A “wake” is the turbulence created by a vessel traveling through water at a high speed. These waves disturb the surface of the water and can create a disturbance that impacts other vessels, swimmers, or wildlife.
In areas marked with regulatory “No Wake” waterway buoys, it is unlawful for a vessel to operate above idle speed. While idle speed varies from boat to boat, it is usually defined as the lowest rpm needed for safe boat operation (not including any throttle advancement for hazard avoidance or other operating requirements).
No wake zones are often in place to protect a marina, where large wakes may strain mooring lines and make navigating through a busy channel more difficult. They can also be in place to protect wildlife and sensitive environmental areas, where a large boat's wake might disturb or displace marine life. Other reasons for having a no wake zone can include the need to reduce congestion in a congested waterway or in the vicinity of other vessels, marinas, or public shorelines.
Some boaters are confused about what the rules are for passing through a no wake zone. Many believe that it is ok to plow through the zone at full off-plane speed or come out of plane right before the buoy, which will still create a sizable wake and violate the rules of the no wake zone. However, it is important to understand that the rules of a no wake zone are just like the rules of the road and that any violation could result in costly penalties.