Life on the Lakes: Making noise about lake noise

It is no secret that sound carries over water with ease. Lake life carries with it a number of ordinary and incidental sounds that are not bothersome and add to the overall character and setting of enjoyment of a day on the lake.

We recently received a reader request regarding watercraft noise levels, specifically related to rear-facing tower speakers, frequently found on wakeboarding and wakesurf boats. The interrogatory prompted a bit of research, and the eventual conclusion that watercraft noise is specifically regulated in some ways, but not others.

Chapter 324 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, in its verses, Subchapter 5, aptly titled “Watercraft and Marine Safety” contains many of the provisions regulating motorboats on inland waterways, such as passing and right of way rules, flotation device requirements, positions of occupants of vessels, and other general safety provisions. Regarding noise, MCL 324.80156, “Motorboat Sound Levels” governs (“Sound Statute.”) The Sound Statute provides: “a person shall not operate a motorboat on the waters of this state unless the motorboat is equipped and maintained with an effective muffler or underwater exhaust system that does not produce sound levels in excess of 90 dB(A) when subjected to a stationary sound level test…or a sound level in excess of 75 dB(A) when subjected to a shoreline sound level measurement procedure.” The Sound Statute continues to discuss mufflers, testing procedures for motorboats with more than one motor, and engine manufacturer requirements. In sum, the Sound Statute provides a clear (and reasonable) limit, as well as a means and standard of testing engine noise (SAE standards), and the authority to perform those tests (a peace officer.) The Sound Statute (circa 1996) clearly does not contemplate motorboats producing noise from other sources, such as mega speakers and amplifiers which were likely not commonplace on waterski boats at the time the ordinance was drafted.

Since the state-level Sound Statue is of little help to the question presented, let us research the question on an example lake, and see if more clear regulations exist. We will use Middle Straits Lake in West Bloomfield Township, Oakland County, as our example waterbody. Middle Straits Lake is subject to DNR local control R 281.763.39 – Slow-no wake speed; high-speed boating and water-skiing vessel operation and motor speed but, again, does not contemplate vessel noise unrelated to the operation of the engine.

Lastly, the West Bloomfield Township (“Township”) code of ordinances contains a noise ordinance to preserve peace and quiet… “public peace and quiet means the generally prevailing level of sound that is customary on public or private property from background noise and regular human activities, taking into account the time of day, the area, locations and uses of properties where conduct occurs and is heard.” The Township ordinance is broadly applicable to noise from vessels other than engine noise, but does not specifically contemplate it. At the municipal level, townships and cities can enact lake specific ordinances to fill in the regulatory gap, which is likely the most effective solution for a growing point of concern on lakes.

In conclusion, be sure to verify with your specific municipality what ordinances are in place to avoid any issues with lake noise while enjoying a day on the water.

Be sure to contact our office at with any other questions.