Nassau County police officers prepare to cast off aboard their newest patrol boat.
Bordered by 175 miles of running shoreline, Nassau County is located in the center of Long Island in New York State. The Nassau County (N.Y.) Police Department is charged with patrolling 225 square miles of marine district water 365 days a year.
The coastline comprises a wide assortment of conditions, including open-ocean waters, often with high seas, shallows, winding and narrow inlets, bays, canals, harbors, wetlands and the Long Island Sound, each posing a different challenge for a police boat.
Nassau County has four patrol boats, two on the south shore of the county and two on the north shore. There are also four smaller enforcement boats assigned to each patrol boat.
It is the most congested boating county in New York State, which has 525,000, registered recreational boats, 40,000 of them in Nassau County. Not included in that number are commercial traffic, party boats and fishing boats.
From April to November, officers are on the water 24 hours a day, and for the remaining months, 12 hours a day.
Faced with an aging fleet, last year the county began its research to find the best type of boat that would adapt to the changing conditions and the volume of calls. The boat would also have to be low-maintenance and fast enough to respond to emergency calls.
After many months of planning, the county decided on a unique, all-aluminum vessel, built by Kvichak Marine Industries, of Seattle Wa. It would replace the 36-foot fiberglass boat the county had owned for 17 years.
Jet Propulsion Challenges
Hamilton 321 jets power the boat. This water jet propulsion replaces the conventional propellers and shafts found on most police patrol boats.
The decision was based on the need to operate in shallow waters and to increase the safety of the underwater search-and-recovery teams and the public.
However, the decision also presented some problems to the officers who had to learn how to operate the boat.
"You don't have to be concerned with running gear under the boat interfering with or jeopardizing the safety of a person, especially in high seas," said Officer Joel Fucco of the Nassau County Marine Bureau.
But, he added, "Because it operates quite differently than standard propeller drive, it takes more time to learn."
The manufacturer does not offer any training on the boat. When the boat was first delivered, the officers had to be self-trained. Even following weeks of owning and operating the vessel, they still appeared somewhat uncomfortable with it.
After a few months of operating the boat, officials in the marine bureau decided that all officers who worked on the new craft would be required to undergo 60 hours of training for operation and crewmanship.
"You need more hands-on attention at the helm, and you have to be more aware of the wind and the current," said Fucco. "You have to learn to counter the effects of them. It is very labor-intensive. It can be very subtle. The current, tide and wind, can change direction or attitude or throw you off course."
The interior of the boat features the latest in marine technology, including D.G.P.S. navigational satellite systems.
He explained, "In keel boats, the helmsman can leave the helm for a short amount of time to accomplish a task. That is not an option on this boat. It would be a problem."
The boat can "turn on a dime" and can even be powered to maneuver sideways. But without standardized training, driving the boat becomes a learn-as-you-go exercise for its owners.
"It does handle differently and it does take some getting used to," said J. Chris Lobkovich, project manager for Kvichak Marine Industries. "There is a certain amount of compromise in any boat design. It is simply a matter of getting used to it. The difference is in the drive system and how to handle it."