Safety On The Water

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Especially with the recent dissolution of the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission, folks wonder how they can deal with safety issues on the water.

We all love to enjoy the water that belongs to all of us.  However, some folks don't enjoy it safely.  Some areas have no-wake buoys/zones.  Other areas might not have such an area designated, but perhaps a cove is too small for speeding watercraft, or perhaps watercraft are coming far too close to docks, swimmers and others trying to safely enjoy the water.

This summer, we have received a lot of questions about safety laws and about options for citizens to change or see enforcement of the laws.

July 4 Boaters MIL

First, Personal Watercraft (PWCs): the law (NC § 75A-13.3) states, "No person shall operate a personal watercraft on the waters of this State at greater than no-wake speed within 100 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, a dock, pier, swim float, marked swimming area, swimmers, surfers, persons engaged in angling, or any manually operated propelled vessel, unless the personal watercraft is operating in a narrow channel. No person shall operate a personal watercraft in a narrow channel at greater than no-wake speed within 50 feet of an anchored or moored vessel, a dock, pier, swim float, marked swimming area, swimmers, surfers, persons engaged in angling, or any manually operated propelled vessel."  A narrow channel is defined as being less than 300 feet.

For boats, the rules vary lake-to-lake.  However, PWC rules regarding proximity are generally good practice for boaters to avoid an accident with an individual or structure in the water.

On Mountain Island Lake, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) removed many of the no-wake buoys that had been installed by the lake's Marine Commission.  While decisions on siting the buoys had gone through the appropriate MIL Marine Commission (MILMC) process, which had also been delegated the legal authority to do so, the dissolution of the MILMC meant that the NCWRC would be managing buoys on the lake.  Anything the NCWRC manages must go through a different process and be entered into the administrative code to be enforceable.  Some of the buoys on MIL were in the administrative code, but many were not and were removed.

The removal of buoys has been taken by some to mean that they now have permission to drive however they please in areas without no-wake buoys.  Not quite.

Again, the exact rules will vary depending on what is on the books.  For example, in the NC Administrative Code, (SubChapter F), the no-wake zones described for Lake Wylie are different than those for MIL, even beyond specific areas.  On Lake Wylie, the Code states, "No person shall operate a vessel at greater than no-wake speed within 50 yards of any public boat-launching ramp, dock, pier, marina, boat storage structure or boat service area."  Such language does not exist for its northern neighbor, MIL. 

You can find the language applicable to your specific body in the code here for North Carolina and here for South Carolina.  Ctrl+F and then type your water body or location to quickly find it in the document, which includes language for waterways throughout North Carolina. 


So what can you do?

If you observe someone operating a watercraft recklessly:

  • Document it as well as possible.  Photos.  Video.  Vessel number.
  • In North Carolina, call the NCWRC dispatch (1-800-662-7137), and they will contact a local WRC or county officer.
  • In South Carolina, call 1-800-922-5431 (also good for any DNR-related violation) or the Region 2 (Florence) law enforcement number (843-661-4766), which covers all counties in the Catawba portion of the basin.
  • You may also go to the magistrate, swear on what you observed and have a warrant issued.


If you would like to get a no-wake buoy installed:

  • Clearly identify the area with both a description and GPS coordinates.
  • Collect and have prepared any documentation of safety concerns (i.e., reckless boaters).
  • Contact your local marine commission (if one exists), as they can be granted authority to install buoys.
  • For example, the Lake Wylie Marine Commission has an application and wealth of information at
  • If no marine commission exists, and you are in North Carolina, contact your county commissioner and ask for the issue to be put on the agenda at the next meeting.
  • For this step, the more community support you can gather, the better.
  • The county must pass a resolution of support, which then needs to be sent to NCWRC (Kate Pipkin).
  • Finally, the NCWRC Commissioners will decide on whether to add it.
  • In South Carolina, contact your DNR board member directly (  Board districts are the same as U.S. House of Representatives districts.


More information:

Boating Education Courses (online)

NC Vessel Operator's Guide

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