By Nancy Arsenault
The Lake Boon Commission held a public forum at Hale Middle School Tuesday night that attracted nearly 100 people. The attendees were primarily residents from Stow and Hudson living around the lake who came to hear about the pending enforcement of local bylaws and state regulations governing boating activity on Lake Boon.
According to Captain Merri Walker of the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the boating laws understood and abided by most boaters on lakes similar to Lake Boon have been on the books for decades. It’s this common law understanding on Lake Boon that is coming under fire by law enforcement and also by some residents who want to see changes to how boaters operate on the waterway, classified as a “Great Pond” in Massachusetts.
Walker said that, as is the case with all local bylaws, if Massachusetts General Law specifies wording that is in conflict with a local bylaw, then the state law supersedes that of any local governing body; in this case, the local Lake Boon Commission. “The State laws concerning boating have been in effect since 1989,” said Walker, including those that are in conflict with Lake Boon Commission regulations. “The State law has not changed, but historically, what has been happening, is that it takes a few years for local regulations to catch up with the State laws.”
Specifically of interest to local boaters is the Massachusetts law that states that a boat cannot operate beyond head speed, or about 6 mph, unless it is more than 150 feet off shore, away from a swimmer or swimming area, dock, float, mooring or another boat. Walker told the audience to estimate that distance to be about the length of 10 average-sized boats. A distance less than 150 feet from those obstacles or the shore, requires the boat to move at a speed that keeps it progressing but creates no wake and no safety hazard. That language rules out water skiing or any type of motor craft activity that requires a speed beyond head speed.
For decades, according to some residents, Lake Boon boaters have followed Lake Boon Commission regulations, adopted as Town bylaws, that allow boat activity and speeds well above headspeed, in areas only 75 feet from shore , swimmers, boats, etc. People enjoyed water skiing directly off their docks, or travelling through nearly every area of the Lake at high speed if desired, using their own discretion as to when to throttle down for safety.
Walker made it clear that, this summer, the Massachusetts rule of 150 feet distance for a safe operating zone for higher than 6mph is expected to be followed by all power boaters and will be enforced by patrol officers on the water from the Environmental Police and the Stow Police.
Walker also confirmed, in response to a resident’s question, that the Lake Boon Commission, while retaining its role as Harbormaster of the Lake, is not permitted to be the enforcement officer for its regulations. Those regulations are town bylaws, and thus, are enforced by the Stow Police.
Sergeant Mike Sallese said that if anyone living along the Lake or out on its water observes an incident or has an issue that may involve enforcement, calls should be made directly to the Stow Police. “We are working to get everyone trained in boating safety. The boat will be in the water doing patrols,” he said.
State Law Causes Boater Concern
The attention to a distance twice as much as boaters have become used to did cause concern for many. Some spoke of the narrow channels that shore to shore total only slightly more than 300ft, in some cases, leaving only a path of about 18 feet through which to pass at a higher speed.
Some residents felt that the safety issue should not just address boaters but swimmers as well. Carol McDonald of North Shore Drive suggested adopting Lake Boon Commission regulations that would require markers or buoys be put out to demarcate a personal swimming area. “This would keep swimmers from being struck in narrow bottlenecks.” Captain Walker said, “If swimming away from shore, take all precautions to be as visible as possible. We want boaters to be aware and look beyond their own activities. We’re not trying to shut things down. Everyone just use common sense.”
While those residents most interested in slower boater traffic and more attention toward swimmers were supportive of the stricter rules, others felt that the state regulations would have a negative impact on their quality of life. Some mentioned buying their waterfront home with the sole intention of water skiing right off their dock, something prohibited within the 150 feet regulations. One speaker felt the real estate value of her property was being compromised by the shift in enforcement to the state laws.
Peter Christmas, a boat owner on the lake said, “The police can’t be patrolling 24/7. We need to police ourselves, have some common sense, and learn to play well together in the sandbox.”
Captain Walker concluded, ”We are working with the Lake Boon Commission and the Stow Police to make it a safe summer on Lake Boon. Nothing is better than a safe summer.”