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Archaic 5mph speed limit for sailing boats soon to change

by The Log/Sail-World Cruising on 7 Oct 2011
Newport Harbor sailing - but don’t go faster than 5 mph! SW
While it's power boats that get most of the criticism for speeding on waterways and ignoring the rules, one US waterway has so restricted speed that yachts involved in racing have been in danger of being booked for speeding.

However, common sense will soon prevail in Newport Harbor in California where the 5 mph speed limit has been hampering sailing boats as well as power boats for over 100 years. Plans to exempt yachts are now moving forward, according to California's The Log.


With the proposed plan, event organizers will now need to apply for a permit from the city to get exemption from the harbor speed limit. Miller said that city staff members are working on creating an online application form that can be submitted with minimal paperwork or difficulty.

'The idea of giving a speeding ticket to somebody in a sailboat race is one of those things that makes people scratch their heads and wonder what the government’s doing,' said Councilman Keith Curry. 'It’s surprising to me that, in our 105-year history, it took us this long to get around to fixing that problem.'

Orange County Sheriff’s Harbormaster Tom Slayton said the Harbor Patrol fully supported the ordinance, but wanted a clause added to the basic speed law stating 'you can never go faster than what is safe.'

While the current Harbor Patrol staff has not been writing citations for sailing vessels speeding in the harbor, incidents in years past were brought up where officers were said to have shut down races when they believed racers were speeding or boating recklessly in the harbor.

'We’ve had great relations with the Harbor Patrol for the last few years -- but before that, it was slightly more strained,' said Newport Beach resident Andy Rose, a regular Thursday night participant in the harbor’s Beer Can races.

Rose believes that by adding the new language to the basic speed limit rules, future Harbor Patrol administrations might interpret sailing differently, and find boats going over the speed limit in close proximity to each other -- inherent in racing -- as triggering a violation.

'I’m just worried about enforcement,' Rose said. 'This is a very objective ordinance, but as soon as you put in something subjective, then it’s going to be relying on the people that enforce it.'

The next step in the process to get the plan approved will be for city officials to file a copy of the speed limit exemption permit plan with the California Department of Boating and Waterways. Miller said Cal Boating would most likely not have any issue with the exemption, and expects the final draft of the ordinance to be presented to council members in October or November.

'We hope to have it in place and functional with an application process all in time for next summer’s 2012 sailing season.'
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