LACONIA — Capt. Tim Dunleavy and Sgt. Seth Alie have seen their share of strange things over the years as New Hampshire Marine Patrol officers.
Twice, Dunleavy has seen people who were handcuffed and wearing a life jacket jump from a patrol boat into the water.
“I don’t know where they thought they were going to go, or how they thought they were going to escape, but they tried to do it and it doesn't work,” Dunleavy said Thursday while patrolling Lake Winnipesaukee, a reporter and photographer along for the ride.
Alie, who was piloting the 6-meter patrol boat, said he has twice seen boats circling under power without any occupants.
Once, he threw a line and tried to get it caught in the propeller.
“That didn’t work,” Alie said. “It finally crashed into shore and its motor was still running.”
Other strange calls involved people on snowmobiles.
“There have been some pretty incredible levels of craziness and, frankly, stupidity,” Dunleavy said. “Snowmobilers skimmed open water on the 4th of July from Meredith all the way in to The Weirs until the thing sunk.”
In the winter of 2017, a snowmobiler pulled a barefoot water skier across open water at The Weirs. The stunt was captured on video and went viral.
Of course, members of the Marine Patrol, which has eight full-time year-round officers and 55 seasonal workers, also handle serious calls, including medical emergencies, drownings and accidents.
When a call for help comes in from one of Lake Winnipesaukee’s more than 200 islands, Marine Patrol can be on the scene quickly to handle everything from checking on the welfare of a resident to solving a domestic dispute.
“If it happens in town, it happens on the islands, and we’re probably going to be the first one there,” Dunleavy said.
Boating while intoxicated is often a factor in accidents. If Marine Patrol officers suspect a boater is drunk, they will administer a sobriety test and potentially make an arrest.
But by far, the most frequent duty of a Marine Patrol officer is enforcing routine boating safety laws.
On patrol Thursday, Dunleavy and Alie stopped a small boat occupied by two boys. They were going a little too fast in a no-wake zone.
Officers always ensure occupants 12 or younger are wearing a life jacket. For motorboats, there must be a fire extinguisher on board. There also must be a sound-producing device like a whistle, horn or bell.
The boys had all these things, but they lacked a registration certificate, which is also required. The boat was owned by a grandfather of one of the boys. Dunleavy knows the man and told the boys to say, “Hello,” from him and remind him to put the registration aboard.
Later, on the way to Smalls Cove, another patrol boat had pulled over a recreational boat. There were several people on board and an officer made sure there was a life jacket for each, as is required.
As Alie opened up his 300-horsepower motor, he pointed to multimillion-dollar homes lining a shore where modest cottages once stood. Disputes sometimes flare up between owners of those properties and boaters.
“You have a piece of property on an island,” Alie explained. “In theory, I can go stand knee deep in front of your house. It’s public water.
“That’s hard for some people to realize.
“A fisherman is in front of somebody’s dock. The homeowner says I don’t want you there. ‘You were up there at 6:30 in the morning and I’m having my coffee and you’re hooting and hollering, catching fish.’”
Sometimes the role of a Marine Patrol officer is akin to that of a referee.
“Much of our time is spent not enforcing boating laws or helping people, but refereeing people who can't get along,” Dunleavy said.
“There are competing interests for the public waters, whether it's shorefront property owners and boaters, shorefront property owners and other shorefront property owners, sailors and power boaters, fishermen and jet skiers. It runs the gamut.”
Surfing the wake
The growing popularity of wakesurfing – in which the rider skims along the wake of a boat – is causing another problem. Boats are carrying additional ballast, or weight, so that they ride lower in the water and create a bigger wake.
Alie pointed to a nearby boat with a boy surfing its wake.
“See the size of the wake that boat is throwing?” Alie asked. “It’s creating a wave, just like in the ocean. The kid is not connected to the boat in any way. He can go for miles that way as long as the wave is created.”
The boy was enjoying the wake, but some other people might have a different opinion.
“Now you see the remnants of the wake, it is rocking boats and could erode property, beaches and shores,” Alie said.
At Smalls Cove, the officers saw a problem with boats at anchor near a sandbar. Marker buoys had been set up 150 feet from shore, showing that boats should be at least that far out before anchoring.
A few boats were too close to shore, and the officers told the owners to move them. A jet ski was parked on the beach. Dunleavy found the owner at a nearby floating restaurant, determined he didn’t own the land where his personal watercraft was parked, and told him to move it.
All this was accomplished in a friendly, educational manner.
That was quite intentional on Dunleavy’s part. He regards his main job as one of education.
“The majority of time we’re dealing with boaters recreating and they’ve made a mistake,” he said as the patrol boat returned to headquarters in Gilford.
“We’re here to educate, and that’s our primary mission, to educate and maintain a safe environment to recreate.”
This is Dunleavy’s 30th summer on Marine Patrol, and he still likes being on the water.
He has seen a bald eagle sink its talons into a duck and carry it off.
He remembers night patrols on a glassy lake when the only disturbance was the bow cutting through the water, the smell of a distant pine campfire barely perceptible in the brisk air.
“The lake is beautiful in so many ways,” he said. “But it can also be very unforgiving.”