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Law enforcement boat repairs add up during long season
Agencies spend thousands per year keeping watercrafts running
Hall County Fire Services' Hank Tiller, and diver Robert Patterson watch a small boat pass Wednesday afternoon as they prepare for diving exercises on Lake Lanier at Van Pugh Park.

During monthly training, three Hall County Fire Services firefighters and paramedics try to maneuver around in an inflatable Zodiac boat.

Leaking and suffering deflation issues, the government surplus Zodiac is the backup boat for the county’s marine rescue team that’s getting repaired for the third summer in a row.

“You get out there in the sun, it’ll swell up,” said Hall County Fire Services Sgt. Shane Peck. “When it cools off during these cool nights, it’ll be half deflated.”

The Zodiac will back up a new 23-foot boat from William E. Munson Co., which is set to arrive in two weeks and will cost $106,000. Deputy Fire Chief Chad Black said he knew the department desperately needed a boat ready before Memorial Day weekend and Lake Lanier’s busy boating season.

The inflatable will ship back for the third time in three years to Charleston, S.C., for repairs, which creates concerns for the marine rescue team. The boat’s capability limits it to only running a few calls.

“It’s not too bad if it goes over there once every four or five years, but when you’re having to go every year for repairs, the down time and everything else puts a strain on the team,” Peck said.

The main boat before the new arrival was a 2005 Yamaha ski boat that was converted to perform rescues.

Hall County’s Marine Rescue Team spends roughly $10,000 to $15,000 of maintenance costs per year on its boats, Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs previously told The Times.

Maintenance funds to keep the five boats on Lake Lanier for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources running smoothly stacks up in no time.

“It’s seven days a week they get run. Luckily we’ve been able to get a couple new boats to replace the older boats in the past few years, so we’ve been good on maintenance,” DNR Sgt. Greg Colson said.

For a regular summer with no additional repairs, Colson estimated a $300 to $400 maintenance cost for each boat to be conducted three or four times per summer. That adds up to between $4,500 and $8,000.

“In the past, it can start adding up in a hurry when stuff starts tearing up, and there’s so many things on a boat that can tear up,” Colson said.

Because of the constant patrol on Lake Lanier, Colson said a motor for each boat operates at least 1,500 hours during a summer.

“Once you put that many hours on a motor, you start running into little stuff to start with,” he said.

The DNR’s newest boat came in fiscal year 2013 with the purchase of a 22-foot Contender. The biggest worry for boat maintenance, Colson said, is electrical problems along with the continual work on the motor.

“You never know what you’re getting called out on if it’s going to be in the middle of the night, the middle of a storm, or if it’s going to be freezing rain and snowing,” he said.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s Dive Team doesn’t have the same problems with maintenance. The pontoon boat for the dive team, which may have 20 or so calls in a season, has less to fix.

“It’s sort of a low-maintenance kind of thing, that’s really the design behind it,” Dive Team Coordinator Kelley Edwards said.

The most expensive repair, Edwards said, was last year when the motor on the pontoon boat needed to be replaced. Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Deputy Nicole Bailes said the total cost reached almost $15,000.