A long line of law enforcement boats traveled up and down Rogue River last week.
Jet boat operators maneuvered their craft through small channels and through strong currents, making emergency stops and securing their boats to rocks along the banks of the river.
Boat operators and their instructors were participating in a week-long training designed to teach law enforcement, fish and wildlife, and firefighters the skills to operate their watercraft safely in emergency scenarios in the river.
Jet boat operations training was hosted by the Oregon State Marine Board July 25-29.
“This is essential training for maritime law enforcement and first responders,” said Ed Persichetti, training coordinator for the Oregon State Marine Board’s boating safety program.
The maritime board hires officers to enforce the Waterways Act and keep the waters safe, Persichetti said. Those who complete the training become the skilled jet boat operators responsible for carrying out these tasks.
The wild and scenic Rogue River in Curry County is a prime location for annual safety training for a number of reasons.
“We have the support of the sheriff’s office – which is always a plus. And the community support – which is always a bonus,” Persichetti said.
Also, there is plenty of water for maneuvering and working in the Rogue River.
“It’s such a dynamic waterway. We have 42 miles to stretch our legs – if you will – and train individuals,” he said.
Last week’s training brought together over 40 participants (including instructors and trainees) from 18 different agencies. Up to 19 different jet patrol boats were cruising the river at any one time during training.
This year, law enforcement training was held in conjunction with the quarterly meeting of the Oregon State Marine Board. For the first time ever, members of the maritime council had the opportunity to directly attend the training.
Board members were invited to participate in an exercise with trainees as they learned to jump shallow into water off the back of jet boats on Wednesday July 27. This type of belly-flop technique allows the person jumping to keep their head above the surface of the water and hopefully their body above rocks and other potential hazards. they had to enter the water in an emergency.
Curry County Sheriff John Ward attended the July 27 training. Sheriff Ward said he is a big supporter of the program and always tries to attend at least one training day each year.
Local training instructors included Curry County Senior Deputy Walter Scherbarth and Deputy Jared Gray; and Coos County Sgt. Will Coleman.
As longtime jet boat operators, these instructors are responsible for teaching their trainees how to navigate the waters efficiently, effectively and safely.
“The goal for trainees is to get the instructor’s expertise and develop their own skills and techniques,” said Nate Thompson, Jet Boat Operations Training Instructor, County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Clackamas.
Thompson said he took the training 15 years ago, returned home and honed his jet boat skills, and returned as an instructor a few years later.
“As an instructor, it’s about determining what the trainees’ basic skills are and then developing them. Sometimes people come in already knowing how to read the water. Other times we have to teach them that in addition to driving the boats,” Thompson said.
“Throughout the training they learn how to navigate these types of water safely – and there’s a lot to do,” he said. “These boats don’t drive like cars. It’s very different. It’s all about throttle control and steering.
Thompson’s trainee, firefighter Clackamas Sandor Pongracz, said he felt like his head was on a pivot during training.
“Every day is a little different. It’s windy. There’s the glare of the sun. There’s wakes from the big tour boats. So your head is spinning all the time as you read upstream and down the river – while chatting on the radio,” Pongracs said. “It’s mentally draining because you don’t want to have any disasters and you always try to do your best.”
The intern said his takeaways were slowing down.
“These things have a lot of power and speed behind them, but that’s not always what you need to get up and down the river properly,” he said. “Anyone can drive really fast – but if you can do it slowly and accurately to hit a target in the water – it takes skill and practice.”
Law enforcement training supervisor Persichetti said the instructors deliberately put their students in difficult positions.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and you never take someone in need of rescue somewhere easy – there’s a reason they’re stuck there. So we’re constantly putting students in quarters narrow with difficult maneuvers to try to hone their skills – so that when they get home and there is a rescue, they can facilitate it,” he said.
More information about the Oregon State Marine Board can be found on the official State of Oregon website at www.oregon.gov.