Jon Bingham started sailing when he was 7 years old, and started teaching sailing for the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District when he was 12.
So it’s probably not too surprising that he spends his summers now patrolling BI shores as a member of the police department’s Marine Services Unit. BIPD created the unit in 2004 to assist with search and rescue, recreational boating enforcement and environmental response, such as for oil spills or derelict vessels.
Bingham grew up on Bainbridge Island and is a 1997 graduate of Bainbridge High School. He is a lifelong water polo player and was voted the state MVP as a junior in high school.
Bingham started his BIPD career in 2005 as a part-time volunteer. He spent weekends as a lifeguard supervisor with BI parks. He left in 2011 to begin a full-time career with the Suquamish Police Department, but he returned to BIPD in 2014.
He and all of the other marine unit boat operators are required to participate in a 40-hour training course that covers vessel safety and operations, safety equipment, water survival, law enforcement and more.
Marine 8 is a 33-foot Secure All-around Flotation Equipped boat that can carry up to 18 passengers. The vessel, which operates year-round, primarily covers the 53 miles of BI shoreline, but occasionally helps with emergency assistance when requested by other agencies, such as the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry route.
“We respond to calls ranging from water/beach rescues to vessel assistance,” Bingham says in the city’s newsletter. “A lot of people on the island like walking the beach, and at least a few times each year we get someone injured on a beach that is too far from shore access to be able to be taken out by ambulance. We also respond to medical emergencies on the water, ranging from heart attacks to cold water immersion.”
He once earned a life-saving award for assisting a woman suffering a heart attack while on a sailboat near Kingston.
The marine unit also conducts vessel inspections to make sure boaters have all the required equipment and that the vessels are in good working order. “We also enforce speed and other civil regulations,” such as the “no wake” law in harbors, he added.
The Marine 8 boat is equipped with high-definition imaging sonar, radar, an Automatic Identification System, a micro-remotely operated vehicle, collision and depth alarms, and a computer with thermal imaging capability. The boat also features equipment for marine fire response, such as a pump with multiple nozzles. The marine unit often responds to calls with the BI Fire Department and regularly trains with BIFD crews.
The boat can go 60 mph. “The speed capability might seem extreme, but when you need help, you want the boat there as fast as possible,” Bingham said.
As for tips for boaters this summer, he said always be prepared, wear your life jacket and make sure your phone has power so you can call 9-1-1 if you have to.
“Look at the weather, understand tides and currents, understand how to use buoys, review charts and know where you are to avoid hitting the bottom,” he said. “A lot of people are somewhat unfamiliar with the sea and don’t understand how dangerous it can be if you don’t prepare.”