Concord — September 9, 2009 — Is Lake Winnipesaukee safer now that it has a 45 mph speed limit? There was little consensus among boaters interviewed yesterday while they were enjoying the last of the summer sun or pulling their boats for winter storage.
Yesterday marked the end of the busy boating season on the lake. It was also the end of the first of two trial summers for the speed limit law.
“The speed limit’s a joke,” said Jason Brindamour of Dover at the Glendale docks, who has a camp on Mark Island. “It’s not doing any good.”
Brindamour, who said he has three boats on the lake that top out at just over 50 mph, said the Marine Patrol should be more focused on cracking down on people who drink and drive and don’t obey a law requiring boaters to cut the throttle within 150 feet of other boats, the shore or swimmers. He doesn’t think a speed limit is necessary.
“This place isn’t the wild, wild, west that people make it out to be,” he said.
Kelly Wieser of Campton would disagree. She grew up spending summers on Welch Island. As a kid, she was allowed to drive small boats around the lake, Boston Whalers mostly. She and her brother, at ages 10 and 8, had a gig delivering Sunday newspapers by boat.
She worries whether the lake will be safe enough for her daughters, now 2 and 4, to learn to drive someday.
“It’s just become crazy over the years,” she said.
Wieser said she thinks the speed limit has been a deterrent for the fast “offensive” boats.
“They have to think about it twice before bombing down the lake,” she said.
The issue of whether to limit speed on the state’s lakes had been one of hot debate in the Legislature for years.
A bill passed easily in January 2008 with two conditions: The speed limit applies only to Lake Winnipesaukee, the state’s largest lake, and will sunset in 2011.
The idea was to give state officials two years to collect data and then reassess whether the law was necessary and enforceable.
Marine Patrol Sgt. Crystal McLain said Winnipesaukee officers have conducted stationary speed monitoring – standing on a dock, using six radars for a total of 60 hours since early July.
She did not have statistics yesterday on how many speed stops had been made or tickets issued. No boaters interviewed yesterday said they knew of anyone who received a ticket.
Boating overall is down this year. The Marine Patrol has seen a 20 percent drop in calls for service.
McLain said that’s likely due in part to the rainy weather and in part to the economy. McLain said the officers don’t see speed violations as frequently as other violations, such as boaters not using proper navigation lights at night, not having the proper safety equipment on board or not adhering to the 150-foot rule.
At the Meredith town docks, Rick Evans and Becka Cail of Exeter said they hadn’t noticed any difference on the lake this year. The law has had no effect on them or how they use the lake. Their boat isn’t made to travel at faster than 45 mph.
“They’re probably kind of angry,” Evans said, nodding his head in the direction of two high-performance boats docked nearby.
One belonged to Mike and Kate Palmieri of Concord. High-performance boats, sometimes referred to as cigarette boats, are made for high-speed travel and were originally designed for off-shore ocean use.
The Palmieris aren’t happy about the law but said it hasn’t changed how they drive, which they said is almost never faster than 38 mph. They respect the lake and other drivers, they said.
“It’s a beautiful lake, and everybody should be able to enjoy it no matter what kind of boat they have,” said Mike Palmieri, CEO of Havenwood-Heritage Heights.
Palmieri said the mechanic that works on his boat suggested he push the engine to its full speed every so often to keep it in good condition. If they opened up the throttle, Palmieri said, they would do so far from other boats.
Chris Landry of Milford, the owner of the high-performance boat docked next to the Palmieris’ had stronger feelings about the speed limit law.
“It’s a waste,” he said.
According to Landry, problems on the lake aren’t caused by the fastest boats out there but by “stupid, inattentive people driving boats.”