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Haverhill

April 26, 2014

City Council looks at stricter rules for paddleboarders

Users would be required to wear life belt, stay out of navigable channel

NEWBURYPORT —The long arm of the law appears ready to stretch into the middle of the Merrimack River.

City councilors on Monday are expected to take action on a measure to pass stricter rules regarding the use of stand-up paddleboards.

This is a relatively new sport that calls for a user to mount a large board, and propel it by paddling from an upright position. Some users launch in the Merrimack River, though paddlers also can be seen in the ocean during the summer months.

“The Coast Guard has declared a paddleboard a vessel but we don’t have local ordinances to regulate them,” said City Councilor Robert Cronin, who chairs the Public Safety Committee of the City Council.

“This measure will provide some local rules, about safety on the board and about staying away from the high-traffic areas of the river that carry the big boats.”

Councilors will be asked to amend an ordinance so local law requires users wear a Coast Guard-approved life belt (personal flotation device).

Also, windsurfers, waterskiers and stand-up paddleboarders will be prohibited from operating “in the navigable channel of the river, or in the mooring areas” of the river.

“We want to ensure safety on the waterfront,” Harbormaster Paul Hogg said yesterday. “The river can flow at a rate of 10 knots, and we want to add safety language regarding the paddling, and certainly require life belts.

“There’s a lot of traffic in the middle of the river; we want to make sure it travels smoothly,” he said.

City officials say that last summer, a woman took her dog out on her paddleboard on the Merrimack. The craft was near the middle of the river when the paddler fell off, as did the dog.

No injuries were reported, but boating authorities say that this is an example of what they don’t want to happen — the woman should have been wearing a life preserver, and should not have paddling near the center of the moving river, they said.

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