For Fairfax County Police marine patrol officer Steve Selby spending all week on the water doesn't scare him away from his own boat, which he takes out when he can. Patrolling up and down the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers is his stomping ground on both the 26-foot police boat as well as his fishing boat he keeps in Woodbridge.
When he takes out his boat, "it's not work, it's play," he said.
Selby is one of two, full-time marine patrol officers in Fairfax County that spend seven days a week, checking registrations, safety gear and the "no wake" zone in the Potomac River bays and Occoquan River.
"You have to have a passion for boating to want to be out here," Selby said.
"Here" is only the Occoquan River up to the dam, Belmont Bay, Pohick Bay, Dogue Creek, Little Hunting Creek and Belle Haven Marina. These areas fall under the Franconia and West Springfield District Station jurisdictions. Fairfax is the only Virginia police agency that has a boat patrol. Above the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, river patrol falls under the jurisdiction of the District of Columbia and Maryland. The areas in the Potomac River outside the end of the bays are also considered Maryland.
Although it seems like the Woodrow Wilson bridge is just around the corner from the Occoquan River, the distance is 32 miles. The police boat patrol area runs from the bridge area, into the inlets all the way down to the Occoquan.
"Jones Point lighthouse is actually the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia point line," he said.
Before 9/11, the boat patrol ended in November and started again in early April. As part of the homeland defense initiative, the patrol has been extended.
"Since 9/11, we patrol year around," Selby said.
During the winter, it's cold and lonely out on the water. Even so, police keep an eye on the occasional fisherman and duck hunters.
"Every creek in Fairfax County has duck blinds in it," said Selby.
On call 24 hours a day, Selby has been called out on emergencies from his home in Loudoun County.
"For a call, I can get here in 20 minutes. We've gotten called out for accidents in the middle of the night," he said.
If faced with a renegade tanker, heading up the Potomac to wreak havoc on the Woodrow Wilson bridge or Washington, D.C., Selby has a radio and a pistol but that's about it.
"I don't know what I'd do to stop it, but I'd have to check it out," he said.
In the meantime, it's the no-wake zones, intoxicated boaters and equipment checks that fill Selby's days.
DESPITE THE SLOW summer, Selby and partner Scott Powell, who is on the summer assignment from the McLean District Station, cruised the waters in their regular routine. Selby has been on the marine patrol for eight years. The other marine patrol officer, Steve Keeney has Jeff Jackson, an officer from Franconia, for the summer as well. After Labor Day, their hours are shorter. Rain has slowed things down as well as the threat of thunderstorms every evening. The next weekend, Labor Day, is the busiest of the year, so the officers welcomed the slow times.
On Friday, Aug. 22, Selby and Powell swung up to a boat and stopped Arlington residents Tammy and Richard Itteilag's Sea Ray for a wake violation.
"What was I doing?" said Tammy Itteilag.
Selby explained the wake situation before issuing a warning.
"You don't want anything coming off your boat that's going to affect any other boat," he said, before checking the registration, fire extinguishers and life preservers.
"Flares expire every three years," said Selby, warning the boaters. "We'd like every stop to be educational."
As part of their job, the marine patrol officers provide instructional lectures at boat clubs, Scout troops and marinas in the area.
As their boat went under the archway into Little Hunting Creek, Selby commented on the tidal effects.
"We usually get a couple of drownings under that bridge, people swimming across, the tide goes so fast. It's deceiving," he said.
The next stop up the river was at a boat with passengers sitting on the bow and not in seats. Selby told them they had to ride in a seat.
"Is that a state or county law?" the boater asked.
The riders got off the bow nonetheless.
Such stops are an opportunity for Selby and Powell to promote boating safety and perhaps prevent injury or worse.
On Saturday, an Alexandria-area man drowned in nearby Belmont Bay. Prior to falling in the water, he was riding on the bow of a boat. The boat's driver dove into the water to rescue the man but was unable to save him. The body of James Smith, 45, was recovered on Sunday near the shore of Rock Island.
The rest of Friday afternoon was pretty slow. Powell noted how other police assignments have down times as well. "You have busy days and slow days [in patrol cars] as well," he said.