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Newport decides to give permits for racing boats to exceed harbor speed limit

Newport decides to give permits for racing boats to exceed harbor speed limit
Boats leave the starting line in the 2017 Flight of Newport Beach sailboat race in Newport Harbor. The City Council gave initial approval to allow human- and wind-powered boats to exceed the harbor's usual speed maximum during races or organized practices with a city permit. (File Photo)

Racing boats likely can soon break the 5-knot speed limit in Newport Harbor.

On a 4-0 vote Tuesday, the Newport Beach City Council gave initial approval to allowing human- and wind-powered boats to exceed the usual speed maximum during races or organized practices with a city permit.

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Generally, harbor boaters are held to a “no wake” 5-knot speed limit, equivalent to about 5.8 mph on land. However, races like the Beer Can regattas, a local summer tradition, have been informally exempt from the speed limit. The exception has been an on-and-off issue for years.

Councilman Brad Avery, a waterman and former city harbor commissioner, said racing and accompanying support boats tend not to go much faster than about 8 or 9 knots, though still outside the limit.

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“The most important thing is that people operate vessels within the laws and rules of the harbor, and so this enables them to do that,” he said of the racers permit. “The activities have been going on in this harbor for the last 40 years at least in the rowing and sailing areas.”

The exception wouldn’t set a ceiling on speed, though racers would be required to operate their boats safely.

The permits would be valid for as little as a day or as long as six months. The city is studying whether to charge for the permits and how much, according to Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs.

Over the summer, the city sent a draft of the proposed change to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways, which state law required it to do before changing its harbor code. The state agency did not respond, city staff said.

In Tuesday’s vote, council members Kevin Muldoon and Scott Peotter were absent and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recused himself because of his business interests in the harbor.

The council can make the change final with a second vote later this month.

Paddleboard safety

The council also voted 4-0 to approve a flier with safety tips for stand-up paddleboarders.

The fliers will be distributed to businesses that rent out the boards to help remind paddleboarders that they should know how to swim before going on the water, should have a life jacket and whistle, wear a leash if available, give boats the right of way, wave the paddle or paddle to a dock for help if needed and not disturb sea life.

Paddleboard safety also has been an on-and-off issue in Newport Beach. The Harbor Commission picked it up again last year after the death of a man who fell off his rented board in Huntington Beach. The man reportedly couldn’t swim and wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

In May, the Harbor Commission recommended a policy in which companies that rent stand-up paddleboards would need to fit their boards with leashes, though their use would be optional. The City Council has not acted on the proposal.

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