It’s 2:30 a.m. when a ringing phone jolts a Maryland Natural Resources Police officer awake. A 25-foot cuddy with five adults aboard has run into a jetty off Deale, Maryland. He’s told to respond; there are critical injuries and fatalities.
Outside in the dark, a south wind is howling on Chesapeake Bay at 25 to 30 knots, whipping up a long, angry fetch of 3- to 4-foot waves. With 25 miles of angriness between him and the scene, the last thing the officer wants to worry about is whether his patrol boat is up to the task.
For life-and-death missions such as this, and for its more run-of-the-mill operations, NRP maintains a fleet of 130 boats, from 14-foot jonboats to a 40-foot diesel-powered aluminum patrol boat. For 20 years the workhorses of that fleet have been 19- and 21-foot Boston Whalers, but many are approaching the end of their service lives. So two years ago, NRP set out to find its next-generation police boat.
Finding that police boat fell to Capt. Charles “Chip” Vernon, the agency’s Technical Services Division Commander. The 24-year NRP veteran often tells folks, “I was born on a boat.” That’s a good thing, considering he’s responsible for keeping an eye on the always evolving NRP fleet.
I met Vernon one summery morning inside NRP’s vessel maintenance facility at Matapeake, Maryland, to hear about the search and procurement process for the boat that will, over time, replace as much as half of NRPs patrol fleet. Walking past a line of 19- and 21-foot Whalers up on land for maintenance, Vernon tells me that the challenges NRP faces have changed. In 1991, when he joined NRP, it had 500 sworn officers. Today it has 238. At the same time, the agency’s patrol area has grown to include Maryland state lands and parks. “That often means an officer has to respond in a boat over as much as 20 to 30 miles of open bay water — alone and in sometimes awful weather conditions.
“While the Whalers have been real workhorses for us, in some ways that fleet simply isn’t up to our current mission,” Vernon says. When he started the selection process about two years ago, Vernon began by searching Google for “unsinkable boat.” That yielded results from a number of builders, but he focused on EdgeWater, Boston Whaler and Everglades. He also called other marine police agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, to get their input. With good reports about Everglades and EdgeWater, and Boston Whaler being a known entity, Vernon invited all three manufacturers to bring boats to Maryland for NRP’s vessel committee to evaluate. (Whaler and EdgeWater, for logistical reasons, were unable to attend.)
The vessel committee includes NRP officers and civilian employees who evaluate and select new boats for NRP use. Committee members run boats and award points based on performance criteria such as ride, handling, speed, maneuverability and stability.
Everglades brought a 243cc to the Matapeake facility. “We abused the heck out of that boat,” says Vernon. “We were instantly taken with the boat’s ride, handling and maneuverability. Most of all we were astonished at how well the boats cut through serious waves at high speed.”
Of course, carving turns and slicing through waves in 20 knots of wind at 50 mph is great, but if the boat doesn’t stand up to that kind of use, it’s all for naught. After all, taxpayers don’t want a government agency asking for more money because it bought a fast, capable boat that isn’t up to the rigors of daily use.
To find out more about the 243cc’s construction and durability, Vernon visited the Everglades factory in Florida. He liked what he found. “Everglades is really good at what it does,” he says. “It’s a 100 percent composite boat without a splinter of wood in it, and that was important to us.” He looked at cutaway samples of its transoms, hull-to-deck joints, and hull and topside laminates. Comparing them to samples he brought from the current fleet, he could see the Everglades boats would be durable.
After a second round of testing, Vernon put a demo boat from Everglades into the field. It was shuffled around to a handful of stations inside NRP’s eight geographic districts in Maryland to ensure the boat could do what they needed it to do, wherever they needed it to go. In May, the NRP placed its first order for four Everglades 243ccs. They arrived in July, chock full of custom enhancements and components.
When I pulled up to NRP’s Matapeake facility on Chesapeake Bay, a line of four Everglades 243ccs in NRP livery were lined up and waiting to be examined and run. The 243cc appears a bit odd for a boat its size at first glance, mainly because of its low freeboard. That could suggest that it isn’t built for nasty weather. But a closer look at the hull design reveals a 37-degree entry angle and 19 degrees of transom deadrise, making it an extremely capable boat not just in the Bay, but also offshore on the ocean. And that’s an important characteristic for NRP’s operations on the Atlantic coast.
Bob Dougherty, who designed the Everglades 243cc, got his start drawing the lines for Boston Whaler’s “classic” hulls during the 1960s. Though they’re different boats today, some of that Dougherty DNA runs through NRPs existing fleet of Boston Whalers that his Everglades design will replace.
Standard power on the 243cc is a single 250-hp Yamaha F250, though most buyers upgrade to a 300-hp F300 that nets a 50 mph top end. NRP opted for Evinrude’s new 300-hp E-TEC G2 2-stroke outboard, primarily because the agency has lots of experience with the E-TEC platform. These engines are strapped to the transoms of about 80 percent of the agency’s boats.
It’s the custom details that transform the 243cc from fishing boat to police vessel. One of the first changes I noticed was the custom stainless-steel guard that runs along the boat’s entry. “Those are an expensive option but will go a long way toward longevity,” Vernon says. “We beach our boats quite frequently, and sometimes there’s more than just sand where we pull them up. This stainless guard will save us countless dollars in fiberglass repairs.”
Raised aluminum grab rails that run along the top decks on both sides of the center console are another modification. They’re primarily used for officers to brace themselves while coming up alongside other boats (as well as for securing fenders), but they’re also used as a grasping point when recovering people from the water. A stout, 10-foot-long PVC rubrail mounted midway along both sides protects the hull when the boat pulls alongside others. The agency decided on all-black topsides. It gives them a slick look, but the agency hopes the color will show less wear and tear than the military gray has on the Whalers. Only time will tell, but for the moment they certainly look sharp.
NRP also needed a custom console recess, which required that Everglades build a new mold. The recess is designed to hold an officer’s Panasonic rugged laptop, which can be used to search public records, as well as to reference laws and regulations on the go, using a built-in cellular modem. Even the light bar/navigation light/hailing/radome setup on the hardtop is custom, designed not just for looks but also to provide maximum visibility.
The NRP’s 243cc otherwise is laid out much like the typical recreational version. Only the control switches for the police lights and hailer would tip off the casual observer that this this is the helm of a police boat.There is a Garmin 7612 multifunction display, Evinrude’s engine performance display module, control switches and a spotlight control panel. Additional electronics, such as the VHF radio, Fusion stereo and Kenwood police radio, are in a console beneath the fiberglass hardtop. Instead of the usual pipework leaning post/bench seat setup at the helm, NRP opted for a more rugged, fixed seating unit with stowage in its aft end.
When it came time to run the 243cc, a stout south wind had stirred a 2-foot chop on the Bay — perfect conditions for running this boat … fast. Although the 300-hp Evinrude that the NRP chose produces more noise and vibration than a 4-stroke of its size, it also generates an incredible amount of brute force on the lower end, revving cleanly all the way up to a top end of about 51 mph. We probably could have touched 55 mph with the automatic trim feature turned off, less fuel in the tank and two fewer people on board. Still, 51 mph is impressive and about what I’ve seen running this boat with a Yamaha F300.
Pushing over the steep chop, the 243cc was incredibly well behaved; its sharp entry sliced its way through the waves with little or no banging. Cornering performance is impressive, also. I felt as if the steering was a bit light on feedback as I peeled into a turn at around 30 mph, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well a judicious application of throttle sucked the stern down tight to the water. Overall, the boat ran exceedingly well, and I didn’t hear a single creak, groan or rattle. All in all, it should be a very good platform for the NRP.
The first four Everglades 243ccs entered service the day after my test run. NRP is so happy with the boats that another six are already on the way. Bad boys beware; there’s a new police boat in town.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.