Marine 8 is much improved this year — and just in time, too. The Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Maritime Services Unit is gearing up to more heavily patrol the often treacherous waters of the Puget Sound during the busy boating days of summer, and their primary vessel was a bit worse for wear.
“By the very nature of the work it needs to be in the water, it needs to be available,” said Bainbridge Police Sgt. Ben Sias, the force’s maritime guru, who oversees the speciality unit.
“It’s a tremendous resource for the police department as well as the fire department,” he said. “Because of the environment we keep it in, and the nature of the work, it needed a lot work. It had air leaks and water leaks and it was kind of slowly falling apart.”
Not so anymore, though.
The 35½-foot, 1,050-horsepower response boat was recently overhauled, courtesy of a Department of Homeland Security grant, the Marine 8 Service Life Extension Program Grant.
The additions and improvements include new, more powerful engines (she’ll manage 53 knots, about 60 mph, at a clip); upgrades to the boat’s firefighting equipment and capabilities; a deluxe radioactive detection system (one of only a few in the entire region); more powerful searchlights placed in better locations; new nonskid surfacing; a new battery charging system; a power tow reel (the unit handles a number of derelict boat removals each year); large bumpers; and a special front-end attachment designed to enable the boat to abut another vessel — most likely a larger boat, like a ferry — and offload emergency responders.
“It was kind of a big achievement to get the grant,” said Sias, who filed the paperwork and jumped through the necessary procedural hoops to secure the cash.
“Navigating the paperwork was daunting,” he said. “It is [gratifying], especially because we were able to use it as soon as it came back to get somebody out of a predicament.
“We always said it was the Cadillac of boats and that it was really capable and did a lot of things really well, but it’s even better now.”
And a good thing, too.
The (currently) 10-officer Maritime Services Unit patrols the island coastline and surrounding waterways, working closely with Harbormaster Tami Allen (who often comes along on patrols), and other local and regional entities, keeping an eye out for hazards and obstructions, unsafe boating practices, injuries, accidents and pirates.
That last one, maybe not so much — though they have assisted with some anti-smuggling operations.
“One of the greatest things about this vessel is the combination of technology and power,” said Bainbridge Police Sgt. Trevor Ziemba.
The notoriously fickle nature of the Sound, and the nearly always dangerously chilly water, makes reaction time and especially critical factor in all maritime situations, he said. And Marine 8 is one of comparatively few — and certainly one of the most capable — emergency response boats docked in the immediate area.
The upgrades cost the city of Bainbridge Island about $57,000, Sias said, with the feds kicking in about $172,000 via the grant. The Bremerton-based manufacturer of the boat gave the department a sizable credit for turning in the old engines, too.
“It’s completed; it’s on budget, Sias said. “The main idea is that the boat was 11 years old, and it sits in salt water and it was on its second set of engines at the time. The idea was to continue to build on the capabilities that we’ve enjoyed for the last 11 years and extend the life of the boat.”
Nabbing the grant was an achievement as well as a vote of confidence, Sias said, which had as much to do with his paperwork-filing prowess as it had to do with the department’s reputation — but not quite.
“We’re known throughout the area as playing well with others because we’re in the middle of the Sound,” Sias said. “We’ve got the Seattle-to-Bainbridge ferry, with tremendous ridership. State Patrol, while they’re responsible for the ferries, they do not have a boat. So we would be the boat to deliver assets coming from this side, whether it be the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team or the State Patrol guys who are working the terminal or the State Patrol SWAT team.”
Whereas in other parts of the state, law enforcement agencies will often argue over authority and territory, Sias said the island department, especially in regard to maritime situations, will respond and figure out who is paying the bills later.
It’s an attitude that has not gone unnoticed.
“We have a history of getting the grants because of our reputation and I wanted to make sure the boat was going to be maintained and wouldn’t fall apart in the near future, and improve upon what we already had,” Sias said. “So I found out about the grant. It’s a complicated process and there’s a lot to it and a lot of websites and passwords that change and some of it was kind of antiquated. I had to go over to IT and have them install an older version of Internet Explorer so I could do some of the work.”
Sias began the paperwork in April 2018, and the boat was at last returned to the department in February.
Looking ahead to another busy summer in the waters around Bainbridge, Sias and Ziemba agreed that one potential threat looms a bit larger than others.
“What scares me is paddle sports,” Sias said. “People are much more likely to die in a paddle sport accident than they are in a power boating accident.
“The Sound can get very angry at times and people don’t prepare for that,” he explained. “Often alcohol and drugs are involved.”
Boaters, would-be boaters, kayakers and the generally curious are encouraged to visit the Washington State Parks website (www.parks.state.wa.us/435/Boating) for reliable information and training resources as well as the Bainbridge harbormaster website (www.bainbridgewa.gov/138/Harbormaster).
Also, the annual Bainbridge Island Boater’s Fair (scheduled for Saturday, June 8 at Waterfront Park) is a good place for islanders seeking maritime safety and legal info.