Most police officers walk the streets, many patrol the city in cars and even a few keep things safe on motorcycles and bicycles, but those officers are patrolling the land.
In Boston, there is another type of patrolman, the members of the Boston Police Harbor Patrol.
Seventeen officers and eight boats make up this unique part of the Boston Police Department (BPD). Boston Harbor is a busy harbor by any standard, with both commercial traffic, recreational boaters, commuters and fisherman all sharing and traversing the same waterway. With that, the harbor is patrolled by not only the police, but also the Coast Guard, Environmental Police, State Police and MassPort.
There is a lot of traffic to manage.
“We all work together,” said BPD Officer Steven Ryan. “Jurisdiction is decided by geography or event.”
Ryan has been seven years with the Boston Harbor Patrol and 17 years total as an officer and 20 years prior in the Coast Guard.
“I have been running boats since I was 18,” said Ryan.
When asked why he joined the Harbor Patrol he jokingly replied, “I was getting old and my back and knees weren’t holding up to the beat in Roxbury.”
Officer Ryan and his fellow officers patrol the harbor every day, 365 days a year. Their job is to make sure everyone is safe and following the regulations and laws of the Harbormaster. Most the time, this comes down to stopping boaters using excessive speed or creating large wakes.
“We are all assistant harbormasters,” said Ryan. “Boston Harbor is regulated by Boston Police, the Harbormasters,” said Ryan.
The police are there as part of security package every time a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tanker comes into port and for major events, such as July 4th on the Esplanade, the tall ships and the sailing/turn around of the USS Constitution.
“We just monitor all the vessels we come in contact with,” said Ryan.
When asked about boaters drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol, Ryan responded that they do not set up Boating Under the Influence (BUI) checkpoints.
“Weekends it (drinking) can be an issue, but because of the law enforcement presence we don’t have it as bad as other areas have it. Arrest? Hardly!” he said.
People know not to act up with all the law presence on the harbor, explained Ryan.
As he explained his duties, Ryan and his crew pulled a few boats over that were speeding in the no wake zone, and just asked to them to politely slow down.
“Law enforcement is a discretion. We could have pulled them over, gone through their entire boat looking for life jackets, but they were nice and we would rather be a friend,” said Ryan, after stopping a boat with a man and his family going a little too fast in the harbor. “I don’t want them to mistake kindness for weakness,” Ryan added. “On a Saturday morning with mom, pop and the kids on the boat, I don’t want to embarrass him (the captain dad).”
Most days it can be slow, but in the evenings there are a lot of sailboat races and recreational boaters taking to the harbor as they get out of work.
“Monday-Thursday during the day, there isn’t much,” explained Ryan. “We spend a lot of time patrolling downtown, that’s where most the people are.”
The Harbor Patrol recently took part in securing the waterfront area around he court house for the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev court hearings and trial, as well the recent Swim Across America relay race – where they made sure boaters were not getting too close to swimmers during that 22-mile relay swim.
They are also out anytime the Tall Ships are entering port.
“A lot of people look at us and say we’re not police, we’re harbormasters,” said Ryan. “That’s not the case. We are the Boston Police.”
The Harbor Patrol likes to m
ake itself visible, especially to partiers boarding booze cruises and party boats. They want people and boat operators to be safe. Although there may not be many ‘May Day’ or ‘SOS’ calls, people can still easily get hurt or die with boats, large or small.
Patrolling from the inner harbor around Charlestown all the way out to Boston Light and the islands, the Harbor Patrol is there to make sure people are safe and obeying the laws on the water.
“Law enforcement is our job,” exclaimed Ryan.