The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is set to receive a larger marine unit vessel after the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the Sheriff’s contract on Tuesday morning.
- The amendment adds $462,812 for a 33-foot vessel and pickup truck, bringing the contract total to $1,114,412.
- The expansion comes in response to growing tourism and the resulting increase in responsibilities for the Sheriff’s Office in the area.
In 2018, the Tourist Development Council (TDC) funded a 21-foot vessel primarily for Crab Island. Since then, tourism has expanded into surrounding waterways, prompting the need for a larger boat to patrol a greater area and handle deeper waters with more agitated sea conditions. In addition, a larger pickup truck is needed to tow the heavier vessel.
As the regulations and active patrol on and around Crab Island have increased, the commercial and recreational activities have started to spread to other parts of Choctawhatchee Bay and Santa Rosa Sound.
Captain Jason Fulghum of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office explained the situation:
- “What we’re seeing on Crab Island is an actual spreading out of people. They’re starting to leave Crab Island and move to places like the seawall, Spectre Island in the Intercoastal Waterway, and over behind Lulu’s. And with that, comes the need for a vessel that will cover more area and handle rougher sea conditions.”
The new 33-foot vessel, identified to address patrol issues encountered with the smaller boat, will help meet the marine service needs related to tourism growth, according to Fulghum. The new boat is a Silver Ships AM1100 vessel.
The new 33-foot vessel is needed for several reasons:
- Expanded area of operations: As tourism increases and spreads to other parts of Choctawhatchee Bay and Santa Rosa Sound, the Sheriff’s Office is required to patrol a larger area with more diverse and challenging conditions.
- Adverse sea conditions: A larger vessel is better equipped to handle rougher waters and more agitated sea conditions, providing a safer work platform for deputies and ensuring a more effective response to incidents.
- Handling larger offender vessels: The marine unit has seen an increase in the size of pontoon boats they encounter during patrols. Larger rental vessels, often double-decker pontoons, are becoming more common, and the current 21-foot boat struggles to maintain control during vessel stops. Captain Fulghum shared an example: “I couldn’t control the vessel I was up against because it was so much larger than the vessel that I was operating.”
- Enhanced safety: A larger vessel will improve the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to respond safely in adverse sea conditions, ultimately increasing safety for both residents and visitors in Okaloosa County.
“When you conduct a vessel stop with a boat, what you have to do is you have to actually pull up next to the boat and tie off to it. It’s called hip tying,” he explained on Tuesday morning to the Commissioners. “When you’re doing that with a vessel that’s larger than your vessel, it’s very difficult to maintain control steerage over that vessel.”
The lead time puts the vessel into service 18-24 months from now and the truck into service in November or December 2023.