Boating

Lake Access Sites and Fees

There are 25 boat launching sites and several marinas/boat storage sites on the Yahara River lakes. These range from large marinas and multi-ramp launching sites to street-end access with only on-street parking available. Lake Access Permits (formerly Boat Launch Permits) are required year-round at City of Madison and Dane County launching sites. Lake Access fees can be found on our fees page.

Permit Sales Locations

Daily and annual lock permits can be purchased online by visiting www.reservedane.com/permits/.

For a listing of locations that sell a Lake Access Permit, check out our Lake Access Permit brochure (PDF format).

Sanitary Boat Pumping Stations

Sanitary boat pumping stations are located just above the Tenney Lock on Lake Mendota and on the Yahara River between Bridge Street and Monona Drive. The stations are open from May through October, weather permitting. There is currently no charge for using the stations.

Navigational Aids

There are approximately 160 buoys in the Yahara lakes that mark no-wake zones, rock obstructions and the center of channels to assist boaters in navigation. Some points to remember include:

  • From shore out to 200 feet, obstructions are not marked.
  • Areas that are buoyed and signed “Slow No Wake” and other areas within 100 feet of restrictions (e.g., boat landings) require no-wake speed. (No-wake speed is the slowest speed a boat can go and still maintain steerage.)
  • Boats should always pass between pairs of green and red buoys.

Mooring Buoys

The sheriff’s boat patrol monitors all mooring buoys that are privately owned. All mooring buoys within 150 feet of shore are no longer regulated by the DNR; however, they can be regulated by local government by ordinance. Thus, individuals should check with their local government before placing any new mooring buoy within 150 feet of shore. All mooring buoys beyond 150 feet from shore must be lighted, and a permit is required from the DNR.

Regulations and Safety

The Dane County Sheriff’s Department operates boat patrols on the Yahara lakes and enforces state and local boating laws. Deputies are on call for emergency response 24 hours per day. The department monitors Channel 16 on the VHF marine radio for emergency traffic. In addition, the City of Madison’s Fire Department has a lake rescue team that includes scuba divers and paramedic ambulance personnel. The University of Wisconsin Lifesaving Station on Lake Mendota also runs two rescue boats.

Boaters are strongly encouraged to participate in boat safety and training programs taught by the Red Cross, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, DNR, and volunteer instructors. Boaters should remember:

  • Each person on a boat is required to have an approved personal flotation device.
  • Operating a motorboat at a speed that is greater than reasonable and prudent is unlawful, as well as operating a boat while under the influence of an intoxicant or a controlled substance. Drinking while boating is a big problem in regard to safety on the lakes. Abusive behavior while drinking reduces the pleasure of other boaters and anglers. Always use the lakes in a manner considerate of others.
  • Boats towing persons engaged in waterskiing, aquaplaning or a similar activity on any lake can not do so within 100 feet of any occupied anchored boat, marked swimming area or public boat landing.