For the first time ever, Wareham police officers will patrol the waters on jet skis.
“With 54 miles of coastline, it would appear that it’s about time,” Wareham Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Kevin Walsh said in an e-mail.
The pair of shiny blue Kawasaki Ultra 300x Jet Skis were provided to the police at no cost by Greater Boston Motorsports, a major supplier of off-road vehicles to public safety agencies across the state. For the past 12 years the Arlington-based store has participated in Kawasaki Motors Corp.’s watercraft public safety loan program, which allows agencies like the Wareham Police Department to try out jet skis for 11 months for free.
Since launching the program in 1989, Kawasaki vehicles have been provided to 1,400 law enforcement, lifesaving, and boating education agencies across the country.
“This isn’t for the guys to go out and sun themselves. This is an important program,” said Barry Eisenberg, manager of Greater Boston Motorsports. “A lot of agencies would like to have them.”
Greater Boston Motorsports received 15 requests from local agencies this year, said Eisenberg. The store gave two Kawasaki jet skis to Wareham and another pair to the Massachusetts State Police.
Kawasaki boasts that this particular model of personal watercraft, with its 300-horsepower engine, is “the most powerful Jet Ski ever built.” It can accommodate up to three people and reach speeds upwards of 65 miles per hour. The model’s suggested retail value is $14,699. (The name “Jet Ski” is a registered trademark for a type of personal watercraft manufactured by Kawasaki. Other brands include Sea-Doo and Yamaha WaveRunners.)
Wareham police said the jet skis will be used for “general patrol duties, law enforcement initiatives, and the promotion of safety measures” along the coastline and beach areas in town. Police will pay particular attention to boaters who operate their vessels under the influence of alcohol and minors who try to get away with drinking booze on local waterways.
Jet skis have been used by the Massachusetts Environmental Police since 1996. Some local police departments have also used them in the past.
The Quincy Police Department launched a jet ski unit in 1999, when it received two jet skis through the same Kawasaki program. But the department no longer uses them, according to Lieutenant Robert Gillan, who leads the Quincy force’s marine unit.
Having to ride a jet ski on open ocean conditions, with decent-sized waves, is difficult for officers to do all day, he explained.
“There’s a fatigue factor,” said Gillan. “After four hours, you just want to get off of it.”
Gillan said he knows a number of police departments in Florida use personal watercraft for patrolling and responding to incidents in shallow water. Gillan said jet skis can also come in handy during special events, such as the Tall Ships, when there are lots of vessels that are close to each other, and they are useful “for maneuvering officers in and around in tight spaces.”
Overall, jet skis work better in waters that are more protected and shallow, said Gillan. In addition to that, officers had to store their radios, weapons, and gear in waterproof bags inside the jet ski, which created some “obvious tactical and communications problems,” said Gillan.
“In Quincy, our waters are not very shallow,” said Gillan. “It just wasn’t practical.”
The Halifax Police Department once considered using jet skis to patrol the Monponsett Ponds, but ultimately decided against it, according to Sergeant Ted Broderick.
“We looked at them,” said Broderick. “They weren’t quite what we needed.”
Under a similar lease-to-buy program, Halifax acquired a Sea-Doo jet boat, a 13-foot, four-passenger boat equipped with a jet drive, so there was no propeller in the water, said Broderick.
Halifax police officers used the boat for a decade and retired it a few years ago, he said.
Meanwhile, to promote safety on the water, the Massachusetts Environmental Police will offer a free safety boating course at the Houghs Neck Maritime Center in Quincy on Aug. 6, 13, and 20.
The course runs 10-12 hours in length. The normal format is five to six two-hour classes, though this may vary. Classes are for adults and children 12 years of age and older.
To sign up for the course, visit www.mass.gov/eea and go to the Massachusetts Environmental Police page.
The minimum age to operate personal watercraft in Massachusetts is 16, and teens between the ages of 16 and 18 must first pass an approved boating safety course prior to operating jet skis.