Boating or marine law enforcement officers love the water. Why else would you choose a profession where you enforce laws from a vessel?
But let me present a scenario to each of you who shares this passion. The next time you are on a boat with some friends for a fishing trip (put down the beer for this one) or your family on a water-skiing adventure (you shouldn't be drinking beer on a boat with your family anyway), find the anchor for that boat. They usually weigh about 20 lbs. or so. Now find a piece of rope. Tie that anchor around your waist. Tie it securely, but in a manner that will allow you to untie it in, oh, say about 10 seconds. As you stand there with that anchor tied to your waist, would you be foolish enough to jump overboard? Imagine if you had that anchor tied to you on the boat where you currently work as a law enforcement officer and you fell or were pushed overboard. That 10 seconds would seem like an eternity and could prove fatal.
I bet some of you out there in boating land are right now standing on your enforcement vessel with an anchor securely fastened to your waist. What do I mean? Your duty belt.
Many law enforcement agencies throughout the country are tasked to provide enforcement on coastal and inland waterways. This has been my chosen duty for the last 10 years now, and has become a passion for me. In fact, I am now in my agency s training unit for boating officers. In this position I am constantly reminded and amazed that boating officers lack training in critical boating officer safety techniques and water survival.
I ve found many classes available at both the state and local levels with courses on basic boat operation, basic boating laws, safety inspections and recognizing someone under the influence. Advanced classes are available for subjects such as vessel accident investigation, water rescue and advanced boat-handling skills, but even these courses are scarce and often have waiting lists or lotteries for attendance.
What I couldn t find were tactical classes for boating officers. If they are out there, they are a well-kept secret. To that end, I want to make any and all boating officers aware of a critical issue concerning officer safety on the water: namely, the choice of duty belt worn while working in a marine environment.
Can You Get Your Duty Belt Off?
Over the years, I've seen all types of duty belts used in the boating enforcement field. They range from leather to plastic and everything in between. Most fully equipped duty belts weigh roughly 20 lbs., which, in a liquid environment, will act as a weight belt that can quickly and without warning drag an officer to the bottom, especially if the officer is fatigued or out of shape.
The next time you stand in front of your locker removing your duty belt, pay attention to just how long that takes. Now imagine trying to do that underwater. Think the ol stress factor will kick in? Add to that all the training you have ever had in gun retention, which will now likely impede your attempts at saving your own life. You know, the never give up your gun we have all lived and breathed. If you re underwater, you will want to do everything you can to give up your gun, the belt, your boots, your vest, a whistle, socks, etc. anything to get you back to the surface.
Should immediacy necessitate shedding the duty belt, milliseconds could save your life. The standard duty belt has traditionally and for officer safety reasons been designed to stay attached to an officer during even the most violent fight. Loops with snaps were designed so that if the buckle becomes unfastened, the loops will keep the belt on the officer (thus the name, keepers ). If you re a boating officer, you must change that mindset.
I ve experimented with several systems for quick release of the duty belt. My first attempt was to have all the officers in our boating unit not secure the duty belt to their trouser belt. I simply had them remove the keepers and/or affix them only around the outside duty belt and not under the trouser belt. We soon discovered the discomfort this caused when the unsecured belts moved around and rode up on the officer in the hostile marine environment.
I discovered nylon web gear sometime just after its presentation on the market. The nylon duty belt was now securely affixed to the trouser belt by Velcro . The answer to my problem had presented itself. This system was likely not invented with boating officers in mind, but it s perfectly suited for our job. With the Velcro system, an officer can quickly strip the duty belt from their person and allow it to go free for possible recovery later. This system also firmly secures the duty belt to the officer, preventing movement.
There are certainly many facets to officer safety in the marine environment, and I urge you to reflect on your situation and take an honest look at your preparedness. And for those of you who are experienced boating officers, please consider teaching boating-officer safety techniques to new officers.
Be safe out there, and stay dry.
An Eye-Opening Exercise
I recently taught a Defensive Tactics for Boating Officers class in which we required our students to jump into the water wearing a ballistic vest and a 15-lb. weight belt (simulating a duty belt). They also wore a flag-football belt with flags. After treading water for roughly five minutes, they played capture the flag, with two students attempting to get each other s flags, simulating an in-water altercation.
Afterward, the students said they would wear a life vest on duty from then on.
Safety Tip: Secure Your Weapon
A tactical boating class should stress the importance of ensuring that if you decide to enter the water, another officer remains onboard to secure your weapon, or that you utilize some sort of locker system that provides quick and secure weapon access. I teach all my boating officers that if they can avoid it, they should not leave an unsecured weapon behind.
Velcro Duty Belt Vendors
Gould & Goodrich
Uncle Mike s