NORWALK, Conn. -- The Marine Unit of the Norwalk Police Department will be out making sure people are safe this weekend as part of National Safe Boating Week.
The Marine Unit patrols the 40 square miles of water that includes Norwalk Harbor, Five Mile River and Wilson Cove. The unit consists of four members: Sgt. Peter LaPak, who commands the unit, and Officers Russell Ouellette, Michael Silva and Bruce Lovallo. They patrol using a 31-foot aluminum vessel as well as two smaller inflatable hull boats.
During the weekend, LaPak said they will be making inspections of boats to make sure that they have proper safety equipment such as life preservers, distress signals, flares, fire extinguishers and that they operators are boating safely.
It is important for boaters to take safety seriously before heading out on the water, he said. Boaters should always have a "float plan" -- telling someone before heading out where they will be going and approximately how long they will be gone. That way, if something happens, someone on land knows that they may need assistance.
Also, "parents need to make sure that they have appropriate-size life jackets designed for children," he said. Children wearing adult life jackets can often slip out in the water.
LaPak has been with the Marine Unit for 25 years and a sergeant for 10 years. Like many of the other officers in the unit, he is also a boater in his spare time.
"It’s a nice assignment, and we get to work in a beautiful environment," LaPak said. But just like patrolling the streets, officers in the Marine Unit have to remain vigilant and attentive. "We're looking at everything from registration to where people are sitting on the boats."
The unit deals with 200 to 600 calls per year. Its tasks include helping disabled boats and enforcing regulations such as speeding and not creating wakes in the harbor, and making sure people on stand-up boats are using life rafts, as is required by a new state statute. They also provide assistance to nearby communities, as well as the Coast Guard and the Norwalk Fire Department's Marine Unit.
"We work a lot of calls together," LaPak said. Sometimes units may be working to help one boat and receive a call of another distressed boater several miles away. "There's plenty to go around out here."
LaPak said that many boaters enjoy seeing the presence of the Marine Unit out on the water. He said that boaters are often helpful to one another, and will usually assist each other if one gets in trouble.
"We're lucky. A lot of the time our interaction with the public is usually very positive."