“Swimmer Wear” Bill Getting Lots of Attention

Laconia — March 25, 2009 — A couple of years ago, it was speed limits on Lake Winnipesaukee that had locals abuzz with numerous, occasionally strongly-worded online postings. Now, it’s a bill dealing with swimmers that has generated public reaction ranging from strong support to derision.

According to its sponsor, state Rep. Suzanne Gottling, D-Sunapee, the bill — HB224 — would require swimmers who go beyond 150 feet from the shoreline to either be accompanied or shadowed by a watercraft displaying a swimmer’s “flag” or to wear “easily-visible apparel” with the intent of letting boaters see and identify swimmers more readily. The state’s director of safety would set the specific regulations, which would be enforced on lakes where the Marine Patrol Bureau already has a presence: Newfound Lake, Ossipee Lake, Squam Lake, Lake Sunapee, Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam.

The bill had been scheduled for consideration by the full House on Tuesday but the bill was withdrawn from the consent calendar. As a result it won’t be discussed until late Thursday after House members have finished reviewing every other item ahead of it on this week’s agenda. The bill would amend a law that already applies to scuba divers and snorkelers and requires them to have a warning flag nearby by adding a new section, “Swimming in Areas Outside Swim Lines.”

The Transportation Committee previously voted 15-0 in favor of an amended version of the bill.

State Rep. Dick Stuart, D-Laconia, a member of the Transportation Committee, said HB224 was, indeed, a matter of safety. As to its being pulled from the consent calendar, “I assume it means that people are standing up for civil liberties and don’t like being told to wear red hats.”

Stuart, a pastoral psychotherapist serving his first term in the House, believes that, at times, civil liberties can be trumped by safety concerns. On the Transportation Committee, he wrote the minority report in support of a bill that would have banned smoking in motor vehicles containing children in car seats. That bill was defeated by the full House on Tuesday, which by a small margin voted that it was “inexpedient to legislate.”

“People should be brightly colored” while in area lakes, said Stuart, who is a boater. “I hate driving a boat on the lake when I can’t see swimmers clearly and I hope it (SB224) passes. This is important to have swimmers marked so that we can see them. I don’t care if it’s red or fluorescent yellow or a flag as long as they’re marked.”

While he supports HB224, Stuart — like local swim instructor Atie Caron — thinks it is unwise for swimmers to be in areas of a lake where there are apt to be powerboats.

“Myself, I would not do it even with a red cap,” Stuart said, “and I tell my wife and family not to do it either.” He questioned whether HB224, as some critics have charged, would be “unenforceable.”

On winnipesaukee.com, one writer mused about being on her dock this year and selling red swim caps for $50 apiece. Several other writers opined that lawmakers should be spending their time on the economic crisis, while one asked whether violators would be listed in The Citizen police blotter and have their court proceedings reported upon.

There was also a post from a writer who said he has witnessed watercraft violate the proximity restrictions to the shore and other boats but he, too, expressed concerns about enforceability, noting, however, that there were other laws on the books with dubious enforceability.

Caron, who teaches swimming at the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club and is a competitive master swimmer who trains for triathlons in the waters of Newfound Lake, said HB224 misses the bigger picture: Swimmers don’t mix well with boats and smart swimmers already know to stay out of a boat’s way.

“I would not swim if there’s a lot of boats out,” said Caron, who confines her swimming at Newfound to the roped-in areas along its shore. “I would not go past the line because it’s too dangerous, whether they have a red cap on or not.”

A red cap would provide some increased visibility of swimmers by boaters, she said, but also would give “a false sense of security” to swimmers who went out of areas designated for them. The cap probably would not interfere with a swimmer’s ability to see boats but, if pulled down too far, it could impede the wearer’s ability to hear them, Caron said.

Overall, HB224 is “foolish,” Caron summed up, because it is unnecessary. There’s “a lot of areas where you can train and swim” on local lakes without having to worry about boats, Caron said, and “anyone with common sense” would not press his luck.

Instead of working on HB224, Caron advised lawmakers to “use your time and energy on something that is really worthwhile.”

Gottling, who lives on Lake Sunapee, said she sponsored HB224 because, on that lake, “there are a number of swimmers who do swim, basically, across the areas where boats may legitimately come up to full speed and they [the swimmers] cannot be seen easily.”

When some of those swimmers tried to speak to boaters about being safer, the boaters were “unresponsive,” said Gottling, some of them also telling Marine Patrol that “you have no authority to tell us anything.”

“The bill, frankly, is an attempt to not restrict where swimmers can go but to have them go in a way that indicates they are there so that boaters have a much better chance of seeing them,” she said.

Introduced several months ago, Gottling expressed surprise that HB224 has just now surfaced on the public’s radar. She said she had checked with Marine Patrol’s Dave Barrett who, while not opposed to the bill, did raise questions about its enforcement.

Asked about the so-called “red cap” requirement — which was mentioned in the House’s March 20 calendar explaining HB224 — Gottling said it was “unfortunate” since it deflected attention from the larger discussion about safety. She said a red cap is just one example of an article of clothing that a swimmer could wear to make him- or herself more visible in the water.

A cap was chosen as an example, she said, because it was easy to get and also inexpensive. Gottling is hopeful that HB224 will succeed, noting that it had bipartisan support in the Transportation Committee.

“To me it would be extremely disappointing if a 15-0 vote out of a committee would be voted down.”


  1. AJ on Berry Bay 15 years ago March 26, 2009

    They should change the bill to read “WITHIN 150 FEET OF THE SHORE” since most of the boats operate there at above headway speed!

  2. miguel diocuore 15 years ago March 26, 2009

    Another case of Big Brother and the nanny state intruding into our freedoms.
    Foolish. We the people own the state not the other way around.

  3. Don on Leavitt Bay 15 years ago March 26, 2009

    In First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a great story:

    One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students. As he stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He then pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them one at a time into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?”
    He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing it to work down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied.

    He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand and started dumping the sand in the jar until it filled the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good.”

    Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

    One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point.”

    “The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all. What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Your children, your loved ones, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching others, doing things that you love, your health; your mate. Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat about the little stuff then you’ll fill your life with little things and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff.”big

    So, tonight, or in the morning, when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life? Then, put those in your jar first.

    This issue is a very small rock. I believe in the theory that work expands to fit the alloted time. This is an example of that. Surely our representatives have bigger and more important issues to address. I don’t oppose the bill, but belive that if Suzzane Gottling wants to expand her political resume’ she should do it with more importatnt and pressing bills.

  4. Leslie 15 years ago March 26, 2009

    I live in an area where there is a lot of summer boat actiivity. For the most part, the boaters are safe and responsible, as well as are the swimmers who are intelligent enough to stay away from where the boat activity is. I have never seen anything close to a dangerous situation except for the people who get on small floats and wander too far out on the lake.

    Also, what about people and children who are boating on the lake and like to have some fun jumping off their boats for a little while? I assume they would be considered swimmers and would have to be included under this law. The examples could go on…

    This bill is unnecessary, unenforceable, and intrusive to any people who have common sense.

  5. miguel diocuore 15 years ago March 27, 2009

    I have to comment on this bill again:

    What a pile of LIBERAL horsesheeeeet!

  6. Don Macleod 15 years ago March 27, 2009

    Pontoon boats constantly cruise within 150 feet of the shoreline obliviously greeting the swimmers on their port and starboard. Incapable of learning they make the return trip through the same area.
    Swimming, like walking, is a natural right. Boating is the privileged activity subject to rules. Staying visible makes sense but a red capped swimmer requirement just creates a cruel potential for blaming the victim. It is a token initiative for the State’s long neglected waterway safety obligations.
    If safety were the concern a quarter of the boaters on the lake would likely loose their operational privileges.

  7. miguel diocuore 15 years ago March 27, 2009

    From New Hampshire Boating Safety Course and Exam:

    ”As a vessel operator, you are just one of many who are enjoying the privilege of using the public waterways. It is your responsibility to stay aware of others in or on the water and to respect their use of the waterways. Remember that being a responsible operator includes controlling the noise of your boat or PWC.”



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