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New law for wakeboarders

By Lynn Hobbs

The endless wave enjoyed by wakeboarders and wakesurfers now has a limit, thanks to the Georgia General Assembly.

Photo on Lake Oconee by Terry Massey

A new House Bill (HB 121) was signed by Governor Brian Kemp into law on May 2 that, in summary, prohibits wakeboarding and wakesurfing within 200 feet of moored boats, residences, and public areas; prohibits wakeboarding and wakesurfing after dark; and requires wakeboarders and wakesurfers to wear a personal flotation device.

“Most of the law was already in place, this just strengthened the law,” said Game Warden Sgt. Bubba Stanford, of the Georgia DNR Law Enforcement Division. He noted the original law was 100 feet, which the new revision obviously expanded.

“This law is just really getting them out of the coves and into bigger water where the waves have space to dissipate instead of hitting and tearing up seawalls, docks, and property,” he explained. The waves’ destruction of property “has been an ongoing complaint,” he added.

Image of a wake boat from Malibu Boats

Wakeboarding is defined in the law as “the activity of being towed on a board with or without foot bindings by a motorboat across the vessel’s wake; or, operating a motorboat in a manner that creates a wake while towing a person on a board with or without foot bindings.”

Wakesurfing is someone who surfs the wake created by wakeboarding, but does not need to hold onto a rope attached to the boat. Even if they’re not being towed by a rope, the participants and boat operators still must follow the 200-ft. rule, Stanford said.

Both activities have become quite popular on lakes Oconee and Sinclair in the past few years, according to Game Warden Sgt. Will Smith, also of the GDNR LED. Although they work all over the state, Smith primarily works the Lake Oconee area and Stanford covers the Lake Sinclair area.

Both game wardens acknowledged that the law isn’t even in the Georgia Boating Rules & Regulations booklet, because it was printed before the law was signed. “It’s so new to all of us, so we’re going to have a grace period where we just give verbal warnings to educate people about it, unless there’s a lot of repeat offenders,” Stanford said.

Wake surfer on Lake Oconee, photo by Terry Massey

The law applies only to those involved in the activity of wakeboarding or wakesurfing. A wakeboard boat that is operating with its bladders emptied can follow the same 100-ft. rule as all other vessels, according to Sgt. Smith. He explained that wakeboats have large hulls with ballast tanks in them, (a.k.a. bladders) that are filled with water to weigh the boat down. The boats are V-drive or inboard boats with the engine placed backwards in the rear of the boat. These and other special features create a large, specially shaped wake for the boarder or surfer to ride on.

The law, O.C.G.A. 52-7-13.1, specifically prohibits “wakeboarding and wakesurfing within 200 feet of any moored vessel, dock, wharf, pier, piling, bridge structure or abutment, or any shoreline adjacent to a full- or part-time residence, public park, public beach, public swimming area, marina, restaurant, or any other public use area.”

It also prohibits the activity between sunset and sunrise; and requires a person surfing a wake or being towed on a board to wear a personal flotation device.

Exceptions are: “(1) a regatta, boat race, marine parade, tournament, or exhibition for which the commissioner has granted a marine event permit pursuant to Code Section 52-7-19; or (2) intracoastal waterways, rivers, or private lakes.”

For more information, call the Georgia DNR Game Management and Law Enforcement office in Thomson at (706) 595-4222.

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This article was published in the Lake Country Boating 2023 magazine, published June 8, 2023 by Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of this story, including photos and quotations, may be copied or used without written permission from the publisher.


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