Boaters encouraged to wake responsibly on Smith Mountain Lake after complaints by others

Lake is popular place to be, so everyone asked to be good citizens on water

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE, Va. – Boating season is right around the corner, and there's a new campaign on Smith Mountain Lake to make sure everyone has a great time and stays safe.

The Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council, the Bedford County Sheriff's Office and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office are reminding all boaters, but especially wake boats, to be thoughtful of those around them. The topic of wake boats on the lake is a lightning rod among lakers. The boats, which are used to tow people behind them, throw off a large wake by design to keep the boarders behind them afloat. It essentially means the boat creates a large wave on purpose.

The problem is when those waves go across the water and sometimes into other boats or docks. Boats can be jostled around and people can be thrown off when a sudden wake comes upon them. Wakes can cause damage to docks and other property along the shoreline, as well as throw people off if they're on a floating dock because of how the dock reacts to the wave. That's why the organizations are launching the new campaign to ask people to be good citizens on the water.

There are few places Jason Nagle would rather be than right here on Smith Mountain Lake, and he doesn't have to be asked twice to get him into a wake board.

"It's a mix of adrenaline and flow. It's a lot of fun. It can be really, really exciting," Nagle said.

Wake sports continue to boom at Smith Mountain Lake. It's partly why Nagle started his rental business and why wake surfing, which is growing the fastest, is turning what should be lake fun into a lake sore spot.

"We'd rather self-regulate because when you look at it, when you self-regulate, you're going to gain respect from other side, whereas if you're just following a rule, anybody can follow a rule," Nagle said.

He's talking about the new campaign aimed to get boaters to wake responsibly. Chris Bechtler runs Crazy Horse Marina, and he's also on the Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council, which is pushing the voluntary program. He's also a wakeboarder himself.

"We're trying to get the word out to just think about others when you're wakeboarding and even just cruising around the lake in a cruiser or anyone that throws a wake," Bechtler said.

Nearly all boats throw a wake, but wake boats by their design throw some of the largest. Complaints of damaged property from waves spurred the idea, which aims to be better than the law requires boaters to be.

"(Minimize) the repetitive passes, staying out 200 feet from a dock - the requirement is only 50, but it's courtesy to stay off 200 - and keeping the music down," Bechtler said

Boaters can be written a ticket for being within 50 feet of another boat or a dock. The campaign is asking boaters to be better than the law and stay 200 feet away. They're also asking boaters to limit the loud music. A number of boaters will hang out in one cove for a prolonged period of time, which is why the third ask is to limit how many times boaters pass by the same spot.

On the water, an accident is just one slip-up away. That's why Nagle said that, while wake boats are the primary driver of this, all boat captains should take these suggestions to heart.

"Everything you do affects everybody else. We're all out here having a good time. Everybody wants to enjoy themselves, so make it so everybody can enjoy themselves while you're enjoying the lake, as well," Nagle said.

For the SML Water Safety Council, it all comes down to personal responsibility and safety. They know in such a small community like the lake, you get more with honey than you do with anything else.

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