The Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office’s new Marine Patrol may be just one boat, but the two deputies tasked with driving it know it can handle a high-speed chase.
Should a boater try to evade the patrol boat, the chase would be short-lived, Lt. Jason Temple said aboard the 22-foot vessel Wednesday afternoon, Sgt. Brian Rossi at the helm navigating the Mohawk River. The boat can hit 55 mph if need be.
“Unless they get out at one of the marinas — there’s locks everywhere — they’re not going anywhere,” he said. “Unless they go on an island, but then they’re still stuck on an island.”
Rossi had just driven the 2004 Seaswirl speedboat at speeds reaching 40 mph from the Schenectady Yacht Club in Rexford west to the old Alco industrial site in Schenectady, where construction crews continued work carving out a harbor that will eventually be home to apartments, two hotels and a casino.
Sheriff Dominic Dagostino said he expects the planned Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor to bring more boaters through the county’s 26-mile stretch of the river that comes under his department’s patrol, and with that, more boaters will be speeding, boating under the influence of alcohol and without proper safety precautions and equipment. The department will increase its patrols as needed and could even add another boat if river traffic increases enough, he said.
The boat is currently patrolling on weekends, with the two deputies spending about 20 hours on the water weekly.
“The issues will all be the same, it’s just the amount of them,” Dagostino said. “It’s not just about enforcing the law, but more educating people, as well as promoting boater safety.”
Temple and Rossi started patrolling the river less than two months ago, on Memorial Day weekend, but their presence on the water is already well known, said Bob Esperti, owner of the Mohawk Valley Marina in Alplaus. The river had not had a police presence since state police suspended their regular patrols in 2011 due to budget cuts.
The patrol unit made its first arrest July 5, charging a Scotia woman with boating while intoxicated, speeding and other charges including not having flotation devices or anchor on board.
“It makes a big difference,” Esperti said. “This isn’t Lake George, this isn’t [Great] Sacandaga [Lake]. You don’t get the traffic that they get, but if somebody knows there’s an authority here, they tend to abide by the rules.”
Esperti is letting the patrol boat dock at his marina free of charge and said he is providing maintenance at a discounted rate. “We’re giving them the slip, but they’re returning the service by keeping everybody safe here,” he said.
“These two guys are really good,” he added. “They’re not out there to crucify everybody; they just want to make sure everybody’s safe.”
Rossi and Temple underwent two weeks of training in Lake George to become certified in operating watercraft and enforcing the laws of the waterway, with the first week dedicated to learning the rules and the second to driving.
“It was great for me; I had never driven a boat before,” Temple said.
And that was OK, because a lot of experienced drivers come into the course with bad habits, he said.
Temple said the river’s speed limit is 45 mph, 5 mph in front of marinas, which is meant to protect docked boats from wake damage.
As Rossi drove the boat west on the Mohawk, a tug boat slowly approached on the left, or port, side. Temple said a faster approach, even well within the speed limit, would create a decent wake.
“It causes an issue with the kayaks and canoes because they sit so low to the water,” he said. “If you get a roller, they can dump over, so we try to make sure everyone’s courteous to all the rowers.”
The Marine Patrol was created with the assistance of a $39,000 state Canal Corp. grant, with the county paying the remaining 25 percent of the $52,000 cost. The boat is on loan from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County