2016-09-01 / Front Page

Harbor Chief Gets New Boat

By Olga Enger


A new 23-foot harbormaster SAFE boat arrives to port this week, replacing a 1994 Boston Whaler. The Harbormaster Department is responsible for managing the harbor, moorings, enforcing boating safety laws and assisting in rescues. The total cost of the boat is $97,000. (Contributed photo) A new 23-foot harbormaster SAFE boat arrives to port this week, replacing a 1994 Boston Whaler. The Harbormaster Department is responsible for managing the harbor, moorings, enforcing boating safety laws and assisting in rescues. The total cost of the boat is $97,000. (Contributed photo) The City of Newport is welcoming a new addition to its marine fleet this week.

The 23-foot vessel is manufactured by SAFE Boats International, which specializes in boats designed for military, law enforcement, and first responder agencies. The total cost, including delivery, is $197,000.

The new SAFE boat will replace the harbormaster’s Boston Whaler, which was purchased by the city in 1994. The harbormaster has three other boats: a Thomas Marine (1994), Old Port Marine (1992), and another SAFE rescue boat.

“The existing boat is just beyond its usable life,” said Newport Harbormaster Tim Mills. The new SAFE boat offers cut out sides for rescue operations, space for a backboard, and an aluminum T-top to shield against rain and sun. It has a maximum capacity of 13 people, with six seated positions.

The harbormaster’s office is made up of two full-time employees and 20 assistant harbormasters, 10 of whom are boat operators.

“To become boat operators, I train them using a national standards program,” said Mills.

Although the harbormaster’s primary responsibility is managing the harbor, moorings, and enforcing boating safety laws, the department also assists first responders in rescue activities.

“We act as any other mariner; I call it the mariner rule,” said Mills. “If we hear a mayday on a VHF call, we will go. Or if we get a call from the fire department, we will go assist.”

In a common scenario where a boater is injured, the harbormaster may respond and transport the victim to an ambulance on land.

“About two weeks ago a man broke his arm. He called us on VHF, channel 16, so we picked him up, and brought him to Perrotti Park. A friend picked him up to take him to the hospital in that instance,” said Mills.

While the harbormaster staff is available to assist, they are only trained in first aid and CPR, Mills explained.

“We are absolutely not first responders,” he said. Despite a common misconception, harbormasters are not included in the Narragansett Bay Marine Task Force (NBMTF), which is made up of fire departments from Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, North Kingstown, Jamestown, Narragansett, Barrington, Bristol, Warren, Warwick, Cranston, East Providence, Fall River, Little Compton, Somerset, Swansea and Tiverton.

Beyond two fire extinguishers, the new harbormaster boat does not have firefighting capability.

“We may be able to handle a small electrical fire, but beyond that, we would depend on the fire department,” Mills said.

The new harbormaster boat arrives a week after City Council engaged in a lively debate on whether or not to pursue a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to offset the costs of a fire department replacement boat. Council agreed to apply for the grant in a 5-2 vote at the Aug. 24 meeting, with Councilors Kathryn Leonard and Justin McLaughlin against the motion. Critics have cited concerns such as maintenance, training costs, and conditions that may be attached to accepting the grant.

The cost of the replacement vessel initially discussed would be $964,500, with the city responsible for 25 percent of that, or $241,125. If purchased, it would succeed the city’s current 22-foot rigid hull inflatable rescue boat that is almost 16 years old. The fire department also has two Jet Skis to use in emergencies. Last year the Newport Fire Department responded to 35 water rescues. According to officials, the city must decide by mid-December on whether or not to accept federal grant monies to put toward a new fire department boat.

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