Sportsmen’s Group Seeks New Restrictions for Motorized Boats on Flathead, Stillwater Rivers

Petition aims to prohibit personal watercraft like jet boats on certain waterways and implement no-wake zones

By Dillon Tabish
A rainbow touches down behind fisherman seen from the bridge spanning the Flathead River off Holt Stage Road. Beacon File Photo

A sportsmen’s group is petitioning the state to increase restrictions for motorized boats on sections of Montana rivers, including the Swan and Flathead.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a Missoula-based nonprofit organization, says it is seeking new rules for certain waterways to address growing conflicts and safety and environmental concerns. The group says new advanced motorized technology, such as “high-performance personal watercraft” like jet boats and hovercraft, are increasingly utilizing Montana’s waterways that were previously inaccessible to motorized use.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is reviewing the petition, named the “Quiet Waters Initiative,” and agreed it should consider being proactive instead of reactive to changes in recreation to avoid conflicts and protect traditional recreational uses.

The state Department of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is accepting public comment on the proposal and will host meetings across the state in January. FWP will host a public meeting on Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. in Kalispell at the agency’s headquarters, 490 N. Meridian Road.

Under the proposal, personal watercraft, defined as recreational watercraft that a rider sits or stands atop, such as a Jet Ski, would be prohibited on a few local waterways. Kayaks, canoes and traditional motorboats would not be impacted.

Most prominently, personal watercraft would not be allowed on the section of Flathead River from the confluence of the South Fork near Hungry Horse to the Montana Highway 35 bridge in Evergreen. Other watercraft, such as motorboats, would still be allowed, but the proposal seeks to implement a restricted no-wake zone along that same stretch from June 1 to Oct. 15.

This restriction would eliminate many conflicts and irresponsible uses before they start, the petition states.

The petition also seeks to implement a no-wake speed on the Stillwater River from Upper Stillwater Lake to the confluence with the Flathead River. Personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis, would be prohibited along this stretch.

On the Whitefish River, a controlled no-wake zone would be implemented from JP Road to the confluence with the Stillwater River from July 1 through Sept. 15. Personal watercraft would be prohibited along this stretch.

Personal watercraft would also be prohibited year-round on Lazy and Swift creeks.

On the Swan River, a year-round controlled no-wake speed zone would be established from its headwaters to the confluence with Lindbergh Lake, and from Lindbergh Lake to the mouth of Swan Lake. There is already a seasonal controlled wake speed from Swan Lake to Bear Creek between July 1 and Sept. 15.

The petition seeks to implement similar measures for other rivers across the state, including the Yellowstone, Boulder, Clark Fork and Bitterroot rivers. For a complete list of proposed restrictions, visit

Public comment can be submitted to Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Attn: Quiet Waters Petition, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT, 59620-0701; or e-mail

The deadline to submit comments is Jan. 13.

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