Police Patrol Strategies: Patrol Boats

There are many names for the type of police patrol associated with protecting lakes, canals, rivers and harbors. Some departments call their police water patrols a boat unit, water police, harbor patrol, port police, marine unit, river police, maritime police, nautical patrols, and bay constables. All of these different names are referring to sworn police officers with powers of arrest who patrol and protect our waterways.

In the United States, the nation’s first harbor patrol unit appeared in 1853, established by the Boston Police Department. New York City Police Department created a Harbor Unit on March 15, 1858. The Baltimore City Police Department created a Marine Unit in 1860, and the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC created a Harbor Patrol in 1861. On the west coast, the Seattle Police Department created a Harbor Patrol in 1870 to enforce maritime law.

Today’s Police Boat Patrols  

The United States waterways are protected by federal, state, city, and local law enforcement agencies working in a combined effort to provide homeland security and enforce laws to insure our busy waterways are protected and safe.

Seattle Police Harbor Patrol

Harbor patrol in Milford, CT

Local sheriffs get new patrol boats

Duties of the police patrol units:

  • Conservation law enforcement
  • DUI enforcement
  • Water speed regulations
  • Navigational assistance
  • Perform boat safety inspections
  • Recreational safety
  • Drug smuggling
  • Ensures boater safety by removing debris and water hazards
  • Fishing industry compliance
  • Search, rescue, and recovery
  • Police diving operations
  • Coastal security (homeland security)
  • Investigates water-related accidents
  • Mange special water events (races etc.)

The U.S. waterways provide economic and recreational value. Protecting the waterways in police department’s jurisdiction requires accessing the right type of watercraft that is effective in accomplishing the law enforcement mission of protecting and serving. Police Marine Units train continually so that their boating and maritime skills provide confidence to the communities they serve and protect.


About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.

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