Gilbert Requena rubs at the fog spreading across the window of the Nanaimo Harbour Watch boat and stares out at the darkening panorama. The boat is on slow cruise as he smoothly weaves in and out of marinas in the Newcastle channel, looking for anything suspicious – an out-of-place dinghy, late-night paddlers, or waves rippling from seemingly vacant yachts.
He is one of a dozen sea-savvy volunteers with the harbour watch that patrols the water around Nanaimo to help keep marina crime in check. They are the RCMP’s eyes on the water and they’re looking for new members.
Requena, a retiree and boating enthusiast, joined the not-for-profit three years ago. Twice a month he takes the boat out in the late evening hours with another volunteer to cruise the waters between downtown and Departure Bay.
Part ambassadors and part watchdogs, volunteers do everything from welcoming new live-aboards to helping boaters who have run into trouble and looking out for potential crimes, like theft.
“Sometimes you might see a dinghy tied to the end of the dock and you can see it’s just tied up temporarily, so where is that person? Is he trying to take an outboard, like a motor off one of the boats? It happens,” Requena said.
Requena recently went on patrol with El Martel, who joined the watch 12 years ago after seeing an ad in the paper calling for volunteers. He saw it as a chance to get out on the water and explore, and as one person once told him, it’s also a licence to snoop. Rain streamed down the boat windows as the duo motored through the water. Rain or shine, volunteers are out on the water.
“We are always keeping an eye out,” Martel said.
The volunteers are meant to watch and report crimes to police, whom they keep in regular contact with through radio, but neither Requena nor Martel have actually seen anything illegal on the water. It has Martel wondering just how much crime has been curbed because they were out on the boat.
“See, that’s the big one. We will never know how many crimes we prevented just by being there,” he said.
The patrol, funded by local businesses and a partner of the RCMP and the Nanaimo Port Authority, started in 1998 to stem the tide of boat theft. It’s like a Block Watch on water, said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.
Police can’t always be down on the water and “really need the extra eyes and ears on the water, especially late at night,” he said.
The harbour watch is looking for new recruits who have their pleasure craft operator card and restricted operator’s card for VHF radio operation. For more information, please contact the Community Police Office at 250-754-2345.