illegal to harass loons or other wildlife. Loons nest in shallow waters and are easily disturbed. These speed requirements are especially important with the increasing use of “wake boats.” These watercraft are designed to create a high/wide wake for waterboarding. These boats, while fun to use, can create a more dangerous situation for the shore, other boaters, and wildlife. Some towns may have additional requirements for boaters, for example, no-wake any time or non-motorized boating only.

Important to know: Learn about AIS

It’s important to know your role to help control the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) such as Eurasian water milfoil and zebra mussels. Before any boat launching and before leaving the water, boaters must:

  • INSPECT boats, trailers and equipment
  • REMOVE all attached aquatic plants and animals
  • DRAIN all water from boats, vehicles and equipment
  • DO NOT MOVE plants or live fish away from a waterbody

Boating is central to enjoying lakes and rivers. Being careful not to harm children at play, wildlife, and the fragile shorelands means water resources will continue to provide that enjoyment now and in the future.

Read more from Washburn County Lakes & Rivers Association.


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