Freedom—July 3, 2020—The Marine Patrol’s job is to help keep things safe on state waters like Ossipee Lake. When our lake is crowded with holiday boaters, Marine Patrol’s job is more difficult. This year the task is even more onerous due to the social distancing guidelines established for boaters as a result of the pandemic.
As the long holiday weekend begins and the lake fills with boats, the State Police’s Marine Patrol unit yesterday asked boaters “to assist them” by complying with the state’s rafting rules.
Rafting laws are “designed to limit the concentration of boats on a sandbar by creating minimum distance requirements between boats, the shoreline, and rafts,” according to the state’s tweeted message. The primary aim is boater safety, but there can be other factors as well.
Ossipee Lake is one of a handful of state lakes with enforceable rafting rules that target specific areas. In our case, it’s the sandbar where the channel from the big lake enters Broad Bay at the junctions of Cassie Cove, Turtle Cove and Spindle Point.
The sandbar was the focus of state rule-making in 2001 after years of complaints by lake property owners and members of the boating community who said crowds at the site had created a public nuisance and safety hazards.
A state hearing on the matter resulted in Saf-C 407.04, which limited “rafts” at the sandbar to 10 boats that must stay 50 feet from the main navigation channel and be gone by sunset.
The regulation ended the debate but satisfied few. By one interpretation of the rule, there can be no more than 10 boats at the site. But another interpretation posits that there can be any number of “rafts,” each consisting of 10 boats.
In any event, the sandbar rule has rarely been enforced, and it’s so old that many boaters who congregate there are unlikely to be aware of it. But COVID-19 may change that, because rafting is at the heart of the state’s social distancing guidelines for boaters.
“No Rafting—Keep Your Distance on the Water” is a key tenet of the guidelines, as seen on posters at marinas, boat ramps and other places where boaters gather. Additionally, the state has asked that boat passengers be limited to household members.
“NO GUESTS ON YOUR BOAT,” the poster also reads, in all caps.
Like most weekends, this weekend will bring rafting to a number of spots around the lake. But all eyes will likely to be on the sandbar, where the state’s 2001 rafting rule and its 2020 social distancing guidelines will combine to test whether boaters cooperate with the state’s request for cooperation, or whether the state will take action if the cooperation doesn’t materialize.