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Wake bills fail to move in WI Legislature

With the Legislature concluding work for the year last month, any hope for meaningful statewide standards for wakesports is on hold until 2025

By Michael Engleson, Wisconsin Lakes Executive Director

The Wisconsin Legislature concluded its business for this session last month. Despite the introduction of two bills on the subject, no legislation was passed – or even given a public hearing – that would regulate wakesports on Wisconsin’s waters.

The bills aimed to set statewide standards governing where wakesports – wake boarding and wake surfing – could take place either by limiting the activity or by limiting the creation of intentionally enhanced wakes necessary for the sports.


Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) and Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) introduced Senate Bill 680/Assembly Bill 656 which would have prohibited wakesports within 200 feet of shore and in lakes 50 acres or less in size. The bill also prohibited enactment or enforcement of local ordinances stricter than those standards but did allow municipalities to set weaker standards. The bill faced severe and vocal opposition from all around Wisconsin for gutting local governments’ ability to set standards for their own lake while setting statewide standards that failed to adequately reduce impacts to shorelines and lakebed from the activities The measure largely followed bills promoted by the wakesports industry in other parts of the United States.

While attempts to negotiate with the authors saw some progress towards meaningful standards, in the end the bill never received a public hearing on either it’s original form or any amendments.

Wisconsin Lakes OPPPOSED this bill.


Senator Andre Jacque (R-DePere) introduced a bill, SB1016 that would have prohibited enhanced wakes on any lake smaller than 1500 acres, on a lake with a maximum depth less than 20 feet, and within 700 feet of the shore or anyone using the lake. The bill was not introduced in the Assembly and the Senate version did not receive a public hearing.

Wisconsin Lakes did not take a position on the bill, as it was introduced too late in the session to have a chance to be enacted and lacked an Assembly cosponsor.


With no action to regulate the impact of enhanced wakes on a statewide level in Wisconsin passing, the 2024 boating season will operate under the status quo from previous years. Local ordinances remain the only method to regulate impacts on specific lakes, and over a dozen municipalities have chose to do so.

Whether the next session of the Legislature, which starts in January after elections this November, will result in any new action on the state level remains to be seen. The issue received considerable attention and seemed to have bipartisan momentum at points, with vocal advocates for meaningful, science-based standards pushing back and successfully holding off AB655/SB680. Boating industry lobbying certainly played a role in preventing any sort of meaningful compromise to be enacted.


AB656/SB680’s deficient standards were defeated in large part because Wisconsinites told their legislators and elected officials that what Wisconsin really needs are meaningful, science-based standards to control impacts from enhanced wakes. Keeping that issue in front of legislators and candidates in this fall’s election is crucially important as we carry thing forward into 2025. From thanking legislators you communicated with for not supporting questionable standards, to educating incumbents and challengers about the problem will ensure that enhanced wakes are on everyone’s minds going into 2025.