Skimming across the Intracoastal Waterway at about 43 miles per hour in the town’s new rigid-hull inflatable police boat, Jupiter Police officer Jonathan Gentile turns to starboard and says the craft will provide extra protection for boaters, kayakers, divers — and even manatees.
“Driving a boat is not like driving a car that you do every day. A lot of boaters are inexperienced. We’re out here to make sure they are safe and provide rescue when necessary,” said Gentile, a Jupiter native and 10-year veteran of the police department.
Safety isn’t the only job for officers who man the boat 8-10 hours a day along the Intracoastal Waterway, Loxahatchee River and when necessary, the Atlantic Ocean. Officers have the same arrest powers as police on land.
The town paid about $181,000 for the 24-foot outboard boat, Ford F-250 truck, trailer and communication equipment. The maximum speed is about 55 miles per hour when the 300 horsepower engine — which has a 150-gallon gas tank — is at full power. Reinforced handles on the stern tow stranded boats, kayakers and swimmers. A solar panel on the canopy keeps the batteries charged.
The money comes out of the town’s impact fee budget. Impact fees come from commercial and residential construction permit fees.
The annual Jupiter police budget this year is about $20 million. The town council last year boosted the number of sworn Jupiter police officers from 111 to 116.
The boat has a 18-inch shallow draft and reinforced keel that allows the craft to operate in low water, as well as drive right up on a sandbar.
Tequesta has had a similar inflatable craft for about eight years. The boat has been beached on sandbars to rescue people who have had heart attacks and other accidents, said fire department spokesman Peter Allen.
“We’ve assisted in boating collisions, fishing accidents, shark bites, drownings and other incidents,” said Allen.
Rigid-hull inflatables are especially useful on the often-rough Jupiter Inlet, which is considered a non-navigable waterway by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Rigid-hull inflatables operate well in high surf. They are tougher to flip over,” Jupiter Police Major Chris Smith said.
The boat is about 7 feet above the water. That will allow it to pass under most conditions below 90-year-old Loxahatchee River bridge that usually has about a 6-to-8-foot clearance. All Aboard Florida’s Brightline plan calls for increasing the height another four feet.
Jupiter’s new boat — police also have a 28-footer — has been operating for about a week. Besides the expected rescues, towing, warnings and other activities, police will be telling boaters to slow down during manatee season that runs from November-April.
“There is a lot of water in Jupiter that needs protection. Now if one boat is not operating, we have another,” said Smith.