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Baker files legislation to improve water safety and awareness

  In an effort to bolster public safety and awareness at state parks and beaches, Governor Charlie Baker recently filed legislation to increase fines for swimming outside designated waterfronts across the Commonwealth. The legislation, “An Act Relative to Enhanced Enforcement of Swimming Limitations,” would increase the maximum fine to $500 for entering or swimming in any waters on Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) property that are not designated for swimming. The legislation would provide an appropriate penalty for swimming in unsafe areas and deter park visitors from considering these dangerous activities.

“Swimming at undesignated waterfronts is dangerous and too often leads to tragic consequences, and this legislation is part of a comprehensive plan to discourage risky behavior and ensure the safety of visitors to our state parks and beaches,” said Baker. “While we encourage all to visit our beautiful coastal and inland beaches, we urge the public to exercise caution and not swim at any body of water that has not been designated for swimming by state or local authorities.”

“From the Berkshires to Cape Cod, Massachusetts is home to many waterbodies and coastlines offering great opportunities for outdoor recreation; however, we have already seen far too many tragic accidental drownings occur already this year,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature to move quickly on these important changes.”

Under current law, penalties for violating the DCR’s rules and regulations vary depending on whether a property was once part of the Metropolitan District Commission, with fines ranging from $20 to $200. The filed legislation establishes a uniform maximum fine of $500 for entering or swimming in waters other than those designated for swimming by the DCR.

At its many designated waterfronts throughout the state, the DCR offers services like clearly marked swimming areas with ropes and buoys, lifeguards on-duty, and water quality testing. Undesignated waterfronts do not receive such services, and may also have hazardous features like murky water, steep slopes, and aquatic plant species, creating a potentially dangerous situation for swimmers.

“The legislation filed today reflects the Baker-Polito Administration’s commitment to the health and safety of Massachusetts residents and visitors,” said Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides. “Increasing fines is a critical part of our comprehensive strategy to prevent potential tragedies and ensure all visitors to the Commonwealth’s state parks have a safe and enjoyable experience.”

“DCR welcomes visitors of all ages and swimming abilities to our waterfronts each summer season, and we ask that each person heed park signs, staff direction, and water safety recommendations,” said DCR Commissioner James Montgomery. “The increase in fines for swimming in unsafe waters on DCR property is another example of the Administration’s continued commitment to increasing safety throughout our state park system.”

DCR has been coordinating with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) and the Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) to implement new measures to enhance public safety and discourage swimming at undesignated waterfronts. DCR has produced and posted dozens of new swimming safety signs at DCR parks and beaches. These signs will be in multiple languages at select areas such as Houghton’s Pond within the Blue Hills State Reservation in Canton. DCR has also increased outreach for the agency’s Learn to Swim program, which offers free swimming lessons at 12 locations statewide for people of all ages.

The DCR recently announced that it has increased lifeguard pay from $17 per hour or $18 per hour for head guards to $20 per hour and $21 per hour. Lifeguards who remain committed for the entire season with the DCR will also receive a $500 bonus at the end of the season. DCR continues to actively recruit individuals to become a lifeguard at its inland and coastal waterfronts, and deep water swimming pools in the Boston Region (including Cambridge and the surrounding towns), the North Region (specifically Saugus, Nahant and East Boston), the South Region (specifically Sandwich and Westport) and the Central Region (Metro West to Worcester County). Interested individuals can apply online and are strongly encouraged to call James Esposito at 857- 214-0400 or visit the DCR’s lifeguarding webpage, application information, and lifeguard requirements can be found.

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