Walton County Sheriff’s Office buys new boat

By HEATHER CIVIL Daily News Staff Writer

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Walton County emergency personnel have a new way to rescue people from even the roughest surf.

The Walton County Sheriff ’s Office paid $58,000 for a boat designed to make water rescues easier and faster.

The Board of County Commissioners paid half the cost, and Sheriff Ralph Johnson paid the other half from his department budget.

Johnson went out to Cessna Park on Choctawhatchee Bay Wednesday to watch a demonstration of the boat, a Nautica RIB 24 Catamaran.

"We’ll be able to do all types of water rescue," Johnson said.

Sgt. Robert Gray, of the sheriff ’s beach patrol, drove the boat out into the bay and showed off some of what it can do.

He pointed out that the boat can take on water and won’t tip over making tight turns.

"You can’t sink it," Gray said.

As the boat made its way out into the deep water, Gray and Nautica representative Deano Vopal talked about its features.

The 24-foot long rigid inflatable boat has a high speed of 46 mph. Equipped with radio, GPS tracking, and lights and sirens, the boat can be used in any rescue situation, Gray said.

The Sheriff ’s Office can launch the boat from any point on the beach or bay, as long as they have room for the trailer, he said.

The most exciting feature the boat has is a loading ramp at its bow.

The ramp lowers into the water allowing the boat pilot to gently "scoop" a stranded person right out.

That’s ten times easier than lifting a body over the side of a boat, Gray said.

"It’s like dead weight," he said. During the demonstration, Vopal lowered the ramp and water filled the boat almost full.

Despite the water, the boat sank only about two inches.

When the ramp closed, a pump in the back of the boat removed the water within minutes.

The boat’s inflatable sides allow it to take on up to 1,000 gallons of water without sinking, Vopal said.

Until now, the county has had only personal watercraft for water rescues. That made rescues difficult and time consuming, Gray said.

With the boat, rescuers can not only get people out of the water faster but also patrol the water on rough surf days, he said.

"We can cover all 27 miles of beaches in about 30 minutes," Gray said.

The Sheriff ’s Office will keep the boat at its South Walton substation. On days with rough surf conditions, two deputies and two South Walton firefighters will man the boat and patrol the coast watching for rip currents and any stranded swimmers or boaters.


• Staff Writer Heather Civil can be reached at 267-8300, Ext. 204, or heatherc@nwfdailynews.com