Legislative Push Would Solidify Boat Speed Limits

Concord — February 25, 2010 — The law imposing speed limits on boaters at Lake Winnipesaukee is set to expire at the end of this year, and a group of legislators is pushing to make it permanent. A bill introduced last month by state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, along with nine co-sponsors, would eliminate a sunset clause in the law passed in 2008 that set speed limits at the lake of 45 mph during the day and 25 mph at night.

The intent of the sunset clause was to give lawmakers the chance to observe a two-year trial run with the speed limits in place. Afterward, a new law could be passed making them permanent.

State Rep. James Pilliod, the Belmont Republican who introduced the 2008 law, said that his goal was always to make the speed limits permanent and that he only assented to the sunset clause because former representative Jim Ryan, then the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said it would make the bill more agreeable to his committee.

Pilliod has joined Fuller Clark and Lakes Region legislators from both sides of the aisle in trying to make the speed limits permanent before they are repealed Jan. 1, 2011.

“We’re trying to have a repeal of the repeal,” Pilliod said.

Sandy Helve, president of the Winnipesaukee Family Alliance for Boating Safety, said she does not want boat speed at the lake to go back to being unrestricted at the end of this year while legislators try to get a permanent law passed.

“We don’t want there to be a gap in the coverage of people’s safety on the lake,” she said. “The whole tenor of the lake is vastly different when you have a speed limit.”

Opponents of the bill say its proponents are acting prematurely.

“This is basically a ploy to ram through legislation without the data to support it,” said Scott Verdonck, president of opposition group Safe Boaters of New Hampshire. “We’re not saying we don’t want the speed limits. We want the two-year study that was promised by the Legislature.”

Verdonck, a 33-year-old from Goffstown who said he has vacationed at Winnipesaukee his whole life, said he is opposed to the speed limits in general.

“Obviously it’s just too much government,” he said. “Why are we trying to legislate something that’s not a problem?”

State Rep. Judith Reever, a Laconia Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said the speed limits are needed to ensure safety at the lake.

“Its time has come,” Reever said. “This should have happened a long time ago.”

But Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, said he is against speed limits at the lake because he doesn’t believe they can be adequately enforced and because checking for speeding would take Marine Patrol officers away from other tasks.

“You would think that reasonable boating people know the limits of their craft and observe the rules of the waterway,” he said.

This past summer, the first with the speed limits in place, Marine Patrol issued one ticket and 26 warnings for violating the new speed limits, said Marine Patrol Sgt. Crystal McClain.

Dave Barrett, director of the state division of safety services, which oversees the Marine Patrol, said patrolmen logged 68 hours of stationary radar surveillance. All Marine Patrol officers are trained to use the department’s four speed radars, but enforcing speed limits on the water is more difficult than enforcing them on land because water creates constant motion, Barrett said.

Winnipesaukee is not the only New Hampshire lake with speed limits; at Squam and Spofford lakes, boaters cannot go above 40 mph during the day and 20 mph at night. But Barrett said the speed limits are mostly a non-issue at those lakes because the boats there are typically smaller and less powerful.

Merrill Fay, the president of Fay’s Boat Yard in Gilford who pushed to get the speed limits enacted, said the mere threat of a citation for speeding caused significant change on the lake this summer.

“These people have slowed down. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

Business was up, he said, because recreational boaters had returned after leaving out of annoyance with zooming powerboats. However, overall boat traffic was down in 2009, a year plagued by nasty weather and a bad economy, Barrett said. Accordingly, complaints decreased across the board, not just with regard to speed, making it difficult to tell how much of an effect the speed limits had.

If lawmakers are “really earnest about being objective,” Barrett said, they should consider extending the sunset clause in the law to allow more time to judge the effect of the speed limits.

“There is insufficient data to support either side of this argument,” he said.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. March 11. The deadline for the Senate Transportation and Interstate Cooperation Committee to vote on the bill is March 18.

Legislative Push Would Solidify Boat Speed Limits

5 thoughts on “Legislative Push Would Solidify Boat Speed Limits

  • February 25, 2010 at 10:53 am
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    this is very difficult to enforce. why not just ban jet-skis and any boat with over 135 horse power? that’s clear and enforcable. On Ossipee, it could be anything over 90 hp. If there were NO power boating it would be fine with me. ( I own 2).

  • February 25, 2010 at 11:14 am
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    Why don’t we just enforce the laws currently on the books. We have had injuries and deaths on Ossipee lake in canoes, are we to ban them as well? More laws will not do anything to stem the probelm of people not obeying laws arleady on the books.

  • February 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm
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    I agree with Tom. The design of Ossipee Lake keeps the monster boats who are the real problems on other lakes instead of ours. I think the Marine Patrol have been much more effective in the last 3 years. Just enforce the current laws.

  • February 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm
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    when will we learn…there is no way to legislate common sense.
    how often do you see folks drinking it up at the sand bar and then tooling around in their boat???? I have never seen the marine patrol intervene…now we want them to chase down anyone going over 45??? at the very least it will be entertaining to watch the drunk speeders try to run from the marine patrol…ENFORCE EXISTING LAWS before we create some new ones.

  • March 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm
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    It being understood that we don’t want government everywhere we go. Having a boat speed
    on Lake Ossipee might help the potential boat buyers to buy a boat they will be able to use on
    our lake. If our lake is two small for a boat that goes over 45 MPH they know in advance to
    get a smaller motor or no boat if 45 MPH doesn’t make them happy. Many years ago my cousin and I were canoeing when we were hit head on by a large ski boat (don’t recall the make) and my cousin was ejected and I got stitches on my knee, one paddle was pulled out of the prop of the boat. My brother owns a 24ft pontoon boat and coming from levitt bay, in the no wake zone a speed boat crashed right into them, seriously, the 6 people on board were yelling and flagging their hands but that did not stop the speeder, the driver was not watching the “road”. I ask everyone that summers on our lake, do you have a story you want to share that includes speeding boats? I am willing to bet (alot) that most do. BTW I am glad that the
    Donzi got sold—those one minute test drives up and down the lake were ruining my canoe trips. Gordon, I also own two power boats but I too would be happy if everyone went elsewhere to speed around. I am calling my rep now……

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