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Marine Patrol cracking down on boat speeds and drinking



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Sgt. Josh Dirth of Marine Patrol takes aim at a boat with the new speed guns the department will employ to enforce the new speed laws on Winnipesaukee. These guns, which use lasers to capture their target, have no margin of error and are the same make employed by State Police. Danielle DeLisle. (click for larger version)
July 01, 2009
Though the weather so far this season has kept many boaters away, the Big Lake nonetheless is teeming with Marine Patrol officers who are keeping speeds and drunken boating in check on Lake Winnipesaukee.

"There have been some aggressively for it," Marine Patrol's Sgt. Josh Dirth said of the new speed limit law, "and some aggressively against it. There were just more who felt this was something that needed to be done."

The new speed limit law went into effect on Jan. 1 and the Marine Patrol has been preparing for the boating season ever since. The law says that boats shall go no faster than 45 mph during the day and 25 mph at night. The nighttime law goes into effect one half hour before sunset and remains in effect until one half hour after sunrise. The law amends that the speeds may be reduced if there are bad water or weather condition. Dirth said that they have a number of different speed monitoring devices at the department including speed guns and Doppler.

In order to inform boaters of the new speed laws they have placed signs at key launch ramps and as public service announcements at local establishments. In addition they have posted notices on the Internet and put notices in local publications.

"I think with the aggressive campaign we have put out, I would be surprised if people didn't know about it," said Dirth.

Though the law is new to Lake Winnipesaukee, other lakes, which are all monitored by Marine Patrol, have employed speed limits. Officers were brought up from other Marine Patrol stations to teach the officers on Lake Winnipesaukee how to use the equipment and fill out the necessary paperwork for citations.

If someone is found to be in violation of the law they will receive a citation; at the bottom it will indicate that the amount of the ticket will be determined by an area judge. Dirth said that the fine would vary because some judges might be more passionate about the issue than others, and all circumstances of a stop are different. He added that unlike most boat violations, this would go on the operator's driving record as points.

The speed guns used for catching speeders have no margin of error, Dirth said. A viewer at the top allows the officer to look through the gun at their target. A laser dot pinpoints, and pulling the trigger captures the speed and displays it in red digital letters in the viewer. This means the officer does not have to take their eye off the boat to determine if there is a speed violation.

"We want people to have fun," said Dirth, "but we want them to do it safely and responsibly."

A campaign dubbed "Operation Dry Water" has officers on the lookout for, and warning residents against, drinking alcohol while boating. This nationwide campaign is sponsored by the National Association State Boating Law Administrators and has departments participating all over the country. Dirth said that most of the time they catch offenders by stopping them for something else and then noticing they are impaired.

"They make a safe passage violation," said Dirth, "or they might be straddling the bow. When we stop them in those cases we may notice they are impaired or they have open containers, which is not illegal on a boat."

He said they have a number of field sobriety tests that have been modified for use on a boat. If necessary the officer can bring the boat in and perform land-based sobriety tests. The Web site of Marine Patrol at http://www.nh.gov/safety/divisions/ss/marinepatrol contains information on fines and laws for drinking and speed violations. Dirth said he encouraged anyone who wants to know the details of boating laws and fines should visit the Web site.

"I don't want to ruin anyone's day," said Dirth, "but I would rather do that than have to call up a spouse and tell them a loved one is not coming home."

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