Pennsylvania changes wakesurfing laws to accommodate Volvo Penta FWD drive

The National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) reports Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has approved allowing wakesurfing behind boat propelled by propellers OR water jets, but ONLY if the propulsion system was specifically designed by the manufacturer for use in wakesurfing. Previously the State of Pennsylvania only allowed wake surfing behind direct drives (inboards). NMMA notes the changes/revisions were written broad enough to allow future innovations and will take effect in early 2018.

Volvo Penta FWD photo

Volvo Penta FWD photo

The real force behind the change is Volvo Penta’s FWD drive. When the drive first came out our coverage noted its possible use in wakesurfing applications and suggested its safety in those applications be evaluated.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) can be viewed on Pensylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s website.

The NPRM notes Volvo approached the Commission in late 2015 as one of three states forbidding wakesurfing behind inboard outboard motors (stern drives).

There is a paragraph in the NPRM we do not totally understand.

In late 2015, Volvo Penta approached the Commission about amending section 105.3(12) of the Commission’s regulations to permit boaters within the Commonwealth to utilize Volvo’s new Forward Facing Drive for wake surfing. The Commonwealth was one of three states at the time that had regulations in place that forbid wake surfing behind inboard/outboard motors. This topic was then discussed at the annual conference of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, at which time the safety protocols that manufacturers were held to by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) were reviewed. The consensus was that if the manufacturer was under strict guidelines from the USCG for development, the states should do what they could to allow those approved developments to be used on state waters.

It sounds like they are saying, since Volvo Penta is under US Coast Guard safety protocols the states should allow these drives to be used.

As to any USCG strict protocols, they are likely talking about ABYC voluntary standards, none of which have to do with the activity of wakesurfing.

We find the actual law,

“It is unlawful to: Operate a motorboat propelled by an outboard motor, inboard/outboard motor or water jet while a person is wake surfing in or on the wake of the motorboat, unless the propulsion system is specifically designed by the manufacturer for that activity.”

a bit odd. It sounds like if I were a manufacturer, and whatever kind of drive I had, as long as I said it was specifically designed for wakesuring, it would be legal in Pennsylvania. One hopes major, established drive manufacturers will consider safety issues before so designating their drives. However, smaller operations and startups looking at increasing sales might be tempted to say their drive was specifically designed for wakesurfing when it was not or when the manufacturer was not capable of evaluating the hazards of wakesurfing behind their drive.

For example, from time to time we see propeller driven PWCs. They claim certain advantages but the risk of propeller strike appears to outweigh any possible advantages. What is one of those firms decided their drive / vessel was specifically designed for wakesurfing?

PWC powered by outboard motor. Photo from tuf-luf on Sailing Anarchy. Taken in Indonesia.

PWC powered by outboard motor.
Photo from tuf-luf on Sailing Anarchy. Taken in Indonesia.

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