The Problem with Large Boats

“Every year, boats are getting bigger and bigger.” Numerous people told me this on both the Tennessee River and Mississippi.

In our experience, there is an inverse relationship to the size/power of a boat and the respect shown by the driver of it. Compensating much? People in big powerful boats seldom realize the effect they have on other boaters and on the ecology of the river.


In our craft, people are naturally curious and veer far out of their way to buzz close to us and see what looks like a floating chicken coop.


Unfortunately, the wake from these boats frequently rocks our boat hard. Sometimes stuff comes down from shelves and our dishes slam inside our cupboard and break. ‘

When we were in Knoxville, one clueless fella speeding by in a 40 foot yacht slammed us so hard against the posts of the dock, it destroyed part of our roof. When I chased him down in the johnboat he said, “Yeah, I didn’t know. We’ve not been up here before.” No apologies or offer to make things right, despite the fact he could replace our entire shantyboat for the cost of one of his rub rails.


Waves wash over our decks and sometimes straight into our cabin. Fourth of July weekend on Lake Louden was the worst so far, with many inconsiderate boaters buzzing us and creating 3 and 4 foot swells.

People continue to ask how we deal with the supposed horror of barge traffic. In our experience, barges create a medium-sized wake, pass and move on. We’ve never had a barge circle us at high speed, giving us thumbs up and kicking up swells that topped our decks, like we have had repeatedly with pleasure boaters.


Other smaller boats aren’t the only thing endangered by large boats. In Secret History interviews, I’ve had river ecologists, river homeowners, and sportsmen cite powerboat wake as one of the top ongoing problems on the river. Shoreline erosion caused by pleasure boating destroys turtle and bird habitat, washes away natural islands and shoreline, and ultimately requires rock revetment along the shoreline.

Here you can see the big waves caused by large boats churning the shoreline into a brown slurry.


Rock revetment protects shorelines but destroys mud and sand beaches needed by numerous critters. Speaking of critters…

Squirlsy took days to get over his terror after surviving the big waves on Lake Louden.


5 comments for “The Problem with Large Boats

  1. July 7, 2016 at 5:50 am

    All skippers are responsible for their wakes at all times, whether in a no-wake zone or not. If a wake breaks something on your vessel, you are entitled to compensation. Next time you succeed in chasing a skipper down, ask him to make it right, or get his insurance information. Otherwise, you can report his vessel to the USCG.

    • John Senglaub
      July 8, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Hello: You are correct, boat captains are responsible for their wakes. Contact local water patrol with the boats registration number.


  2. oldsalt1942
    July 9, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Boats are used in inverse proportion to their size…

  3. July 11, 2016 at 5:23 am

    As a professional Mariner, Tugboat Captain and Commercial Diver, I am appalled by the arrogance, ignorance, and conduct of most people on pleasure boats. As a result,I have developed Riewer’s Rule: “The financial ability to purchase a floating Gin Palace is often inverse to the nautical skill or simple courtesy of the operator”. When they deliberately buzz you in a 50′ Sportfisher and you have people underwater or are conducting a difficult crane pick, they can cause serious injuries or flat out KILL. As a consequence, I have made it a regular practice to request that the US Coast Guard or Local Harbor Patrol deploy patrol craft during our more dangerous operations. No amount of signage, lighting, or even staging of work skiffs to head off these morons is adequate to ameliorate the risk they impose on the rest of us. I really would hate to see Licensing for non-commercial boats, as a kid I ran my boats all over LA Harbor, to Catalina, and anywhere I dared to go. I never got into trouble because I tried to practice good seamanship. But the recreational boater is going to cause it’s inception as a necessity to safe navigation. At least they have instigated the same standard of legal intoxication for boaters as .08 but Drunk Boating is not seen by the public to present the same hazard as Drunk Driving. I disagree. I have extensive experience in Search and Rescue, Salvage, and Accident Investigation. And Alcohol is a factor in too many incidents resulting in fatalities or life-threatening injuries. When some idiot loads six people aboard a vessel that can go 50 miles an hour and then, after the bar closes decides to take a moonlight cruise, the resulting consequences can be particularly ghastly.

  4. CJ
    July 14, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    We saw you floating past the concord yacht club on July 4, we were on our sailboat and I was sick from the wake. We left 5 days after you but got stuck north of Chattanooga bc the chickamuaga lock is closed for 30 days. We are just anchored in a cove.

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