New State Laws Enabling the Capacity of Local Units of Government to Establish No-Wake Ordinances are Helpful but No Substitute for the Need of Michigan’s Legislature to Establish Wake Boat Operating Standards to Help Ensure the Practice of Safe, Sustainable Wake Enabled Water Sports

By December 26, 2020 News

In light of the fact that high energy wakes created by passing watercraft, and in particular wake enhanced boats are capable of inflicting damage to shoreline property and natural habitat during periods marked by high water, the Michigan state legislature passed a series of recreational boater targeted laws last year, that, in at least some cases, may help to mitigate the situation by allowing local governments to establish temporary no-wake watercraft limitations during periods of high water. Signed into law in April of 2020 by Governor Whitmer, Public Act No. 70 of 2020 and Public Act No. 71 of 2020 permit the County Sheriff, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, or the County Emergency Management Coordinator to establish temporary reduced watercraft speed limits in response to the request of a local municipality in order to protect life and property during emergency conditions. Under Public Act 70 and 71, temporary speed limits are restricted to a maximum duration of 14 days. Temporary speed limits authorized under the auspices of Public Act 70 and 71 can only be issued once per each calendar year; they may, however, be issued twice in a calendar year if the municipality is seeking to implement the watercraft speed limit restrictions under a temporary ordinance.

Also becoming state law in the spring of 2020, Public Act No. 72 permits municipalities in Michigan to request Department of Natural Resources authorization to implement temporary ordinances regulating the use of watercraft for a period of up to six months, and may be extended or renewed only if the particular municipality is seeking to implement the restrictions on a permanent basis as a special local rule under the auspices of MCL 324.80110. To download a Michigan Department of Natural Resources document that was written to describe the procedures that are required in order to establish a temporary local watercraft control under the auspices of Public Act 72, click here. To download a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division Temporary Local Watercraft Control Application, click here.

It is important to note that Holland Charter Township, working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, invoked the new law early in the summer of 2020 in order to establish a temporary no wake ordinance on Lake Macatawa that is set to expire on January 9, 2021. The establishment of a temporary “no wakes within 300 feet of the shoreline” prohibition enacted in July of 2020 by municipalities with jurisdiction over the large western Michigan inland lake represents one of the first actions taken under the auspices of the new law.

Michigan Waterfront Alliance recognizes the importance of the ability of municipalities to establish temporary no-wake ordinances in response to high water levels, and to the increasing presence of watercraft that are capable of generating wakes whose energy greatly surpasses those created by high winds. However, we also understand that the enactment of Public Act(s) 70, 71, and 72 does not provide an effective substitute for the long-standing need of our state legislature to enact wake boat operator targeted legislation that would define minimum distance to shore, and other critical operating criteria that would help establish safe wakeboarding practices while at the same time serving to protect Michigan’s inland lakes.