The proliferation of buoys is overkill, say many. And boaters should already know the rules about reduced-speed areas like marinas and narrow lagoons before they hit the high seas, according to Sgt. Richard Brown of the New Jersey State Police Marine Safety Bureau.
Not including the cost of positioning in time for boating season and removal each fall, the state spends about $350 on each three-foot-long marker and its anchor chain. The unlit buoys, which bear the warning "Slow Speed/No Wake" in red, float near docks and channels. They function the way street signs do on a roadway.
Officials say the removal plan is a safety issue, not a cost-saving measure: Too many make navigation, especially in narrow areas, dicey when a lot of boats are on the water, Brown said.
A 1988 survey by the state Bureau of Coastal Engineering counted only 35 "no-wake" buoys statewide. Now, say officials, there are about 750, thanks to a boom during the 1990s when the use of pleasure boats and personal watercraft surged and complaints about speeding exponentially increased. If a vessel doesn’t slow down near other boats or land, it can create a mini-tsunami that results in injury or property damage.
Officials are scrutinizing placement of the buoys and will start to make decisions about which to eliminate by the end of the current boating season. Factors determining whether a buoy is retained include safety needs and aesthetics, Brown said. Buoys to undergo the closest scrutiny, he said, are those that warn mariners of a temporary or seasonal "slow speed/no-wake" area.
State laws regarding boat speed apply regardless of whether there is a warning buoy. "Mariners are expected to know all of the laws and regulations pertaining to vessel operation before they get out on the water," Brown said. It is unclear whether the state police will stage an enforcement blitz once the removals are completed, he said.
The same rules that apply to powerboats also apply to personal watercraft. Since 2009, operators of all power watercraft in New Jersey have been required to carry a state-issued certification card stating that they have passed a 60-question boating-safety examination.
Janice Spencer, whose lagoon-front vacation home is in the Beach Haven Terrace section of Stafford Township, which abuts Barnegat Bay, said she had noticed less speed on the water since the certification requirement took effect. Operating a vessel without the certification could net a violator up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
"You don’t get these kids out here who look like they’re 12 years old racing Jet Skis anymore," Spencer said. "I think people know if they get caught without that certification they could be in trouble."
Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at www.philly.com/downsashore.