“Slow -No Wake…” What does that mean?

It’s an easy rule to forget, especially if you have a good routine and boat in and out of

The universal slow-no-wake buoy and regulatory waterway marker

Slow-No Wake means operating a boat at the slowest speed necessary to maintain steerage and reduces or eliminates waves that appear as white water behind the boat.

the same location frequently.  But the reality is -boaters are responsible for their wake.  With 1200 + boat ramps in Oregon, many haven’t seen repairs or makeovers in some time, and the pounding from wakes can end their life prematurely.

In 2015, the Marine Board met with an advisory committee and marine law enforcement to study wakes.  The advisory committee recommended changing the definition of slow -no wake so the rule can be more enforceable.  After receiving public comments, the Board approved a new definition.  

The new definition for Slow -No Wake is:

250-010-0010(8)“Slow–No Wake” means operating a boat at the slowest speed necessary to maintain steerage and that reduces or eliminates waves that appear as white water behind the boat.

The definition applies to the statewide basic proximity rule OAR 250-010-0025 and all of the local and special area rules in Division 20 that use the term “Slow -No Wake.”  The 5-MPH speed reference was also removed, and regulatory buoys are on a replacement schedule statewide indicating, “Slow -No Wake.”

250-010-0025 Basic Proximity Rule for “Slow-No Wake” Also States:

(1) No person shall operate a boat on the waters of this state in excess of a “Slow-No Wake” within 200 feet of a boat launch ramp, marina with a capacity for six or more moored vessels, floating home/boathouse moorage with six or more contiguous structures, and locations where persons are working at water level on floats, logs or waterway construction.  (2) Section (1) of this rule does not apply to commercial vessels or vessels engaged in navigation on rivers where a speed in excess of 5 MPH is needed to ensure safe passage.

Get an “eye” for judging distance :



200 feet in a 20 foot boat is roughly 10 boat lengths.

Remember…wakes carry energy and force.  By law, boaters can be held liable for their wake.   Wakes cause damage, can be unsafe for people on docks and make other boaters really upset, especially when their boat stability is thrown off by an unexpected wake.  Just go slow and leave no wake.


10 thoughts on ““Slow -No Wake…” What does that mean?

  1. This topic is being discussed in New Hampshire, where their unique-to-New-Hampshire RSA (statute) of a maximum 6-mph has been found to be excessive. New “drivers” have to get to restaurants, boat slips, “before it rains”, or merely shopping in towns.

    Irrespective of moored boats, docked boats, nesting endangered-waterfowl, or small boaters, there is a contingent of cruisers and “Deep-Vee” cultists who maintain that 6-mph is too slow.


  2. No wake speed to me is minimum speed to maintain steerage way. I have seen minimum speeds defined as speeds between 4 and 8 mph or knots. I know that a knot is a bit faster than a mph, but many recreational boats use speed meters calibrated in mph vs knots. The problem I see is the definition of what wake looks like and it must be defined. I think it is just assumed everyone knows what a no wake behind a boat looks like. I bet that’s not true. Some vessel shapes do not leave white water behind them but generate good sized pressure waves off either or both the bow and stern which result in decent sized wake waves at the beach or dock.


    • Thanks for your comment, Ron. The Board approved a new definition in 2015 of slow-no wake that is very close to your assessment: “Operating a boat at the slowest speed necessary to maintain steerage and that reduces or eliminates waves that appear as white water behind the boat.”


  3. Please do not remove the 5MPH language from the current slow no wake law. 5MPH is objective and can be measured, without this the law becomes completely subjective leaving it to marine officers to make the call on what is or is not a violation. Boat operators need a clear understanding of what is legal and expected while under way. Anything that moves threw water makes a “wake” the wording should be 5 MPH minimal wake.

    It appears this is be done to appease the non-motorized boaters operating in the Holgate channel. There are several large non-motorized boats (Dragon boats) that continually exceed the 5MPH limit in this area, they feel that because they are humane powered and not licensed they are exempt from the law. I believe that ALL watercraft need to limit their speed and follow the law.
    There is no benefit to boaters to have the 5MPH removed. it will only lead to confusion over what is expected from a boat operator .

    Ken Rice


  4. For the responsible boater, it doesn’t make a difference whether it says “Slow-No Wake” or “maximum 5 mph” both will cause the boater to go idling speed. I treat them the same.

    For the irresponsible boater, I think it also doesn’t matter — they’re still going to ignore them and go faster than they’re supposed to go.

    Has anyone done a study comparing how boaters behave with each type of sign, whether one really causes one group to go slower than the other? When I first heard of the issue, I thought people were over-thinking it since I treat them as though they’re synonymous. I’d really be surprised if it really makes a difference.


  5. I do not support keeping the reference to 5 MPH in the rule. It allows for confusion in a couple of different ways. Many boaters have GPS, and speed over ground is increasingly the only speed information available. So when operating in a current a boater may see a speed of 4 MPH, but may be going upstream against a 2 MPH current, and have a 6 MPH speed through the water. A boater using GPS SOG may not realize the violation. Similarly, a boater traveling down bound with a 2 MPH current and 5 MPH speed through the water show 7 MPH over the ground. I have no idea how sophisticated law enforcement radar is, but I can envision some difficulty in getting true speed readings.

    The draft does not define “white water behind the boat”. Some boats that I frequently operate leave a “white” wave even at low speeds. The “white” dissipates at some distance from the transom. This happens even when the height of the wave is quite small. If we truly expect “no wake”, then most boats will not be able to make headway in waters with any significant current. North Portland Harbor, for instance. It may be more reasonable to establish a maximum wave height rather than try to define the wake by the color of the water.


  6. January 20, 2011

    Jen Tonneson, Chair
    Jean Quinsey, Vice-Chair
    Oregon State Marine Board
    PO Box 14145
    435 Commercial St NE #400
    Salem 97309-5065

    Chair Tonnensen and Vic-Chair Quinsey,

    I am submitting this letter as formal testimony on behalf of the Urban Greenspaces Institute regarding the Marine Board’s proposal to more clearly define “slow no wake.” Our presumption is the Marine Board would like to, and should, close a huge loophole in the “slow-no wake” zone rules which allows boats operating at less than 5 mph referenced in the current rule to still generate huge wakes with boats operating with Wave Enhancement Devices.

    We have observed, time and again, such boats operating in the Holgate Channel and Ross Island Lagoon “slow-no wake” zone and agree there is a need to address this issue, both for boater safety and environmental concerns.

    Our position is that BOTH the 5 mph limit AND “no wake” objectives are important to retain in the rule. We would prefer to see both retained in a new rule. The 5 mph speed limit is as much as safety issue as the “no wake” provision. Each has its importance with regard to boater and water user safety, whether the user is in a motorized craft, paddle boat, paddle board, or swimming. Similarly, even a boat traveling well below 5 mph has the capacity of producing dangerous wakes that pose a danger to other river users and to the environment, owing to erosion of banks in sensitive areas such as the Ross Island lagoon and Holgate Channel.

    Therefore, we strongly support the Marine Board’s effort to make “slow-no wake” zones more enforceable and support the draft definition of “slow-no wake” which reads:
    “250-010-0010 Definitions
    (8)”Slow–No Wake” means operating a boat at the slowest speed necessary to maintain steerage and that reduces or eliminates waves that appear as white water behind the boat.”

    However, as noted above, we continue to feel strongly that a 5 mph maximum speed is necessary for public safety and protection of the environment. We are pleased that the Marine Board recognizes the importance of enforcement of the “slow-no wake” zone and the need to clarify the definition accordingly. Please ensure BOTH wakes from craft operating at less than 5 mph through use of WED’s and safe speeds (5 mph) are contained in any new “slow-no wake” rules.


    cc Scott Brewen, Director OSMB


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s