Do Boats Make Waves? 7 Interesting Facts You Should Know

In Boatingby Shelby Sullivan

There is no real debate about whether boats make waves or not. It’s quite obvious, and there are some good reasons for that.

Do Boats Make Waves?
Boats make waves and they are called wakes. The wake from a boat is created from the draft of the boat moving through the water. As the body of the boat pushes the water aside the waves are created behind the boat.

Here’s everything you need to know about waves created by boats.

Waves (Or Wakes) Created by Boats

When you are talking about the waves that are created by boats then you call them wakes.

The wake is the disturbed flow that is downstream of a solid body, such as a boat, moving through the water.

Wakes are created by boats and other moving objects that can displace water.

A boat displaces its weight in water and when it moves it pushes the same weight of water out of the way as it moves forward. When the water is displaced the energy transfers, and a wake is formed.

A boat creates a wave in both the bow and the stern.

This is because most of the energy created by the ship and the water displacement that causes waves comes from both the bow and stern.

When the bow wave and stern wave interact with each other, it can cause resistance. This resistance is the energy that is responsible for the wave and can cause drag for the boat.

The larger the wave or the drag resistance, the slower the boat will go. 

Heavy Boats Vs. Lightweight Boats

Because the creation of wake is caused by the displacement of water from the hull of a boat, size often matters when it comes to how large of a wake is formed.

A heavy boat has to push more water out of the way, so the wake created is bigger.

A boat also makes a bigger wave if it is moving faster. This is because the water has to be moved out of the way in less time. While boating you have probably noticed that your wake is larger at full speed then it is at any other speed.

One of the best ways to reduce the drag caused by your vessel is to reduce its weight. 

Small recreational motorboats are often designed with a hull that is designed to generate lift while in the water. These hulls can include semi-displacement hulls and planing hulls.

These hulls are able to cause drag to increase at a lower rate.

Boat Trail: Why Does it Last?

You might also notice while you are on your boat that you are leaving a white trail behind you in the water. This is caused by the turbulence that you are generating while boating.

This turbulence lasts because the swirl created in the water needs to meet a solid object before it will disburse.

This can take a long time if you are boating in deep water and are away from shore.

This behaves in a similar way to an airplane’s turbulence.

Another reason this trail occurs is that when your boat goes across the surface of the water, it is churning up the water and the proteins and another surfactant that it encounters.

Reducing the surface tension of the water allows for easier creation of bubbles which can cause foam where boats have previously passed through.

This is similar to the effects a washing machine has on water.

How To Reduce The Wake From Boats

Because wake causes inefficiency while boating, most boats try to reduce their wake as much as possible.

Reducing your wake can also improve your fuel efficiency.

Boats that create less wake are also faster. 

To create less wake, boat engineers use lightweight materials and specialized hull designs.

One way to reduce wake is to make the pressure from the bow as far forward as possible. Using a rounded projection can increase the efficiency of the boat.

Another method is to split the hulls and use a multi-hull vessel. This is the design used for a catamaran.

Beyond hull design, lighter material, weight distribution, and speed management can all affect your wake. This is often why you must go slow in “no wake” zones.

Make sure if you are in one of these zones you adhere to the rules.

Wake Boats Are Made To Create Waves

While most boats focus on creating as little wake as possible, wakeboard or surfing boats are designed to make waves.

This allows them to create the large, specifically shaped waves that are necessary for wakeboarders to jump the waves and do other tricks.

These boats accomplish this in a few ways. They often have a large inboard motor in the rear of the boat facing backward. This helps to concentrate more weight in the back of the boat which creates a larger wave.

These boats also have ballast tanks to control weight distribution which helps to control the water displacement by making certain parts of the boat heavier when needed.

The hull also plays a part in the creation and shape of the wake. They have a flatter hull with a deep-v design that helps to make taller and crisper waves for the water sport participant.

These boats are also equipped with high levels of power to assist with moving the displaced water. 

For wakeboarders, these boats are ideal for tricks and other wakeboarding, surfing, or skiing activities.

What Do I Need To Know About The Wake From My Boat?

All boats create some form of a wake.

If your boat creates a large amount of wake, as is common with basically all powerboats, there are some things you should know about it.

The first thing that you should know is that it is your responsibility to control your wake. This is courteous to other boaters and can save you from severe consequences.

You might not think that your wake is harming anyone or anything, but you are wrong.

Under the law, any damage that is caused by your wake will be treated like a true collision.

While no law expressly exists that condemns your wake, most courts treat your wake as an extension of your vessel. 

Not only can your wake affect other, smaller boats, but it can also affect the environment and your surroundings. 

Your wake can cause damage to the shoreline, structures on the shore, other boats, and the natural environment. 

Wake from boats can also be immediately threatening to others out on the water.

Smaller boats like personal watercraft or kayaks can be thrown off balance with a wake that is too large. 

In addition to smaller watercraft, wake from other boats can be dangerous to those participating in water sports. Even other larger boats can be thrown around if they travel over your wake at certain speeds.

If something happens that was caused by your wake you could be liable for the other party’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

You also need to know what is expected of you in certain areas

For this reason, they created boating regulatory zones with the following distinctions:

  • “Idle Speed, No Wake” Zone: this area is designed for vessels to be operated at a speed that is no greater than necessary to make headway. At this speed, a vessel shouldn’t produce a wake. These zones are common for rivers.
  • “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” Zone: this is an area where a vessel should not be planing and should be completely settled on the water. If your vessel is creating a wake it should be incredibly minimal. If your vessel’s bow is even slightly elevated you are not following the law of this zone.
  • “Maximum Speed” Zones: This is similar to speed limits on streets and you should not be exceeding the limit posted. These are often 25, 30, or 35 miles an hour.
  • “Vessel Exclusion Area”: In this area, which will be marked with a diamond shape with a cross in the center, certain vessels are not allowed at all.

Even if you are not in a “no wake” zone, you still should not create a large wake anytime you pass within 500 feet of a smaller boat, shoreline, or marina.

You should also make sure to slow down in advance to make sure you do not have a wake when reaching these areas.

Overall, boats do create waves or wake. It is important to know what your boat is capable of and how to manage your wake.

Knowing your boat’s specifics can help you manage and control your wake so you do not suffer any consequences.

Most Waves Are Created By The Wind

A majority of the waves that you see in a body of water are created by the wind.

Waves are not transporting the water and are instead a transfer of energy causing the water next to it to move and form a wave.

Waves created by the wind are created by the friction caused between the wind and the surface water.

Severe waves are often caused by severe weather such as a hurricane. Other hazardous waves can be created by a large displacement of water. This is normally caused by earthquakes, landslides, or volcano eruptions.

Another form of waves are called tides, and these are affected by the gravitational pull that exists between the sun, moon, and earth.

A much less disastrous form of waves can be created by boats.

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