On Saturday, Deputy Russ Nichols and Lieutenant Shawn Castano started their day at White’s Marina in New Hamburg where they conducted eight volunteer safety inspections of vessels at the marina.
According to Castano, members of the Marine Unit of the DCSO do not board boats unless the owner requests an inspection, except under certain conditions. During the inspections, the officers look for a variety of approved safety equipment including personal flotation devices (PFD), working fire extinguishers, navigation lights, and flare guns, among other items.
Castano pointed out that children under the age of 12 are required to wear a PFD at all times while on board a vessel. Working with BoatUS, a boating association, the sheriff’s office participates in a PFD loaner program to assist boaters that don’t have the necessary equipment. “We don’t want to end someone’s day of boating because they forgot a PFD. We have extra PFDs provided by BoatUS that we can lend to boaters so that they can enjoy their day,” said Castano.
The Marine Unit also patrols the Hudson River looking for unsafe boaters and operators of personal watercraft (PWC). Deputy Nichols said that when first introduced, PWC were operated by many individuals with little or no knowledge of safety requirements. When the law changed, requiring operators of PWC to participate in boater safety courses, the number of encounters with unsafe operators declined substantially.
Lieutenant Castano said that the DCSO works with other law enforcement agencies, including the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to make the river safe for all. While deputies cannot arbitrarily board a vessel for inspection, members of the USCG can. During certain pre-planned operations, the two agencies will employ a tactic known as “cross-decking” where a member of the Coast Guard will ride on a DCSO boat, giving the sheriff’s unit the ability to stop a boat so that the Coast Guard can conduct an inspection.
In addition to boater safety, the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Marine Unit also performs search and rescue operations with the dive team, as well as special details such as using their inflatable craft to safeguard swimmers that participate in organized races such as the Pawling Triathlon and the “2 Bridges Swim”, the latter of which takes place on the the Hudson River.
On Memorial Day weekend, both Enforcer I and II were on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie as more than 100 swimmers participated in a race between the Walkway over the Hudson and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. The boats patrolled the north and south end of the racecourse to keep other boats away from the swimmers. When boats approached the course, the deputies would first try to contact them via marine radio. If the operator could not be reached on the radio, the Enforcers would approach the other boats and tell the boaters about the race and direct them to the west side of the river for safe passage.
A sailboat registered in Nice, France was one such boat that required Castano and Nichols to approach and personally tell the boaters to move away from the race course. Another boat, with two occupants fishing for striped bass, also required personal interaction to steer them away from the course.
Dutchess County Sheriff Adrian Anderson said, “I want our boaters to have a great time out on the Hudson River, but I want them to be safe.” To that end, the Sheriff’s office conducts boater safety courses. Information on the classes can be found at https://www.dutchessny.gov/Departments/Sheriff/Boating-Safety-Courses.htm.