The Harbor Unit of the New York City Police Department was founded on March 15, 1858. Its purpose was to combat piracy aboard the merchant ships lying at anchor in the harbor and waterfront thugs who were terrorizing the unloading docks. Within a few weeks of its founding a fleet of twelve tow boats with five man crews was formed. This method of patrol proved effective and over a short period of time the piracy and thievery was adequately dealt with.
On February 1, 1863, the Harbor Unit, then known as the Marine Division, launched its first steamer, The Seneca, a side wheeler. The steamers gradually replaced the row boat fleet by the year 1901.
In 1916 the first gasoline engine patrol boats were incorporated into the fleet and on April 12, 1926 the last steamer was retired from the fleet.
In July 1959 the first two twin screw diesel engine patrol boats, wood hull, were added to the fleet. On July 20, 1966, the first of ten steel hull, fifty two foot twin screw diesel launches was placed into service. During June 1983, four faster thirty foot, aluminum hull, twin diesel powered launches were purchased. Over the years they have been re-powered and are still in service today. The NYPD's steel launches have all been removed from service. However there is a restored 1966 vintage fifty two foot launch (No 5) on patrol as a private U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary facility. In 1984, the first of new large aluminum boats was built. It was a forty eight foot patrol launch with a thirteen foot Boston Whaler® on the trunk cabin. After delivery, changes to the design were needed and in 1994 the first of the new fifty five foot Kenny Hanson class boats were launched. These are also equipped with thirteen foot Boston Whalers. They are powered by twin 1271 Detroit Diesels with a total of 1600 horsepower. The Harbor Unit now has a total of five in service. In 1993, the Harbor Unit took delivery on the first thirty six foot patrol launch. They are powered by twin 3208 Caterpillar Diesels. The Harbor Unit now has a total of four of these vessels in service. These fifty five foot and thirty six foot patrol launches along with assorted outboard motor boats make up the present day fleet.
The New York City Police Department is responsible for patrolling 146 square miles of navigable waters and 576 miles of waterfront. Its mission is carried on throughout the harbor for the protection of life and property, the prevention and detection of crime, arrest of offenders, preservation of the public peace and the enforcement of all laws and ordinances.
The Harbor Unit performs patrol duty 24 hours per day, 365 days a year, on blazing hot days of summer to frigid cold days of winter. Its primary mission is rescue of persons in distress while swimming, overboard from boating mishaps (accident, fire, explosion), despondent persons having jumped into the water from piers, bridges, or ferryboats, or the rescue of persons stranded aboard their boats which are in distress and disabled at sea.
Terrorist activity is a world wide menace today. Security patrols are maintained off of the two major New York Airports, LaGuardia and J.F.K., during the arrivals and departures thereat of our President, foreign heads of state and their representatives while visiting our City. These security patrols are being extended to the waters off of the United Nations Building while it is in session with heads of state addressing it.
The commercial aspect of the harbor is year-round with the movement of ferryboats, ocean liners, freighters, tankers, tugs, barges, scows, lighters, sightseeing cruisers, commercial and party fishing boats, all plying their trade daily.
The pleasure boating is seasonal each year with more and more boaters taking to the water at the first signs of warm sunshine as early as April and continuing through late October. In the period when pleasure boating is at its peak, the Harbor Unit launches its smaller craft for patrol in the areas frequented by the pleasure boating public to render necessary services to them and help make their boating safe.
Rikers Island with its Correctional Institution (Prison), Hart Island, and the various other islands within the City of New York are also the subject of special patrols by the Harbor Unit.
The members assigned to the Harbor Unit for marine patrol are selected form the regular street patrol force of the New York City Police Department. They have prior marine experience and knowledge in small boat handling and operation, having been raised along the waterfront or having been previously employed in the maritime industry. Their personnel are specifically assigned wither to launch crew duty, maintenance and repair functions at the Launch Repair Shop, or to the full time, around-the-clock Scuba Team.
When you are in trouble in the waters of New York City you can be sure that you will be aided by the finest of the finest.
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Revised: December 28, 2002 .