Marine Bureau Fires Up Its Jets

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.

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."

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."[PAGEBREAK]

"It's a whole new learning curve," said Fucco. "In a standard boat, the throttle and clutch function differently for each task, whether it is to back up, turn or go ahead. This doesn't use a clutch. The transmission is always engaged to the water jet drive. The water goes through the jets."

Another problem, said Fucco, is that the officers appear to have the most difficulties with backing up because the boat operates counter to what a twin-screw boat would do.

"In many instances, in close quarters, the operator simply leaves the wheel amidships and operates with clutches and throttles. In close-quarter operation with jet-drive boats, you have to develop a mastery with the wheel at the helm and control the buckets in tandem to achieve the maneuverability desired," he added.

"It handles completely different than any other boat. You have to consider the time you may need to become proficient with the boat," said Sgt. John Marschhauser. His advice to other departments interested in acquiring this type of boat is to "consider building in that training time."

Months after the county purchased the boat, officers are still training on it. "It takes awhile to become proficient, especially if you're used to operating a twin screw," explained Marschhauser. "You naturally react to do it in the same way you were used to - when you have no time to think. You need to become so familiar with it that it becomes second nature."

Fast and Good in the Tight Spots

Once the officers learn the lessons, they say they think the boat has many advantages.

"The side-beam maneuvers are great," said Fucco. "It has better speed and can go into shallow waters."

"The jet affords a couple of advantages: first, maneuverability; second, shallow draft. If you have a situation where you are going into shallow waters and tight spots, then it is the way to go," said Lobkovich.

Fucco added, "We can pull up to a service dock sideways. It turns on a dime and stops very quickly and in shorter distance than a propeller boat."

Emergency-response time appears to have decreased. The department's old boats had a maximum speed of 24 knots. The new vessel boasts 32 knots.

The Latest Equipment

Having written more than 1,000 navigational violations in a year, the NCPD marine bureau has acknowledged the need for the most innovative equipment.

The boat uses D.G.P.S. navigational satellite systems, which use a satellite signal to find their position. "It lets us know our latitude and longitude to the 1,000th of a degree," said Fucco. He added that it also uses, as standard equipment, a 100,000-candlepower spotlight.

The boat has a beam of 13 feet, 5 inches and a draft measuring 2 feet, 7 inches. Its overall length is 41 feet, 9 inches. The displacement of the boat is 27,000 pounds when fully loaded, and it has a fuel capacity of 250 gallons.

It is powered by twin diesel engines, fitted to twin disc reversing marine transmissions. The engines are coupled to a pair of propulsion jets through U-joint shafts.

According to Fucco, the Nassau County Police Department is happy with its choice of this vessel, despite training problems. But, he does advise departments that do not have the same conditions to carefully consider what type of boat they may want. "If they have shallow waters, this is certainly a consideration. Otherwise, I would stick with the standard."

Lobkovich agreed. "The specifics of each department must be looked at. A customer can come to us and tell us what he wants in a boat, based on their needs, or he can say he is not sure what he needs."

While the jet-driven boat has many advantages, any department considering this type of craft should test it first and allow the officers enough time to learn its operation.

For more information:

Shelly Feuer Domash is a free-lance writer based in New York and a longtime, regular contributor to POLICE.

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