N.H. Lakes Association Announces Support for Boat Speed Limits

Reprinted from “Lakeside,” the newsletter of the New Hampshire Lakes Association.

All New Hampshire lakes and ponds ten acres and larger are owned by the public and are held in the Public Trust for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations. These state-owned public waters are open to all, from the smallest ten acre pond to the forty-four thousand acre Lake Winnipesaukee.

Generally, the larger the lake, the more diverse the recreational use it will support. As the largest public water body in New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee should provide optimum recreational benefits for all. However, the significant growth of high speed boats on the Big Lake has forced the large majority of those without fast boats to adapt by staying off the lake – particularly on weekends. The message sent by such change to the large majority of would-be lake users directly contradicts the family recreational message that is the foundation of our state tourism business.

With surrounding states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island adopting state-wide speed limits on their lakes and ponds (45 day, 25 nighttime), some lake enthusiasts concerned over a lack of safety on New Hampshire’s public waters are spending their vacations elsewhere. Rusty McLear of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings in Meredith recalls that some hotel guests left in a huff last summer after encountering dangerous boaters.

“They rented a boat, then came back and threw the keys on the desk and said they weren’t coming back. One man said we should have warned him about the excessive speeds of the boats on this lake,” said McLear.

In response to this situation, concerned citizens and other lake users formed the Winnipesaukee Family Alliance for Boating Safety (WinnFABS). Their message is simple: operating boats at excessive speeds not only puts boat drivers and passengers at risk, but also endangers others on the lake that might be scuba diving, swimming, sailing, kayaking, rowing, fishing, canoeing, or operating power boats at lower speeds.

By establishing a speed limit on the lake, the state would ensure an equitable and diverse balance of recreational activities among users, while optimizing the economic benefit of our public waters which provide $1.8 billion annually to the state’s economy (Estimates of Select Economic Values of New Hampshire Lakes, Rivers, Streams & Ponds, June 2003 – see NHLA’s website for the Report).

A recent United States Coast Guard Report (US Department of Homeland Security, United States Coast Guard Boating Statistics, 2003) places excessive speed as one of the top four leading causes of fatal accidents among boaters. According to a patrol officer with the New Hampshire Department of Safety, the faster a vehicle travels, the greater the likelihood that an accident will occur.

In practical application, it does not make a difference if the vehicle is a car or a boat. The higher the speed, the greater the amount of time required to avoid another vessel. For example, a boat traveling at 90 MPH covers 128 feet per second, and will cover the 150 foot “safe passage” distance between it and another boat (or other “obstacle”), in 1.17 seconds.

The accepted standard human reaction time is 1.5 seconds. This means that a boater traveling at 90 MPH could not slow down or swerve in time to avoid impacting a slower boat, or kayak, or swimmer, in his/her path, even if the obstacle is the “safe” distance of 150 feet away!

Would an increased emphasis on boater education along with a safe boater certification course solve the problem? While education always helps, it does not guarantee responsible and safe boating behavior.

If licenses guaranteed safety, then there would be no need for speed limits on our highways because everyone with a license would be a responsible driver. The average car can physically exceed 110 mph, yet this is not considered an acceptable nor safe speed to travel on any of our roadways. This is why there are speed limits. Why should our waterways be any different?

The state should treat the Big Lake like the public resource it is: a “state park on the water”, where everyone should have the opportunity to safely use and enjoy this unique freshwater body. The state needs to encourage a diversity of recreational activities, which in turn will provide enhanced economic benefits.

Unfortunately, without a speed limit, it seems that we are increasingly limiting the recreational use of the lake to excessively fast boaters who threaten the safety of the majority of lake users. This situation is already having economic consequences, as people who feel unsafe go elsewhere.

Note: A public hearing on the legislation will be held on July 6th at 7:00 PM, Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro.


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