Riding the waves
with the OPP Marine Unit
By Liz Dadson
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South Bruce OPP constable Dave Hackney (R) of the marine unit, conducts a vessel inspection off the front of the "HH Graham II" police patrol boat Thursday morning
Onboard the "HH Graham II," heading out from Kincardine Harbour past the Cottrill Condominiums
The patrol boat hits high gear as it leaves the Kincardine shoreline far behind
The view of Kincardine from the "HH Graham II" in Lake Huron far from shore; the Knox Presbyterian Church steeple can just be seen in the distance
Heading back into the channel at the Kincardine Harbour, with the Kincardine Lighthouse in background
We all have a general idea of what the job's like for an OPP officer, but what if you take those enforcement duties and transfer them to Lake Huron?
Six members of the local media had an opportunity Thursday morning to ride along with officers of the OPP Marine Unit and find out first-hand what's involved in enforcing the rules on the water.
South Bruce OPP constable Kevin Martin, community services officer, shepherded media personnel onto the "HH Graham II," the OPP patrol boat, where they were met by South Bruce OPP acting sergeant Paul Richardson and constable Dave Hackney, part of the marine unit.
Three reporters were allowed on the boat at a time, requiring two trips out on the water.
Taking the first voyage were Katy Hynes of myFM Radio, Ken Kilpatrick of CKNX Radio and Liz Dadson of the Kincardine Times; and on the second trip, Josh Howald of the Kincardine Independent, Scott Miller of CTV News and Sarah Boychuk of the Kincardine News, as well as South Bruce OPP detachment commander Chris Gilpin.
The OPP has had a marine unit since 1949, said Martin. It has been involved in waterway enforcement since 1961. By the 1990s, its primary job was waterway enforcement, followed by search and rescue.
Currently, there are 380 active marine-trained officers, Martin said. They patrol 94,000 square kilometres of navigable waterway, with 135 vessels in the fleet, ranging from 14-feet to 32-feet long.
The "HH Graham II" was put into service in 2002, said Martin. The marine unit enforces Canada's Shipping Act, as well as laws against drinking and boating, and unsafe operation of a vessel.
During the media voyage, the officers pulled up to a boat and did a vessel inspection.
While Hackney asked about 20 questions of the fisherman, regarding safety equipment onboard, a Special Craft Operation card, and requirements of a small vessel, Richardson was kept busy keeping the patrol boat in line with the other vessel.
"The usual crew is two officers on a patrol boat," said Richardson. "For search and rescue, it would be ideal to have four officers onboard so all the jobs are covered."
He said it takes a lot of work to be trained for the marine unit. OPP officers spend five weeks in training and then have to re-certify every year, which takes about two days. And each has to spend 20 hours per year patrolling.
The "HH Graham II" is on the water from just prior to the May 24th weekend until after Thanksgiving, said Richardson.
"We patrol from Grand Bend to Tobermory and we'll inspect about 25 boats per day on average," he said. Officers work 10-hour shifts on a work rotation that includes regular land patrol in a police cruiser.
During July and August, the patrol boat is on the water every weekend, said Richardson. It is out sporadically during the week and is on the water for special events, such as fish derbies.
There are supplies onboard, as well as a galley and a sleeping berth, if officers have to remain on the boat for an extended period of time, Richardson said.
Hackney said boaters are starting to get the message that safe operation of their vessels is not just a good idea, but it's the law.
"Every year, it gets better and better," he said. "People realize they have to have proper safety equipment onboard and enough life jackets for everyone on the boat. It's a lot better than it was 10 years ago."
As for unusual incidents during their time on the water, Hackney said they stopped a boat a few years ago that required a fire pump to keep the water out. "We escorted that boat back to shore."
He said people in this area have a lot of respect for the water. "It's a big lake with big water and high wind. A lot can go wrong, and very quickly. We're finding that people are better prepared now."
In response to a question about police chases in the patrol boat, Hackney said there have been no such incidents.
The "HH Graham II" is the largest OPP patrol boat on this part of Lake Huron, with smaller boats at Goderich and Wiarton.
The patrol boat is named after Harold Hopkins Graham who was OPP commissioner from 1973-81.
People walk along the south pier as the patrol boat heads back into the harbour
Kincardine Lighthouse seen from the
Acting sergeant Paul Richardson gets the patrol boat ready for another trip out into Lake Huron
South Bruce OPP constable Dave Hackney (L) and acting sergeant Paul Richardson of the marine unit, welcome media onto the "HH Graham II" patrol boat Thursday morning
Constable Dave Hackney (L) outlines safety rules to Katy Hynes (R) and Ken Kilpatrick
South Bruce OPP constable Kevin Martin (L) waits for Scott Miller to take some footage of the patrol boat
Acting sergeant Paul Richardson at the wheel of the "HH Graham II"
View from the patrol boat as it heads out the channel at Kincardine Harbour
Media and South Bruce OPP detachment commander Chris Gilpin (second from right) head out of the Kincardine Harbour on the second trip of the morning
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Thursday, June 07, 2012