Burning Question | Should boaters be held responsible for their wakes?

Rusty Beck's 58-foot was badly damaged during a June 2 fire on Lake Union.

Earlier this week, we posted a story about a woman whose boat caught fire at Seattle Marina — for the second time.

The woman said the blaze, which the Seattle Fire Department has ruled as accidental, started after the wake from a passing powerboat caused a pan of hot oil on her stove to spill and catch fire. The powerboat was apparently traveling through a “no wake” zone.

So who’s at fault? Should we blame the skipper of the vessel that caused the wake? Or should the boat owner have known better than to put a pan of hot oil on a stove without securing it, even though the vessel was in a marina?

Answer the questions in the survey field below.  Then feel free to give us your take in the comments section below.


14 Responses to Burning Question | Should boaters be held responsible for their wakes?

  1. Lori June 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Trying to imagine what enforcement of the “no wake” would look like… I can’t imagine a version of this that wouldn’t be worse than the current state. I’d much rather put up with the occasional inconsiderate or ignorant boater carelessly throwing wake. It’s part of boating. Just like seagulls pooping on your canvas. Be aware of it, take preventative measures, when it happens anyway keep things in perspective, and just enjoy boating.

    • Fossil Bob April 12, 2015 at 4:38 am #

      Not agreeing or disagreeing, but merely commenting on the refreshingly forgiving outlook expressed by Lori. Legally, I suppose a court would look strictly at who was required to do what and whether our not they met their requirements. I’m not sure what the insurance company will do after paying the claim but I imagine they will try to recoup their loss if possible. In any case, will everyone please be careful to not rock Lori’s boat? She is just too nice.

  2. E Bowden June 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    This seems to be a case where everybody could have done a bit better. If a boat creates a large wake recklessly, and/or in a “no wake” zone, then that is there responsibility. That being said, the boat owner with oil on the stove should remember to be prepared for any eventuality as well. In this case they probably learned that lesson the hard way.

  3. Matthew Moeller June 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    We lived on the ship canal for four years. The biggest offenders were the Seattle Police and Fire Departments. They made si much wake that we often broke dock lines and tore out cleats. We understand they are sometimes responding to emergencies. We’ve also seen them joyriding. Either way, the responsibility is theirs for any damage they caused.

    • Mike June 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

      I’ve lived on the canal for over 2 years and haven’t seen a big wake from a joy-riding police or fire boat yet. I have seen many very large wakes from such craft on a mission though. If a boat catches fire in my marina, I’d very much like for them to arrive at full speed.

      The only broken cleats I’ve seen so far were poorly installed and tied to short lengths of rope with no snubbers. Given the certainty of such wakes, it goes beyond mere prudence to moor as if they’re going to happen.

  4. Mike June 17, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Because large wakes can happen at anytime for justifiable reasons (emergency response craft), it is up to boaters to maintain seaworthy vessels. This includes monitoring your cooking, using a larger pot for heating oil than you would on land, and having a fire extinguisher at the ready to handle cooking fires.

    Like most boaters, I do not put up a wake around moored or anchored vessels. But I believe this is mostly a matter of courtesy. As others have pointed out, wake laws, such as they are, are almost entirely unenforced.

  5. andy June 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm #


    look at number 10.

    Basically you are responsible, depending on the situation… Wake damage stopped high speed ferry service between Seattle and Bremerton and cost the state lots of money.

  6. Tim R Jones June 16, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Years ago Gladys Prince retired aboard the 36 foot motor boat Allright. She lived aboard in the San Juans in the winter months and in Canadian Gulf Islands in the Summer. She was on a mooring in the north bay of Jones Island boiling urchin shells which she bleached and gave away as gifts. A large square stern motor yacht cruised pass the bay waking the narrow Allright on the beam. Gladys was severely scalded and ultimately died from infections caused by the scalding.

    I’m always amazed at the big power boaters and their owner’s lack of understanding or appreciation for their boat’s wake. A little more room around anchorages or perhaps slowing down a bit would be appreciated.

    Learning to use trim tabs would help a bit too, since the overall efficiency of their boat can be measured in the size of the stern wave.

    My two cents worth…..

  7. Robert Bruce Blumenstein June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I watched a Coast Guard safe boat come in through the marina under a full head of steam that rock and rolled everybody vioently. I sure had to hang on and was fortunate to see it comming. Complain? not at all. Just a little swearing but I got over it. Anybody else, hell yes!!

    If your boiling oil anytime on a boat do it in your dinghy away from any marina.

    You can sue anybody in your favor…especially when there is a posted ‘No Wake’. Your lawyer will love your money. Sueing the Coast Guard is’nt happening.

  8. Pacific NW Boater June 16, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    If a boater is “recklessly” throwing a wake – and doing so in a no wake zone qualifies as such for us – they should be held responsible for any damage they cause. However, once outside a no wake zone, unless there is a maximum speed posted, it becomes more difficult to easily assign blame/fault. For instance, anchored in an open roadway where passing boat wakes even a half mile away in the channel can cause similar situations. In that instance, one has to take responsibility for one’s own vessel and any potential accidents as a result thereof.

  9. s/v Eolian June 16, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    It was my understanding that it is already established marine law that a boat owner is responsible for his wake. Is this not so?

    Based on what I see out on the water, it is rarely if *ever* enforced.

    • Andre June 16, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      Yes, wake law is covered under RCW 79A.60.030 which is the statue for negligent operation of a vessel, which does have a blurb on “effects of vessel wake”. I have no idea how much this is enforced… I doubt very much!


  10. Don Chase June 16, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    A boat went by my marina with a large wake, and created damage. The police were called. The offending skipper was stopped. The result: “Sorry not much we can do.” The offending skipper walked away with a smile. While the boat owner with the ruined swim step was left “holding the bag.” Police have better things to do – traffic tickets.

  11. Dave Calhoun June 16, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    I thought it was a law that wake boats were responsible for any damage caused.

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