Boat Speed Limits - Issue Summary

Should there be boat speed limits?

Should there be boat speed limits?Issue Facts

By: LFDA Editor

Speed limits on Lake Winnipesaukee were signed into law in June 2010. SB 464 established speed limits of 30mph at night and 45mph during the day.

The law's passage superceded previous legislation which called for a two year trial period of lake speed limits. 

Supporters of lower speed limits cite greater safety in the water and reduced boat noise as benefits. 

Boaters who support raising or eliminating the speed limits say that speed limits have a negative impact on the Lakes Region's tourist economy.

The Winnipesaukee limits follow the long-standing speed limit of 40mph on Squam Lake and Spofford Lake.

2015 Legislation

Rep. Frank Byron is the primary sponsor of HB 254, a 2015 bill that excepts municipal employees from boating restrictions during emergency rescues and training. Gov. Hassan signed that bill in June.

Sen. Martha Fuller Clark is the primary sponsor of SB 87, a 2015 bill that reinstates a speed limit for a certain area of the Piscataqua River.  The Senate tabled that bill.

Previous Legislation

A 2011 bill, SB 27, would have allowed boaters to travel at speeds of 55 mph during the day in the 14 square mile "Broads" section of Lake Winnipesaukee.  The bill passed the Senate, but was rejected by the House on May 18, 2011.

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Pro Issue Opinion by Mark Thurston, for boat speed limits:


Small boat users are fearful:

  • Proponents cite the increased boat traffic on Lake Winnipesaukee, along with larger boats and high-powered personal watercraft (PWCs) operating at high rates of speed at busy times on the water. Operators of small boats, canoes, kayaks, and even larger vessels have complained that they feel they’ve lost the sense of enjoyment and safety on the water due to the threat of a collision with a speeding vessel while cruising.

Boating under-the-influence arrests will increase because these are often the speeders:

  • Prior to HB-847’s passage, no citation could be issued for speed alone. Some other infraction had to occur, and be cited. With the legal speed being 25mph after sunset, it is expected that there will be a noticeable increase in Boating Under the Influence arrests incidental to stop for excessive speed. Both recent deadly boating collisions occurred after dark, and seemed to involve both speed and alcohol.

Slower boats mean more room for everyone:

  • NH’s vaunted “safe passage” law requires that vessels operating at greater than headway speed maintain a minimum of 150ft. separation from another vessel. A boat travelling at high speed imposes an access restriction to a large tract of water in front of the boat, denying that access to other boats as it races forward. It doesn't take many boats to effectively shutdown an enormous area of the lake’s surface. The faster the boats go, the more area they restrict. Slower speeds mean more room for everyone.
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Con Issue Opinion by LFDA Editor, against Boat Speed Limits:


Enforcement of existing laws will increase safety, with no need for new laws:

  • There are already ample laws in place to keep the Lake safe, and maintain the fun that boaters on Winnipesaukee have come to expect. Education and enforcement of existing laws will keep the Lake safe, not new laws. For example, vigorous enforcement of the “Safe Passage” rule will keep everyone safer, and negate the need for a speed limit. Maintaining 150ft. between boats is sufficient to keep everyone safer and to avoid collisions. 

The law will have adverse economic effects:

  • This is just an attempt to kick high-performance boats off the Lake, and will most definitely cause business to fall off around the area. People who can afford to own a performance boat spend a lot more money in the local economy than the average boater does. Real estate prices will fall when it’s learned that there are speed limits to worry about, affecting all property owners.   

A safe speed depends on the boat:

  • Some boats are dangerous at 20mph because they are not built for that speed, — others are built to be safe at 60mph. Arbitrarily picking a speed limit is unfair to boaters who have bought boats that operate safely at higher speeds.  Why should one category of boater determine the law rather than another category because kayakers -- and other small-boat owners -- feel insecure? Why should our laws discriminate against owners or larger boat who safely navigate the same public waters? Next we’ll want to ban the MS Mount Washington at 200 feet. It's scary.

The new law will be difficult and costly to enforce:

  • Trying to enforce a speed limit will draw valuable manpower away from active enforcement of the other laws already on the books.  It is difficult, if not impossible to accurately measure the speed of a boat—it’s not like a car traveling in a defined lane.

There have been no accidents due to speed alone, and safe boat operators will be harassed with no benefit to others:

  • Other than some people “feeling” upset by high speed boating there is no evidence that a speed limit will make the Lake safer or reduce accidents and the new law opens up the possibility of harassing those boaters who are above the speed limit, but are operating safely. Recent accidents on the Lake were after dark and involved alcohol. Will inebriated boaters perform better with a speed limit?
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Boat Speed Limits Member Posts
Take Action

If you are interested in boat speed limits and want to take action here are some choices:

  • If you are new to contacting your government, please visit our page on How to Take Action.
  • Contact one of the organizations listed in Learn More. These groups represent the pro or con positions of issues.
  • Contact a government official as follows:

1. Contact members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives or the New Hampshire Senate.

2. Contact the Committee chairperson or members of the House Transportation Committee or the Senate Transportation and Interstate Cooperation Committee – these are the committees that oversee this issue.

3. Contact the head of the New Hampshire Department of Safety.

4. Give your opinion to Governor Maggie Hassan.

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Learn More/Take Action

Should there be boat speed limits? Whatever your thoughts are, we urge you to make your voice heard. See the "Learn More/Take Action" section on this page for more information.

Issue Status

Rep. Frank Byron is the primary sponsor of HB 254, a 2015 bill that excepts municipal employees from boating restrictions during emergency rescues and training. Gov. Hassan signed that bill in June.