After 6 years, Lake County sheriff’s marine unit resumes patrols on Lake Michigan

After six years, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit again is patrolling Lake Michigan.

According to the sheriff’s office, its marine unit has been unable to patrol the more than 900 square miles of Lake Michigan in its jurisdiction because it didn’t have a boat that could safely operate on Lake Michigan.

There also were numerous calls in past seasons to which the sheriff’s marine unit couldn’t respond because it didn’t have a boat that could safely operate on Lake Michigan, according to information provided by the sheriff’s office to county officials in February.

The Fluid Watercraft Inflatable Patrol Boat has two 225-horsepower engines and can carry 14 passengers. Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff’s Office

“We’ve had to essentially hitch a ride with other agencies and depend on their availability and ability to go out,” Marine Unit Sgt. Ari Briskman told a Lake County board committee in March. The board authorized a bid exemption with Sirocco Marine in Franklinton, North Carolina, for two marine patrol boats totaling $467,060.

The new Lake Michigan vessel is a Fluid Watercraft Inflatable Patrol Boat with two 225-horsepower engines and can carry 14 passengers. It has been operational since the beginning of the boating season and is capable of responding to emergencies within Lake County’s nautical boundaries.

The sheriff’s office has an ongoing partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police and will coordinate patrols with both agencies, according to a news release.

Members of both agencies will be able to respond with the sheriff’s marine unit to emergencies on the new watercraft, which will be operated by sheriff’s personnel who have a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s License.

The new boat is named in memory of fallen Lake Count sheriff’s Deputy Gary D. Murphy, who was killed in the line of duty in June 1976. It’s stored at a donated, secure dock at North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor when not in use.

“Response time in an emergency is crucial and having a sheriff’s boat available will increase the likelihood of lives saved during search-and-rescue missions,” said Sheriff John Idleburg.

The bid exemptions were authorized because required customizations for patrol couldn’t be procured through an available cooperative agreement, according to the resolution approved by the county board.

Each of the boats replaced were more than 30 years old and had become inoperable, according to information provided to the county board.

The second will be used on the Chain ’O Lakes.

The sheriff’s marine unit consists of six boats. Replacements had been required for several years but delayed due to budget limitations and competing priorities, according to the resolution approved by the county board authorizing the purchase.

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