Harbor designation expands Oak Bluffs Police capabilities

Boats docked at Oak Bluffs harbor. —Eunki Seonwoo

The Oak Bluffs Police Department will now be able to make arrests within town waters.

The town’s select board granted the department the harbor patrol designation on Tuesday evening, expanding its enforcement authority. 

The request stems from when a Cotuit man, Riley Blizard, allegedly drunkenly drove a 43-foot speedboat aground on Chappaquiddick in early June. The Edgartown Police Department received the harbor patrol designation later that month to give its officers the ability to respond to these kinds of calls. 

Under state laws, specifically chapter 90B section 12, local police officers lacking the designation have had to rely on the harbormaster, Massachusetts Environmental Police, and the Massachusetts State Police to make arrests on the water.

Michael Santoro, chair of the Oak Bluffs harbor advisory committee, said on Tuesday their harbormaster enforces the town bylaws and is able to issue citations, but is unable to perform certain enforcement actions, like a Breathalyzer test for a drunk boater. 

There was hesitation from Oak Bluffs select board members, who questioned the necessity of the designation. Gail Barmakian, Oak Bluffs select board chair, pointed out incidents like the Chappaquiddick boat grounding are rare.

Jonathan Searle, the Oak Bluffs Police Chief, said there would be no active patrolling of the town harbor, and his department’s current operations wouldn’t change. Searle said the harbormaster will remain the primary enforcer on the water, and the designation would allow his officers to assist by making arrests without having to rely on another agency. 

“This is just legalese, the designation for harbor patrol,” Searle said. “I’m not shopping for boats.” 

He also pointed out there are times Massachusetts State Police are not available, and Environmental Police tend to not be on the Island after work hours. 

Additionally, Searle said the designation “removes any doubt” on boating law enforcement conducted by Oak Bluffs Police. 

“This is just an added tool in their toolbelt in the event they do have to come to the harbor to assist the harbormaster,” Deborah Potter, the Oak Bluffs town administrator, said.


  1. Does Gail read the weekly police log posts the OB Police make on Facebook? Is it her natural instinct to start from “No” on everything crossing her path of influence?

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