Speed limits considered for upper Potomac River


Maryland boating officials are considering speed limits on the upper Potomac River, measures that even proponents say don't go far enough in curbing reckless boating on the popular waterway.

Under proposed regulations, speed limits of 35 knots (41 mph) would be imposed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays -- the days of heaviest use -- and 20 knots (23 mph) would be in effect from sunset to 10 a.m.

The speed limits are among several regulations state boating officials have proposed to ensure public safety along a heavily used stretch of the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to McCoys Ferry, Md.

Others would require water-skiers to keep 100 feet from other boats and docks and prohibit boats from towing more than two inner tubes, boogie boards or other floating devices.

The proposed regulations will be discussed at a public hearing at 7 p.m. today at Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Junior College. The regulations, if approved, could become effective next spring.

"We have received a lot of complaints about boating problems -- problems that have been occurring for several years now," said Bud Reaves, a natural resources manager for the state's boating administration.

Problems include congestion, noise, speeding and careless boating. They generally occur on weekends and holidays when water- and jet-skiers, power-boaters and fishermen crowd along three segments of the river -- each seven to 14 miles long, divided by three dams in Washington County.

"We need some regulations -- especially around boat ramps," said Sgt. Donald Simmons, of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. "We need more teeth in our regulations to enforce the law. People need to learn to respect each other more."

Mr. Reaves said speed limits -- there are none now, except near some public boating ramps -- will cut down excessive speed and noise and still "allow everybody to do whatever they want to do on the river.

"There is an awful lot of traffic on the river and there are a lot of twists and turns," he said.

Boating officials have attempted to address safety at boat ramps by proposing 6-knot speed zones extending 100 yards up and downstream from river bank to river bank. Speeding boats cause problems for people loading and unloading boats at ramps, Mr. Reaves and others said.

Bob Barnhart, a Hagerstown boater and a member of the Potomac Fish and Game Club, supports the state's efforts but said more law enforcement officers on the water would better curb problems.

State officials said the request for more law enforcement officers is heard across the state, but budget constraints prevent the hiring of more officers.

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