Concord — December 26, 2005 — New Hampshire lawmakers will decide in January whether to impose speed limits on all bodies of water in the state — from Lake Winnipesaukee to Conway Lake.
If House Bill 162 passes, boaters statewide will have to abide by a daytime speed limit of 45 miles per hour and a nighttime speed limit of 25 mph.
The Winnipesaukee Family Alliance for Boating Safety, a leading advocate of the proposed legislation, argues that an enforced speed limit will “preserve New Hampshire’s reputation as a safe, family-friendly tourist destination.” Members of the organization say tourists are disappointed and even angered when their kayaking, canoeing and water skiing are disturbed by the violent wake of speeding boats.
“I grew up on a lake. I learned to water ski and sail on Lake Winnipesaukee,” said organization member Patrick Griffin. “In the last 15 or 20 years, the lake has gotten more and more crowded. Watching my own children swimming, I get worried when I see boats coming from every direction at very high speeds.”
Griffin added that, 30 years ago, boats maintained a speed of about 25 mph. Today, he said, many travel at a speed of around 65 mph.
“As technology gets better, boats are able to go faster,” he explained. “If there are no rules restricting speed, people will try to go as fast as they can.”
While Griffin and others believe the protection of New Hampshire’s waters is important for lakeside residents, their primary concern seems to be the preservation of the state as a tourist-friendly destination.
“This bill will help to defend the New Hampshire brand,” Griffin said. “The state targets families for its tourism industry; families are its core marketplace.”
And vacationing families, Griffin added, are put off by speedboats roaring past their swimming children or disturbing leisurely canoe rides.
The bill was recommended in a 11-10 vote by the House’s Resources, Recreation and Development Committee last spring. At that time, the bill only proposed the institution of speed limits on Lake Winnipesaukee, but the committee amended it to include all New Hampshire bodies of water.
According to New Hampshire Division of Safety Director David Barrett, the legislation would mainly affect large bodies of water like Lakes Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam.
Speeding isn’t as much of a problem on smaller lakes, such as Conway Lake, he said. “I don’t think speeding is an issue in all New Hampshire bodies of water,” Barrett said. “And, of the boats on Winnipesaukee, only about 15 percent are even able to go faster than 45 or 50 mph.”
The Ossipee Lake Alliance’s David Smith said that, at least on Ossipee Lake, speeding is a problem secondary to weekend overcrowding.
“Several children’s camps quietly curtailed their weekend water sports programs a few years ago because of the sheer number of boats on the lake on weekends,” Smith recalled.
Smith added that, although the Alliance has yet to take a formal position on the bill, it is “supportive of any initiative that helps prevent damage to the quality of recreation on our state lakes.”
“State officials should use the debate over speed limits as the impetus for a complete assessment of what’s right with our lakes, and what needs to be addressed,” Smith said. “There is much more than just speed limits that the state should be looking at to ensure that we maintain and improve lakes’ quality.”
According to Barrett, effective enforcement would require two or three officers per patrol area.
“The downside to speed enforcement is that it’s fairly labor intensive,” he explained. “One vessel will be needed to man a radar, and another will be needed to go and have a dialogue with the offender.”
Radars, he added, are not as effective on the water as they are on the highway.
“Enforcement of boaters’ speeds will probably not be as thorough as patrol on the highway,” Barrett speculated. “Not all boaters are moving in the same direction, and they can see a marine patrol officer coming from a mile away.”
But according to Winnipesaukee Family Alliance for Boating Safety President Sandy Helve, radars work well on the water. Signs posting speed limits, she added, result in a large amount of “self-policing,” hopefully deterring would-be speeders from significantly exceeding posted limits.
The obvious, repeat offenders of speed limits would be the main targets of the proposed bill, explained Griffin. Griffin and Helve said the New Hampshire Marine Trade Association opposes the legislation. However, they said at least nine New Hampshire marinas have broken from the association in support of House Bill 162. A spokesman for the association was unavailable for comment.
Maine, another popular New England destination for tourists, does not have any restrictions on boating speed limits. Neither does Vermont. New York’s restrictions are lake-specific, not statewide. Massachusetts, however, does have statewide regulations.
“The one percent of boaters who want to go 100 miles per hour will have to go somewhere else,” Griffin said.
For the majority of boaters, Helve said, the speed limits won’t make a difference. “Forty-five miles per hour is very fast on water; it is plenty fast for what anyone wants or needs to do,” she said.
And then there will be the people who just don’t want to be told what to do, or how fast they can go, when boating on New Hampshire’s lakes. “I have a boat that will go pretty fast, and I think it’s a blast to open it up and go fast,” Griffin said, sympathizing with boaters who might resent the proposed bill. “But as someone who has children on the lake, I realize driving my boat like that isn’t in my, my family or the resource’s best interest.”