Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission

The Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission is making a renewed push to curb bad behavior on Smith Mountain Lake with a new education effort slated for this summer.


Signs, flyers and QR Codes are expected to begin popping up around the lake in the next few months urging boaters, specifically wakesurfers and those involved in other towed watersports, to watch their wakes. Maps will also be provided to let people know what areas of the lake are safe for towed watersports.


Renewed education proposals were unveiled by Smith Mountain Lake’s Wake Education Task Force at TLAC’s bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday. Chairman Josh McClure led the presentation providing several strategies to reach boaters this summer.

“’Are you boating safely?’ is one of our key messages,” McClure said.


The effort comes as Virginia’s annual Recreational Boating Incident Summary found that Smith Mountain Lake once again saw the most boating incidents of any body of water in Virginia last year. The state Department of Wildlife Resources said there were 21 boating incidents on the lake in 2022, including 11 with injuries. There have been two fatalities so far this year.


TLAC created the Wake Education Task Force last year following a public hearing to recommend Smith Mountain Lake’s first no-wakesurfing zone near Merriman Run. Lake residents spoke up at the meeting asking TLAC to try educating the public about the problem before going down the road of banning activities, several of those speakers later joined the task force. 


Wakesurfing has been an ongoing topic of debate among Smith Mountain Lake residents as the sport has grown in popularity over the past decade. Boats specifically designed for wakesurfing create large wakes that riders are able to surf on. Those wakes created by boats can sometimes be several feet high and can be a danger to other boaters as well as damaging to docks.


Boats in general have also gotten larger in recent years, which has also created more wake concerns on the lake.


While the no-wakesurfing zone was recommended by TLAC following the public hearing last year, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources ultimately denied the request. TLAC also voted to suspend any new applications by residents for no-wakesurfing zones last year citing the need for a stronger push to educate the public.


The Wake Education Task Force held its first meeting in November. Its goal was to not only create educational flyers and pamphlets for lake residents and visitors, but to also provide that information in a way that younger people would notice, such as QR Codes. The codes can be scanned by smartphones which will take users to a website with relevant information on boating and wake safety.


McClure said flyers and signs on boating education will be distributed at all area marinas, boat launches and shops around the lake. The group is also working with rental groups to include the information at short-term rental vacation homes for visitors. He also proposed having boat rental locations include QR Codes on the boat that renters could scan to get info on boating safety.


“We are also looking at some boat key floaties, life jacket whistles and kill switch wristbands with the QR Code on them,” McClure said. “Anywhere we can get people on their boats to have access to the information.”


The educational information will ask boaters participating in wakesurfing or other towed watersports to minimize repetitive passes in a single area, stay away from docks and shorelines, avoid coves and congested areas and avoid driving unpredictably and erratically.


Work is also ongoing on a map to provide to boaters on the lake indicating safe areas for wakesurfing and other towed watersports. McClure said areas less than 250 feet from the shoreline will be marked in red on the map. The greater distance will allow larger waves to dissipate before they reach the shore. Tight coves will also be marked in red on the map, he said.


Areas of heavy congestion will be marked in yellow on the map. McClure said those would be areas like the lake’s “S-curve” near Smith Mountain Lake State Park.


TLAC Chairman Lorie Smith thanked the task force and praised their work over the past few months. She was joined by other board members who congratulated them for their efforts.

“I’m very impressed with what they have done so far,” said board member Bob Camicia. “Let’s work together to see what we can do. Can we change bad behavior? Let’s hope so.”


The Wake Education Task Force requested $10,000 to fund the cost of creating materials for the program as well as renting a billboard in the area to show the educational information. Smith said the cost would be split between TLAC and the Smith Mountain Lake Association.


The TLAC board unanimously approved the funding.


TLAC board member Edgar Tuck asked that the task force continue to attend TLAC meetings to provide updates on progress. He said results are not expected right away, but he wanted to see what impact this will have in the coming months.