Throughout the world, mass development of native and non-native submerged macrophytes leads to nuisance problems for humans. However, often neither the type of nuisance nor the characteristics of nuisance vegetation have been uniformly quantified, leaving nuisance vegetation as a largely unsubstantiated qualification. The lack of a consensus about when submerged plants cause nuisance hampers comparative research on the environmental conditions leading to nuisance. Furthermore, defining and evaluating management goals to reduce nuisance caused by submerged plants are not possible when characteristics of the nuisance vegetation remain unquantified. In this study, we performed a literature review and gathered stakeholder information to identify (1) which problems are caused by nuisance submerged macrophytes, (2) which plant characteristics underlie `nuisance' and (3) and which species cause nuisance. We (4) synthesised this information into a framework to classify submerged vegetation as either `nuisance' or `non-nuisance' using a case study to illustrate the principles. We found that most nuisance problems that affect human use of the ecosystem can be grouped into problems for boat traffic, swimming, fishing and hydrological functioning of the system. Additionally, a multitude of ecological effects have also been reported, but these were outside of the scope of this study. Vegetation cover and canopy depth below the water surface are the main determinant characters for nuisance. Therefore, both invasive and native eutrophilic species with a vertical growth strategy are particularly problematic, but other species can also cause nuisance.