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Posts Tagged ‘Harbor Patrol

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Note: This “Maritime Sunday” is a repost of “Stronger than Fear” from September 12, 2010

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Superman do?

This governing logic which demands that one draw a line and say “No more” compels some to step forward and personally form a barrier between law and chaos. To leave behind the mundane, don a colorful uniform, and fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

Such men and women that display this sort of behavior may often found in the employ of the NYPD, and one elite unit of that inestimable organ of the municipality is the redoutable NY Harbor Patrol.

Witness 2 generations of their patrol vessels, plying the estuarine tides of the River of Sound– commonly known as the East River to modernity.


The Defender class comes standard with full cabin to protect the crew from weather and an independent forced air diesel heater, both of which provide the crew with the maximum amount of comfort and minimal fatigue. The Defender has the direct benefit of years of evolutionary USCG Non Standard boat history to maximize its operational availability. Just one sea trial will prove that the Defender Class is unmatched in performance, work ability, fit, finish and quality.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Batman do?

The job of these amphibian officers is to protect and patrol the harbor of New York, assist maritime travelers experiencing mechanical or existential trouble, and to enforce a strict security cordon around the archipelago. In the age of the terror war, the strategic patrol of waterfront infrastructure and detection of multi national sapper units (called terrorists) has been added to their list of duties.

This is the NYPD unit that once was originally formed out of a bunch of beat cops in 1857 who, with a rowboat, were tasked with busting up a gang of river pirates called the Swamp Angels that operated out of an open sewer on Cherry Street in Manhattan. Today, Harbor unit is an elite and coveted posting.

An already impossible patrol area coupled with decades old technology and an expanded mission has demanded a few upgrades to equipment, and the acquisition of some “wonderful toys”.

from wikipedia

Commanding Officer of Harbor Unit – Deputy Inspector David Driscoll

On March 15, 1858, five members of the New York City Police Department rowed out into New York Harbor to combat piracy aboard merchant ships lying at anchor. The NYPD Harbor Unit has existed ever since, protecting life and property. With hundreds of miles of inland waterways to cover, the unit operates 27 boats from three bases.

For underwater work, the department used to contract with private diving companies when weapons or other evidence had to be recovered from the bottom of New York’s many rivers and waterways. In the early 1970s, however, the Harbor Unit formed a specialized scuba team that today numbers around 30 officers. Unlike many police dive units, whose members dive only part-time, NYPD divers are assigned to the unit full-time. (The exception are some scuba-trained officers in regular patrol units who are detailed to the team temporarily during the busy summer months.) In addition to the normal duties of evidence recovery, the Scuba Team’s mission has expanded since 9/11 to include a counter-terrorism role. For air-sea rescue work, the Harbor Unit keeps two divers assigned to the Aviation Unit 24 hours a day, seven days per week, all year round. These divers will work with their counterparts in the FDNY, who arrive at incidents by fireboat or rescue company.

image from wikipedia

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Iron Man do?

I admit it, these safeboats that seem to be multiplying all across the harbor are amongst my favorite subjects to focus in on when they pass. Each one of the “services” has a configuration specific to its mission, a suit of armor tailor made for the tasks at hand…

– the Coast Guard ones have big honking machine guns…

– FDNY a water cannon…

– even the National Parks Dept. Police have their own version

– collect them all!


New York also is one of the world’s busiest seaports. Manhattan itself is an island. Moreover, the five boroughs are surrounded by water. According to NYPD Lieutenant John Harkins; “ New York City has 184 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, and we have over 546 square miles of inland waterways…. (and) the city is a major hub of international ship borne commerce.”

The policing of New York’s waterways are provided by the men and women of the NYPD Harbor Unit. The Harbor Unit is on the cutting edge of marine law enforcement. From its 3 bases and 27 boats, the Harbor Unit provides the City of New York with a marine force that is equipped to handle all water borne security, public safety and rescue concerns. This includes: enforcement of maritime laws, missing persons in the water, evidence recovery, air-sea rescues,, narcotics interdiction, anti-terrorism and security for United Nations. To accomplish this mission, the NYPD Harbor Unit works closely with state and federal law enforcement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Lex Luthor do?

There’s just something I love about the way that these small vessels crash over the water, a latent desire to see it really open up and go top speed. These defender class boats remind me of old science fiction shows from the 70′s, of a colonial viper or earth starfighter.

These boats were built in accordance with a governing military hardware design philosophy called “the weapons platform”. It doesn’t matter what configurations an individual user might install, the chassis is always standard, and one need install or replace only sensors or weapons at one’s own discretion. The United States Navy “Carrier fleet” concept is the ultimate application of this notion.

I often wonder what these boats may be electronically talking to as they patrol, whether they be wireless cameras or some of the more… esoteric gear which is rumored to be at work in the harbor. Police methods are ingenious, and varied.


From “invisible” helicopters and mini-submarines to radiation-detecting knapsacks, the NYPD is employing a new generation of high-tech tools to combat terrorism and fight crime.

Officers are getting equipped with space-age gadgets like handheld bomb detectors, being trained in futuristic flight simulators, and traveling in gadget-filled, crime-solving vans. And more gizmos are being tested every day.

The NYPD’s Scuba Team is evaluating devices that allow divers to see underwater sonar images on LCD screens attached to their masks instead of blindly searching murky rivers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Spider Man do?

Great responsibility accompanies great power, and these police officers- roughly 150- are entrusted with the patrol of nearly 200 miles of coastline and 576 square miles of navigable water. On a warm summer evening such as the one enjoyed when these photos were shot, this seems to be the best posting in the entire NYPD, but remember, they’re out there in blizzards and thunderstorms.


The officers are likely to remain officers, they said, since few harbor unit members make detective.

”You’d basically have to save the mayor’s son from drowning,” Officer Parkin said, looking up toward Gracie Mansion and Carl Schurz Park, with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive running under its promenade.

They made a U-turn and headed back south, toward the Battery, where a Staten Island ferry boat passed, large and empty and brightly lighted.

”Rush-hour ferries,” Officer Whelan said, ”big targets.”

On the Hudson River they passed air vents to the Holland Tunnel, a tall brick structure at the end of Pier 34. A blip on the radar screen off the starboard bow turned out to be a sightseeing boat. Through the squad’s night-vision binoculars, dark undersides of piers were lighted up in Day-Glo green.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would the Punisher do?

The smaller and older of the vessels is a 25 foot fiberglass Parker, which (in its civilian configuration at least)is a 200 HP fishing boat converted over to police duty. Cop hull, cop screws, cop seats, cop bilge pump…sorry, the Blues Brothers are intruding again.

These craft offer a lightweight and shallow draft capability, and the silhouette they offer is reminiscent of older generations of vessels that once fished the coastlines of the north eastern United States in great multitudes. This makes a lot of sense, procuring equipment from the mass market for use by the gendarme, although the manner in which the Parker crashes the waves when at speed must be a great source of discomfort to those onboard.

But, if crime is a disease, NYPD is the cure.

from 1893, at

NEW BOAT FOR HARBOR POLICE; THE PATROL BUILT FOR SPEED AND EFFECTIVE WORK. To be Launched Near Baltimore To-morrow — As Handsomely furnished as a Private Yacht — Fitted for Fire and Wrecking Purposes as Well as Police Duty — Over 143 Feet Long and Constructed of Steel — Her Estimated Speed Sixteen Miles an Hour — Provided with a Powerful Searchlight.

check out these historic shots of Patrol at

photo from

and here’s a link to a movie of Patrol capturing some pirates in 1903

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What would Captain America do?

also from, in 1889


The degenerate successor of the picturesque pirate of history and romance is the modern “water rat” or river pirate. The operations of thieves of this kind in the waters around New-York led to the establishment in 1857 of the present police patrol of New-York Harbor.

also from

Sec. 157 When a boat shall bring prisoners ashore, it shall be the duty of one or more of the crew, to transfer them to the patrolmen on land, who shall convey the prisoners to the nearest station house.

Sec. 158 In addition to the ordinary baton of a patrolmen, each member of the harbor police shall be armed, while on duty, with a revolving pistol and a cutlass.

Sec. 159 Each boat, while on duty, shall be continually moving, unless engaged in watching some suspected place or vessel.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another specie of NYPD Patrol boat, a retired one which I’ve had the privileged of having actually boarded, is Launch 5, aka the Patrolman Walburger.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 6, 2012 at 3:02 am

exhalted beyond thought

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Police methods are varied, and ingenious.

The NYPD Harbor patrol, staffed by fierce and dedicated mariners, has become quite modern of late. Recently noticed, but in their use for some time, was this Defender class boat patrolling the malign waters of the 21st century. The military variant of this watercraft carries an esoteric catalog of weapons and electronics, but the civilian police version shares only a love for speed and adept maneuvering with it’s Coast Guard cousins, and is not equipped with the high caliber machine gun on its prow.


The Defender class comes standard with full cabin to protect the crew from weather and an independent forced air diesel heater, both of which provide the crew with the maximum amount of comfort and minimal fatigue. The Defender has the direct benefit of years of evolutionary USCG Non Standard boat history to maximize its operational availability. Just one sea trial will prove that the Defender Class is unmatched in performance, work ability, fit, finish and quality.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Vigilant, notice that the officer noticed me taking his picture, which will be apparent if you click through to the larger incarnations of the image found at Flickr. The boat appeared to slice through waves, and it’s general appearance was that of a predator, silvery quick and able to strike at any time it chose. Comic book metaphors ring out, and if outfitted with large wing shaped hydrofoils and a certain insignia, this could very well be the Batboat of the late 1970’s come to life.

from wikipedia

The importance of the container shipping industry is equally matched by its vulnerabilities to terrorist attack. The U.S. maritime system consists of over 300 sea and river ports with more than 3,700 cargo and passenger terminals. The United States and global economies depend on commercial shipping as the most reliable, cost efficient method of transporting goods, with U.S. ports handling approximately 20% of the maritime trade worldwide. The volume of trade throughout the U.S. and the world creates a desirable target for terrorist attack. An attack on any aspect of the maritime system, mainly major ports, can severely hamper trade and potentially affect the global economy by billions of dollars. The security of ports and their deficiencies are numerous and leave our ports vulnerable to terrorist attack. The vulnerabilities of our ports are many, leading to potential security breaches in almost all aspects of the container shipping industry. With the sheer volume of maritime traffic, there is serious concern of cargo/passenger ship hijackings and pirate attack, as well as accountability of the millions of shipping containers transported worldwide. Given the overwhelming number of ships and containers, there are many areas of concern regarding the security of U.S. ports.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Harbor Unit sped off, and as it did, I noticed the quick moving harbor pilot launch America nearby. Luckily, I was fairly close to America earlier in the trip, and got a couple of OK shots of a very capable boat. Incidentally, I’ve recently been exposed to a maritime truism that helps to distinguish when to call a water craft “boat” or “ship”. A “ship” can carry and launch a boat, not the other way around.


Developed in a direct response to the need for additional Homeland Security assets in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Defender Class boats were procured under an emergency acquisition authority. With a contract for up to 700 standard response boats, the Defender Class acquisition is one of the largest boat buys of its type in the world. The 100 boat Defender A Class (RB-HS) fleet began arriving at units in MAY 2002 and continued through AUG 2003. After several configuration changes, most notably a longer cabin and shock mitigating rear seats, the Defender B Class (RB-S) boats were born. This fleet was first delivered to the field in OCT 2003, and there are currently 357 RB-S boats in operation.

The 457 Defender Class boats currently in operation are assigned to the Coast Guards Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST), Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT), Marine Safety Units (MSU), and Small Boat Stations throughout the Coast Guard. With an overall length of 25 feet, two 225 horsepower outboard engines, unique turning radius, and gun mounts boat forward and aft, the Defender Class boats are the ultimate waterborne assets for conducting fast and high speed maneuvering tactics in a small deployable package. This is evidenced in the fact that several Defender Class boats are already in operation by other Homeland Security Department agencies as well as foreign military services for their homeland security missions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is the Sandy Hook Pilots Launch Boat “America”. Like her namesake, she’s a tough cookie that can move very quickly, but works way too hard.


All pilot vessels are maintained to a high standard, and are equipped with state of the art electronic navigation and communications equipment. All motor boats are equipped with rescue equipment, including a “Life Sling” and davit for man overboard retrieval operations. Pilot boats must operate under severe weather and sea conditions. The hull material of the pilot boats is audio-gauged regularly, and steel/aluminum plating is serviced and/or renewed when required. In general, Planned Maintenance (“PM”) procedures and Service Life Extension Program (“SLEP”) work have prolonged the in-service usage of floating equipment used in the State pilotage system, in many cases well beyond its originally intended design life.

The newest addition to the fleet, the Yankee, a 53 foot aluminum, twin screw pilot launch is stationed at the Sandy Hook pilot base in Staten Island. It is used as part of a fleet of four similar launches at the entrance of the port, and sometimes as a shuttle craft from the base to/from sea.

The fleet of four similar launches – America, Wanderer, Phantom, and Yankee allow a maintenance schedule to exist to address the substantial wear and tear on the boats throughout the year. One boat is always at sea – two others ready to go – one under maintenance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Tumultuous, storm prone, and crowded- NY Harbor is an estuarine environment of cross currents and drowned hazards. The archipelago itself must be protected at all costs, lest an out of control cargo ship or barge stray too close to a bridge or waterfront condominium. Experts on the intricate interplay of aquatic course and geographic knowledge, the Sandy Hook Pilots remain redoubtable.


The history of the Sandy Hook Pilots begins in 1694 when the population of New York City was under 3,000. In those days, the harbors of the Northeast were the commercial arteries of the New World. It soon became apparent that the aid to vessels entering and departing the port was necessary, and the Colonial Assembly commissioned a small group of local seamen to assist the ship masters as pilots. This port would eventually become one of the greatest commercial centers of the world.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 10, 2010 at 12:30 am

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