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Boaters urged to take extra precautions this spring


April 14, 2010
The Lakes Region has been graced with unexpectedly warm weather, but state officials are warning boaters that the lakes are still cold and rough, and anyone out on the water should take extra precautions.

Trout and salmon season opened on April 1, and with record warmth so far this year, boaters are anxious to get out on the water. Since the season started, though, the New Hampshire Marine Patrol and the New Hampshire Fish and Game are reminding people that the most boating fatalities occur during the start of the season due to poorly equipped boaters, wind, and waves.

Both departments reported that the increased amount of rain this year filled Lake Winnipesaukee and its surrounding lakes, rivers, and streams to full capacity, and warned that smaller vessels could overturn in the strong currents and cold water could cause hypothermia.

Lieutenant Jim Goss of the NH Fish and Game Department said he would not discourage anyone from enjoying the warmer weekends, but he said boaters, especially visitors not as familiar with the waters, need to be extra aware and cautious at this time.

"People want to be out there," said Goss. "People need to be aware, and we do enforce lifejacket laws a little more vigorously."

By law, personal flotation devices need to be on the boat, and Goss said preferably in arms reach.

Goss said smaller boats, kayaks and canoes may pose more of a risk out on the frigid, early spring waters.

"I see a lot of boats not adequate for the water or fishing on. In this case, these boats should stay near the shore," said Goss.

He said those boating in vessels such as 12-footers or "John boats" may need to take extra precautions, as these vessels may seem adequate until the wind or an unexpected storm turns up.

Goss said that last spring, in the early weeks of May, two Meredith men drowned in a small boat. Because they did not have direct access to the shore, they capsized easily.

"I see all different boats out there. On a flat, calm day, it's not a problem, but if the wind and waves start up, it can get rough," said Goss. "I certainly wouldn't discourage people to go out and fish, but just use some precautions. You wouldn't last long in those waters."

Sergeant Josh Dirth of the NH Marine Patrol said over the past few years, the number of "paddlers" has increased, since boating and fishing on smaller vessels is considered to be a cheaper, "greener" alternative to larger boats.

"This has really taken off. It is a great alternative, but is also brings some other dangers. You are that much closer to the water," said Dirth. "The history on the size of the craft involved (in terms of fatalities) tends to be that smaller size. I have seen smaller crafts in high winds. The water and the weather can change so dramatically. This can be a precarious equation."

Dirth said it never hurts to take extra precautions before hitting the water, by checking the weather, leaving a note to let people know where you are, and by bringing someone else along for the day.

He referred to a March 25 drowning incident, when a man was traveling on the Connecticut River in a kayak that overturned in high water conditions.

Dirth said safety devices are crucial this time of year. Even wearing a whistle on a lifejacket or bringing along a blow horn may help in an emergency and is more effective than "waving your hands in the air."

Dirth said he would encourage every boater to go beyond the law and actually wear their lifejackets, because even if the jackets are in arm's reach on the boat, it might not help in rough weather or water conditions.

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