Lake users should take caution during rest of the season

By Gregory A. Scibelli - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Fri., Aug. 12, 2011
Though many don't, Congmaond Lakes users should be wearing life jackets while on the lake. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.
Though many don't, Congmaond Lakes users should be wearing life jackets while on the lake. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.

While Labor Day is coming soon, there are still a lot of warm days left for swimmers and boaters to enjoy the water at Congamond Lakes. But with two drowning deaths during the 2011 summer season, local officials are advising swimmers to take more caution when swimming in the lake, due its murky waters and the potential to be pulled under.

There are safe boating rules already in place for both boaters and swimmers to follow. The chief rule is that anyone on a boat or a vessel of any kind should be wearing a life preserver. According to the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90B, which govern boating, boats should have flotation devices for every person on board.

Southwick, Mass., Police Chief Mark Krynicki, who acts as the Harbormaster for the Congamond Lakes, also advises that boaters be responsible with alcohol while on the lakes. The law does not specifically bar alcohol on boats, but does prohibit people from operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. “What we are looking for is for people to go out on the lake and act responsibly,” said Krynicki. “We are not looking to ruin anyone’s fun.”

Boaters using the lake should be observing proper boating habits, Krynicki said following the first drowning death. Boating rules, which are always in effect, state that no boat or other vessel on the lake can be operated at speeds of more than 45 miles per hour. The section of the law also gives some discretion to enforcement officers, as it states speeds must be reasonable and proper for existing conditions.

The speed limit is brought down to 10 miles per hour during nighttime hours, and all vessels must have working lights or they will be removed from the lake.

Swimming in Massachusetts waters is not prohibited and there are no rules prohibiting how, when, and where people swim on the lakes. Massachusetts state law also does not prevent lake users from jumping off boats and platforms into the water and swimming.  However, they do so at their own risk and should be wearing life jackets.

Despite the pair of tragic deaths in the lake, no new rules are expected to be instituted on the Congamond Lakes regarding swimming. The Town of Southwick does reserve the right to institute stricter rules than the state employs. But because the waters are legally in Massachusetts land, Suffield does not have any input on rules regarding lake use.

Southwick Lake Management Committee Chairman Dick Grannells said Aug. 11 that the LMC does not plan to attempt to institute more stringent rules about swimming in the lakes, and there has not been a major public outcry to have such rules put in place. “We have not had anyone coming to us and saying that they want to see new rules about swimming in the lake,” said Grannells.

Some new rules about boating are currently being considered by the Board of Selectmen, but those changes are related to recreational vehicle use during the winter.

At least one lakeside resident would be interested in seeing some restrictions on swimming, especially at night. Michael Zielinski thinks there should be no swimming in the lake at night. Even further, he suggested possibly barring lake activity after dusk.

Zielinski was one of many lake area residents in West Suffield to watch as the Southwick Police Department, Massachusetts State Police, and Massachusetts Environmental Police recovered two bodies this season from the Suffield side of the lake.

The death of Suffield resident Larry Cauley on June 19 called attention to the nighttime issue because he was out swimming with his friends at night. It took nearly 36 hours to find Cauley’s body, due to the lack of visibility in the lake.

Zielinski believes patrols at that time of the night may have prevented the tragedy. “If the cops were out there that late, it is possible they may have stopped the kids from swimming, or at least been watching them,” said Zielinski.

After seven years with no incidents, there have been two drownings this season, both within a month of each other. “They should think about shutting everyone down at night, like maybe after dusk,” Zielinski said. “It can be really dangerous out there.”

Since the implementation of a dock permitting program charging residents fees to place docks in the water, lake patrols have increased, and Southwick police and environmental police are patrolling the lake at various hours of the day.

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