Ahoy! 2 boats down

Rescuing stranded, drifting boaters is a regular job for those who man the city’s police and fire boats, especially as summer weather draws more boaters to the water. But lately it’s not boaters, but unmanned boats that have been keeping city officials busy.

Two boats are currently filling with water and sinking below the docks of the Marietta Harbor where they are moored. The boats appear to be lost or abandoned by their owners, leaving the city searching for owners and babysitting the boats in the meantime.

One of them, a half sunken metal speedboat, has been towed ashore more than once this year, according to Marietta Fire Lt. Mike Dietsch.

“I’m not sure where it was retrieved the first time, but we tied up below the Lafayette, and it got loose again and we had to go get it,” he said.

The fire department has had to pump water out of another sinking boat docked at the Marietta Harbor. The yellow ski boat was left by its out-of-state owner at the Marietta Harbor docks late last summer, said Marietta Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp.

“He entered into an arrangement with WASCO, because they are the harbor masters, for a daily rental. Basically, he has not made good on his contract,” said Hupp.

Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram III is in the process of trying to contact the owner via certified mail. If the owner does not claim the boat within a certain period of time, the Ohio Revised Code gives the city authority to take possession of the boat and auction it off, said Bertram.

Ideally the owner will come settle his contract for docking the boat and take possession, said Hupp. Otherwise, the boat will require a significant amount of city manpower to get it out of the water and onto the auction block.

Even then, the boat’s owner has a certain period of time to claim the auction earnings before the city can officially call the money theirs, said Bertram.

The speed boat poses a different problem in that it does not appear to have any registration or identification number, according to Dietsch.

While calls for the Marietta police and fire boats to retrieve unmanned boats are not as common as other calls-boats stuck on sandbars, taking on water, or out of gas, for instance-they do happen once or twice a year, estimated Dietsch.

He said he can never remember a boat fully sinking before being retrieved. But if one sank in relatively shallow water, the fire department’s dive team would likely be called in to attach a tow line to the boat for retrieval.

Det. Aaron Nedeff, one of the Marietta Police officers trained in inland boat operation, said the Marietta Police rescued a drifting boat that had been reported stolen around the time of the last Ohio River Sternwheel Festival in September.

“It had come loose in Devola, and we found it down by the (House of Wines) and towed it back,” he recalled.

The police and fire boats, both of which were acquired by grants and put into action last year, consider such boat rescues a public safety service and do not charge boat owners for the service, added Nedeff.

Officials could not put a cost estimate on rescuing such boats, but Dietsch said small boats can often be retrieved by a two-man crew. The most recent rescue of the speedboat took approximately 30 minutes, he said, but retrievals can range from 15 minutes to more than an hour depending on where the boat is and what sort of challenges it poses.