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Nassau marine bureau officer patrolling LI waterways: We're 'like a police car on the water'

Nassau County Marine Bureau Police Officer Joseph Stassi said on Wednesday, July 17 that education is the key to keeping boaters safe. Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang

Instead of climbing into a police cruiser, Joseph Stassi climbs into a boat.

His beat, as a Nassau County police officer with the Marine Bureau, is Long Island's waterways.

On Tuesday, Stassi and his two partners were keeping watch over the South Shore, from Tobay Beach to South Oyster Bay.

"It's just like a police car on the water," Stassi said of his boat.

His workdays are long — 12 hours — and have a rhythm.

First up, making safety checks for the Department of Homeland Security, looking for any suspicious activity at bridges, power plants and oil refineries. 

Next is dealing with traffic: Checking up on swimmers in a marked channel, an area where they shouldn't be. Stopping a boater who doesn't have his registration posted. And, of course, the speeders. 

Speeding is something Stassi sees a lot of — along with large powerboats not carrying proper flotation devices. Boaters need to carry a lifejacket for every passenger and an airhorn or whistle, Stassi said.

Motorboats also must have a throwable flotation device like a life preserver; a visual distress signal, such as a flare; and a fire extinguisher.

Stassi can check for all safety equipment anytime he makes a stop. If he doesn't find enough lifejackets, for example, he sends the boater straight to the nearest dock.

Before joining the Nassau force 16 years ago, Stassi, 44, spent six years with the NYPD patrolling New York Harbor. 

Like all Nassau marine patrol officers, Stassi went through the police academy and then took three weeks of training on boating skills, marine navigation, emergency response on the water and rules of the waterways.

Stassi also had to finish a swimming test — two laps in an Olympic size pool in full uniform — that he described as a “wake-up call.” 

“You can’t take a police officer out of a police car and put them in a boat and expect them to be able to operate the boat in a day,” he said. 

A routine day on the water can take a dangerous turn out of nowhere, which is why Stassi always has to be on his toes. 

“Most of our job is keeping people safe,” he said.

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