NMMA State Advocacy Team secures victories in boating access

As state legislative sessions near their final days, boating access rights have been at risk across the United States. Lawmakers, agencies, and special interest groups across several states have attempted to regulate towed water sports, specifically wakesurfing, due to erroneous claims that the activity has a negative impact on waterway shorelines.

The NMMA State Advocacy team, alongside the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA), and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas (MRAA), has been engaged across a number of states, working to protect boating access and ensure that our waters may be safely shared and enjoyed for generations to come.

Following the 2022 legislative season, the team and its industry partners will continue its work educating boat owners and renters on best practices when engaging in towed water sports, including wakesurfing 200 feet from shore and in water that has a depth of at least 10 feet, as recently confirmed in a peer-reviewed study published in March.

Below is a recap of boating access legislation the industry was engaged in.

SB 281, a bill that originally made its way through the legislative process with the recreational boating industry’s model language, passed the House on the last day of the session but was not accepted by the Senate before the legislature concluded business. It is anticipated the bill’s Senate sponsors will reintroduce their bill next year, which would implement the following provisions:

  • Mandatory life jacket wear for wakesurfers and wakeboarders.
  • Prohibits wakesurfing behind a propulsion system that extends beyond swim platform.
  • Prohibits wakesurfing and wakeboarding
    • Between sunset and sunrise;
    • On a body of water smaller than 50 acres;
    • In an area less than 400 feet wide Within 200 feet of a shoreline or structures.

Georgia lawmakers did not pass HB 1460, which would have created a highly controversial definition of a “wake boat,” established a 300 foot setback for wakesurfing, and banned wake boats on four lakes in northern Georgia.

SB 187 gained broad support from the recreational boating industry as a commonsense bill that would keep boaters safe on the water by establishing a curfew for wakesurfing and wakeboarding between sunset and sunrise, in addition to putting in place safety requirements for the operating vessel.

Though the bill maintained broad support from key stakeholders across the state, SB 187 passed the Senate but ultimately stalled in the House.

Despite the robust efforts of boaters, dealers, manufacturers and trade association, Oregon passed SB 1589 making the Newberg Pool Congested Zone, a 25-mile-long section of the Willamette River, the most regulated body of water for towed water sports in the United States.

SB 1589 prohibits all wakesurfing and the use of devices to enhance wakes in the zone and prohibits boats with a maximum loading weight of more than 5,500 pounds from obtaining a towed watersports motorboat certificate, which is required in the zone. All operators engaged in towed watersports in the zone also must pass a towed watersports course. These new restrictions became effective on April 15, 2022.

South Carolina
HB 3308, which was supported by the boating industry, was enacted and now requires vessels engaging in wakesurfing to stay at least 200-foot away from anchored boats, structures and persons in the water. The new law also increased the no-wake zone in 14 state lakes and a portion of the Savannah River from 50 to 100 feet.

Tennessee became the first state to enact the boating industry’s model legislation for towed water sport. HB 2223/SB 2107 which goes into effect July 1, sets the following requirements:

  • Wakesurfers and wakeboarders must wear a USCG-certified life jacket
  • Wakesurfing is prohibited behind boats with a propulsion system that extends beyond the its boarding or swim platform.
  • Prohibits wakesurfing and wakeboarding
    • Between sunset and sunrise;
    • On a body of water smaller than 50 acres;
    • On a waterway that is less than 400 wide;
    • Within 200 feet of a shoreline or in-water structures.

As we head into peak boating season, and the recreational boating industry continues to see record growth, industry stakeholders are encouraged to share resources on responsible practices on the water with their customers and audiences.

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