10165129683?profile=RESIZE_710xPolice officer Nathania Lai and Lt. Michael Oh hop aboard as Highland Beach launches its new marine patrol vessel on March 1. The 28-foot boat cost the town $164,000 and will patrol mainly the Intracoastal Waterway. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

 

By Rich Pollack

Boaters along a stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway that includes portions of Boca Raton, Highland Beach and Delray Beach are likely to soon see a greater police presence on the water, largely in response to two fatal boat crashes since August.
On March 1, the Highland Beach Police Department officially launched its new marine unit, a 28-foot rigid-hull boat outfitted specifically for police usage. Equipped with twin 225-horsepower engines, the boat was manufactured in Fort Lauderdale and came with a $164,000 price tag.
Later that day, the Delray Beach City Commission accepted the donation of a 25-foot police boat from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. The boat, Police Chief Javaro Sims said in a memo to commissioners, will be used primarily on the Intracoastal and on the ocean. The city is continuing to look for another boat since the one being donated is not suited for use on shallow canals.
“The addition of boats and the implementation of the marine unit will allow the Delray Beach Police Department to address numerous complaints related to boating and waterway users consistently received throughout the year,” Sims wrote.
Already boaters have seen an increased presence of law enforcement officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in response to requests from local communities and state Rep. Mike Caruso following the crash in January that killed a 63-year-old man.
While the cause of that crash and the one in August that led to the death of a 37-year-old woman, both in Highland Beach, are still under investigation, boaters say large wakes and high speeds make that narrow area dangerous. The speed limit is 25 mph from Oct. 1 to May 31, and 30 mph the rest of the year.
Highland Beach Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, a boater who has a home along the waterway, says having a stronger police presence on the Intracoastal in south Palm Beach County will make a difference.
“Having more police boats on this stretch of the Intracoastal is like having more state troopers on Interstate 95,” Gossett-Seidman said. “When there is a known police presence, people mind their manners and follow the law. They pay attention and that’s the difference.”
Gossett-Seidman will be among several local officials who are expected to join Caruso and FWC Capt. James Yetter on a “ride along” tour of the Intracoastal Waterway later this month.
“The goal is to find out what the FWC plans to do to alleviate the safety hazard and to find out when they’re going to do it,” Caruso said. “I think this is a high priority for the cities and towns and it appears to be a high priority for the FWC.”
Gossett-Seidman said she believes the boat tour will be an eye-opener for some onboard.
“Everyone there will be able to see what it’s like to be on that section from Boca to Delray that is just slammed by boat traffic,” she said.
Caruso said he has met with FWC representatives three times and has had numerous conversations to discuss steps that can be taken. He said he’s pleased to see increased enforcement.
“I think they’re responding properly,” he said.
While Highland Beach’s police boat is now in the water, it may be a while before Delray Beach is ready to launch its marine unit. Several steps need to be taken before the donated boat will be ready for use, according to a spokesman.

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