More Boats on the Rivers, and More Policing

September 7, 2017
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By John Burton and Jay Cook |

FAIR HAVEN – It’s been a busy boating season this summer as seemingly more take advantage of the area waterways for fun during the warm months. But with the greater number of people using watercrafts there are always a few who ignore the rules and common courtesy.

Brian Rice, Fair Haven, is a licensed charter boat captain who grew up working and playing on the water. In his perception, boat traffic hasn’t necessarily increased this year, nor have the number of scofflaws failing to adhere to no-wake zones or those who wind up speeding. But, as always, “You have the weekend warriors,” Rice observed. “You have the people who are inconsiderate, let alone not knowing the rules of the road, being irresponsible.”

“On the water, especially on the water,” Rice said he’s learned through experience. “Because there’s no posted speed limits,” people just disregard what should be done.

“The biggest problems we’re seeing is a lack of knowledge on the part of the operators of boating rules and regulations,” said Lt. Ted Schafer, a spokesman for New Jersey State Police. “Specifically, they’re operating at higher rates of speed than they should be, than is safe and that is allowed.”

Schafer was speaking in general terms of what State Police are witnessing in the waterways around the state, with enforcement on the waterways largely coming under the purview of the that law enforcement agency. Schafer said no hard data is yet available regarding this year’s activities on the water, until the season’s end.

But, anecdotally, there have been persistent concerns, Schafer offered. “Boating while intoxicated is an issue,” he said. So much so, that State Police and the U.S. Coast Guard have partnered this year on an initiative in response, he said.

State Police are also using undercover officers and vessels to address violations.

The state agency operates a variety of boats, Schafer said, from 10-foot John boat (an often-aluminum fishing boat) to 50-foot cabin cruisers.

In addition, State Police have begun using unmarked Jet Skis, especially in high traffic areas, such as the Navesink River, according to Sgt. Lawrence Peele, with the State Police’s Public Information Bureau. Undercover troopers on the Jet Skis identify violations and then escorts the violators to a uniformed trooper who conducts the official stop.

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“These details have been very successful in both educating the boating public and enforcing New Jersey boat regulations with summons,” Peele said by way of an email.

The details will continue until boating traffic lessens with the change of seasons, Peele added.

The Middletown Police Department has its own marine unit. And, according to Lt. Paul Bailey, the unit was quite active this summer, often working with the Coast Guard doing safety and equipment inspections. However, Bailey said, the officers didn’t see a significant increase in unruly behavior.

Jim Cerruti has owned and operated Fair Haven Yacht Works, 73 De Normandie Ave., Fair Haven, for roughly 20 years. “It has been a very good summer for boating,” he said, probably the best since before Super Storm Sandy in 2012. Cerruti attributes it to a number of factors, including former boaters who lost their vessels to Sandy getting back into it; to new families moving into the area; and relatively lower prices for gas. “Those are all indicators people are enjoying their time on the water.”

It may not be that boaters are behaving any worse than at other times, Cerruti suspected. “I think it’s getting a little more attention because boating is so strong,” he suspected. “You’re always thinking about those out there being idiots,” that’s what you remember, Cerruti offered, “more than the majority out there behaving themselves, following the rules of the road, being courteous.”

“I think that’s true on land, too,” Rice maintained.

“But I’ll say this,” Cerruti added, “people wave in boats. They don’t wave in cars…If you pass a boater, nine out of 10 will wave to you.”

But being a courteous boater falls under more than one category.

For Chan Irwin, the third-generation owner of Irwin Marine, located in Red Bank’s Marine Park, common courtesy on the evolves from a program the marina has been doing for over 30 years.

When a customer new to the Two River area invests in a boat and docks at his marina, a captain on staff takes boaters for a complete overview ride of the river.

“Usually it’s a four-hour service where our captain will take the boat out, show them the waterways, where to fuel – just make them aware of places they can go, places they can anchor and swim,” Irwin said.

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Although it’s a paid service offered, he finds it has been helpful to the boaters new to the Navesink or Shrewsbury rivers.

Boating is a kind of recreation, Irwin said, “and they don’t want to denigrate their area.”

A benefit of Irwin’s boater education service is that people new to the area are provided with a feel for the rivers, as well as what areas to stay away from.

It’s education that Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, said is important to the ever-changing health of the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers.

“A lot of people get training about how to be safe on the boat, but not how to be more conscious about what environmental consequences their boat may be doing to the environment,” she said.

The health of both rivers has been a hot topic in recent years. With fertilizers and fecal matter finding its way into the system, Zipf said both bodies of water need healthy vegetation to keep clean.

Of that greenery, eelgrass and “submerged aquatic vegetation,” as Zipf put it, are of the most importance. Take eelgrass, for example. Zipf said it provides a necessary habitat for juvenile fish and crustaceans that could use a hiding spot during the summer months.

Zipf also said that eelgrass is commonly found at the confluence of the Two Rivers – a spot where boaters open their throttles after bouncing at slow speeds beneath the Capt. Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge. At that location, the eelgrass is “extremely fragile and needs to be protected,” she said.

But Zipf welcomes the challenge for more education, because it will ultimately save the rivers environmentalists have fought over for 30-plus years.

“I don’t think any boaters go out there and say ‘I’m going to harm the habitat,’ ” she said. “I think it’s just a lack of awareness, and they need to be more conscious that they’re sharing this beautiful resource with nature and plants that need to be preserved.”


This article was first published in the Sept. 7-14, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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