When boaters see them coming they get a definite “Why me?” look — and then, as often as not, they scramble to locate their life jackets, extinguishers and registration.


When boaters see them coming they get a definite “Why me?” look — and then, as often as not, they scramble to locate their life jackets, extinguishers and registration.



Nimble boats with a flashing blue light, a 250-horse Evinrude motor, and “Wildlife Officer” stenciled down the sides, these are the police cruisers of North Carolina’s waterways.



The fisheries and wildlife departments have a large job: North Carolina has more than 4,000 miles of shoreline, according to DMF Public Information Officer Patricia Smith, plus 2.5 million acres of marine and estuarine waters.



There are 3,169 active commercial fishermen and 1.5 million recreational fishermen in coastal and joint brackish waters.



Patrol Officer Allen Williford of Marine Fisheries; Master Wildlife Officer Billy Cain of the Wildlife Resources Commission; and Frederick Bonner, a fisheries biologist are just three of the state employees who oversee them all.



On a nearly perfect day weather-wise, at least four patrol boats sped up the creek and across the broad and choppy Pamlico to perform random checks on boaters



“You’re out in real force today,” one boater smilingly complained.



Cain and Williford were professional, friendly and polite with the four or five boats they pulled up to. Some boats were still in the water with fisherman plying their hobby; those that were in motion, such as pleasure boaters, were ordered to put their craft into neutral as we pulled alongside.



The first check was fairly typical: Adam Philipps and his father Douglas were out fishing as we pulled alongside. Cain and Williford exchanged pleasantries with the Philipps as they examined their life jackets, warned them not to drink too much, too much is a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater, checked to be sure their fire extinguisher was up to code and went over their registration and licenses.



At the second stop, a boater strugglrf to find a life jacket to display — he opened enough cabinet doors to do Mother Hubbard proud and finally came up with a child’s life jacket. The officers let him go with a warning.



A pleasure boat with two women failed a check as well — registration and life jackets were fine, but her extinguisher was too low. She said she had just gotten it, and Williford told her, “You’d better take it back and get it exchanged.”



Another boat that had some catches had the officers sampling a cooler of captive crabs, measuring it to be sure it was of legal size. They were of size, no doubt to the chagrin of the crabs.



The one problem came when a man cruising with his family in a motorboat that was missing the registration numbers on his bow. He was ticketed but made no complaint to the officers — “You’re just doing your job,” he said.



Williford noted that had some accident happened to the boat, without registration numbers it would have been hard to identify whose it was. Registration numbers are required to be written on both sides of the boat while a validation registration sticker must be presented on the starboard side.



Kayaks, canoes and rowboats escape registration requirements, so long as they have no motor, including trolling motors. Sailboats longer than 14 feet at the waterline also require registration, and fire extinguishers are required for all boats that use any kind of fuel.



While osprey and cormorants plied the waves, Williford noted that the river had its share of pelicans as well, while Bonner stated the Pamlico has been host to manatees, sharks and dolphins.



It was obvious that Williford and Cain enjoy their jobs.



“The thing with us, it’s constantly changing,” Cain said.



As seasons shift — from fishing to various hunting seasons — his job changes as well, putting him on state game lands or patrolling on his boat at different times of the year. Although Williford’s job is more directly related to the waterways, he stated that changes in seasons keeps his job pleasantly in flux as well.



The joint exercises for the day included vessel checks, creel and harvest checks, gill net, shrimp trawl and crab pot checks through the day.



The Division of Marine Fisheries’ jurisdiction covers all coastal waters and extends three miles offshore while the Wildlifre Resources Commission is primarily responsible for inland, or fresh, waters. Both patrol joint waters.



Cantrell said both organizations emphasize boater safety.



“There have been 12 boating fatalities this year,” he said. “North Carolina ranks seventh in the nation in boating accidents, so we do have a real emphasis on the safety aspect.”



Information on boating safety and regulations, as well as other aspects of these organizations can be found at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/hame and ncwildlife.org.