LACONIA — A daytime speed limit of 45 mph on Lake Winnipesaukee was hotly debated when it was put in place eight years ago, but experts say the restriction hasn’t had a big effect on public safety or boat sales.
Kory Keenan, who sells Formula boats easily capable of breaking that speed limit, says there continues to be a big demand for fast boats, in the same way people want sports cars capable of 200 mph even though they never drive them that fast.
“How many people drive around in a Lamborghini and never open it up?” asked Keenan, manager of Paugus Bay Marina.
People like the handling and the look of fast boats, and the looks they get from others.
“I don’t think we’ll lose high-performance boats on this lake ever,” he said.
His biggest seller is the Formula 290 Bowrider, which has twin small-block V-8 engines. It can hit speeds over 50 mph. That is as fast as most people would ever want to go in a 29-foot boat.
There are quicker vessels out there, some able to reach speeds of more than 70 mph, but they have very limited seating.
“The dynamics are changed and people want to bring their families along,” Keenan said. “They enjoy having more space.”
He said there were fears at first that the speed limit, which drops to 30 mph at night, would hurt sales, but that proved unfounded. Public safety was the reason behind the speed limits, but Keenan said that, in his opinion, alcohol plays a much bigger role than speed in boating accidents.
“Any time you incorporate speed and a lot of people in one area, there is more danger than you’d want in a perfect world, but a lot of the people who did go at higher speed were experienced boaters who were capable of handling boats at those speeds,” Keenan said.
Capt. Tim Dunleavy, of the New Hampshire Marine Patrol, said his officers write five to 10 boat speeding tickets a year, with most coming after sunset, when the lower limit applies.
He said the speed limit law doesn’t seem to have affected accident numbers. Like Keenan, Dunleavy said he thinks alcohol is the greatest factor in boating accidents.
“Historically, we have had few speed-related accidents,” Dunleavy said. “The fact that accident numbers haven’t changed is no surprise.
“We still see larger, offshore-style performance boats on the lake. Some would say not as many, some say the same.”
He said that, for some people, the cost of gasoline might be a disincentive to purchase the fastest boats, which tend to be big gas guzzlers.
Dunleavy’s main message is for people not to drink when they are driving a car or boat.
The same blood alcohol limit of 0.08 applies to both driving a boat and a car.
“Driving while impaired is a national issue,” he said. “People are recreating and they have a certain mindset. We just encourage people if they want to use alcohol, do not drive.”