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What Is a Police Boat?

The design of the U.S. Coast Guard's Defender class harbor patrol boat served as the model for the police boats used in many cities.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
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A police boat is a watercraft which is designed to be used in law enforcement operations. Police boats are typically equipped with high performance engines which enable rapid response to emergency situations and allow the boat to pursue lawbreakers efficiently. Specialized police boats have been in used in harbors and waterways all over the world since the early 20th century, supplementing harbor police and Coast Guard personnel. Police forces in many major cities with ports have boats and the staff to crew them.

There are a wide range of uses for police boats. Some are designed for rapid response, deploying by request to assist harbor police, Coast Guard, or fire crews in harbors. Police boats can also act as escorts in ship processionals and for visiting ships which merit a police escort, such as a ship carrying dignitaries. A police boat can also used in routine patrols of the water, with the police boat responding to violations of the law as needed.

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Water rescue operations can also involve a police boat. The boat can bring personnel to the site of a water rescue, assist with traffic control in the water during rescue operations, carry evacuees, and carry crew who monitor rescue proceedings. Search and rescue operations typically also call upon police boats and their trained personnel when they are available, to minimize the amount of time someone spends in the water while searchers look for him or her. Police boats may also be involved in general traffic control in congested waters, and in safety operations which involve stopping and inspecting random boats to confirm that they are safe for use.

Several manufacturers of watercraft produce police boats, including sea-going vessels which can be used in harbors and near shore, along with craft designed for rivers, canals, and lakes. Police boats are usually customized because they need special engines, bulletproofing, and other unique equipment to be safe for use in the field. Police forces can also retrofit watercraft to meet their needs if they are not interested in ordering a specialized police boat which has been produced specifically for law enforcement.

Police officers who crew police boats have been fully trained as police officers and provided with additional training in boating skills. They may teach boating safety classes in some regions, and engage in other public relations activities such as giving tours of police boats, talking to schoolchildren about boating safety, and cooperating with other public safety agencies on various projects and community events.

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