In response to a recent article published in the Coeur d’Alene Press, community members have begun to ask about potential changes to the No Excessive Wake Ordinance as they apply to Hayden Lake. County Commissioner Chris Filios has confirmed that the 300-feet no-excessive-wake zone on Hayden Lake will remain in effect.
May 2020 Ordinance Established No-Excessive-Wake-Zone
Residents and recreators will recall the long-mounting tension between wake-enhancing recreation such as wake surfing, public safety of small craft, swimmers, and children on docks or in the water, and shoreline property protection. Nearly a year ago, the Kootenai County Sherrif’s Office proposed a compromise. They drafted a new ordinance that would provide plenty of space for deeper-water recreation plus some protection for the shoreline property and shallow-water recreators.
After due consideration, on May 21, 2020, the BOCC passed the new ordinance establishing a No-Excessive-Wake Zone lakeward of the long-standing no-wake zone. The ordinance also defined excessive wakes as those created when motorized watercraft operate in plowing mode; sustain operation at transition speeds, not accelerating to on-plane; operate in an artificially bow-high or wake-enhancing mode; or produce a wake high enough to lap over docks or other lawful encroachments in the water.
On Hayden Lake, as on all larger waterways in the County, the no-excessive-wake-zone extends to 300 feet from shore or structure in the water. On the smaller and narrower waterways such as the Spokane River, Fernan Lake, and Lower Twin Lakes, the no-excessive-wake-zone lies at only 150 feet.
The summer of 2020 witnessed the first test of the new ordinance.
We have now observed one boating season under the new ordinance. Reportedly, boater behaviors and traffic on the Spokane River were dangerous, and large wakes were more disruptive and damaging than ever. Residents on the River observed that boaters regularly butted up against the zone limit. What’s more, the 150 feet of water are not sufficient to dissipate dangerous wakes. Marine Officers patrolling the waterways confirmed that traffic on the River was higher than in the past. They observed that, while law enforcement is present, excessive-wake-producing boats consistently stayed closer to the center of the waterway. Furthermore, the wake-enhancing traffic in the center of the River forced smaller craft toward the shoreline. It motivated frequent and erratic speed changes and course corrections, taking the smaller boats off-plane and into a plowing mode. Such behavior generated more excessive wakes.
Possible Amendment: Remove 150-feet limit on narrow waterways
At the Board of County Commissioners’ (BOCC) Parks and Waterways meeting on January 7, 2021, Commissioners reflected on the No Excessive Wake Zone ordinance passed in June 2020.
Motivated by the chaotic and destructive outcomes on the Spokane River, Commissioners are considering an improvement to the law. Chris Filios has said, “I’m not going to wait for an accident to happen, or worse, a death.”
He acknowledges that by including the 150-feet limit, the current law inadvertently gives boaters unwritten permission to generate excessive wakes. And the narrow river really can’t accommodate them. By removing the distance limit but not rescinding the prohibition of excessive wakes, Kootenai law will be more in line with pre-existing Idaho State law prohibiting negligent and grossly negligent operation.
|Idaho Safe Boating Act, sections 67-7016 and 67-7017 define negligent and grossly negligent operation as follows:
Negligent – operating any vessel on the water … in a careless or heedless manner so as to be indifferent to any person or property of other persons.
Grossly negligent – operating a motorized vessel on the water … without due caution and circumspection, and in a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.
It’s a tough decision. The population is growing. Traffic on the waterways is increasing. More powerful boats that generate even bigger wakes are coming on the scene. Unlike our highways, we can’t make the waterway bigger.
References - find more on the web:
Kootenai County Boating Rules and Regulations
Idaho Safe Boating Act