The throttles of the patrol boat are pushed flush with its console as it speeds through Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway in pursuit of a robbery suspect aboard a powerful speedboat. Thinking water would provide an easy escape was a mistake for the fleeing criminal, and the chase is quickly ended as the boats come together and officers jump over the gunnel with their sidearms drawn, slamming the robber to the deck.
To safely perform these high-speed maneuvers and effectively put rounds on target in a marine environment, it takes specialized training like that provided by Tactical Advantage Consultants (TAC) out of Miami, Florida. TAC’s instructors are all current or veteran marine patrol supervisors with decades of experience policing both inland and offshore waterways. Bobby Knight, a retired captain with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, founded TAC in 1986 to address deficiencies he saw in the training of officers assigned to marine patrol. Despite their unique and dangerous operating environment, the only training courses offered to most officers are publically available boater education courses that cover basic safety topics—they fail to address law enforcement-specific concerns like adapting arrest and defensive tactics to vessels. When it comes to chasing and stopping fleeing boats, there are almost no options available to prepare officers.
The Marine Patrol Officer Course is TAC’s remedy for this lack of maritime-focused training. Over five days, its participants receive much more than an introduction to boating. Day one begins with a short classroom discussion of the week’s schedule and assignment of crews before students head for the dock and the host agency’s patrol boats, where they will spend the remainder of the week. After a brief familiarization with the specific controls and casualty procedures of their boat, each crew motors out to safe water and instructors brief them on the first exercise. Without brakes, initiating a stop on a suspect’s moving vessel can prove hazardous, as collisions between the officers and suspects become a real possibility. TAC instructors make this the subject of their first lesson as they direct officers to pull up outside the suspect boat’s wake and hit the lights and siren before bringing their speed down at the first sign of compliance. Felony stops are the next logical progression, and TAC does a good job of getting students to put guns on target when the level of crime requires it. Staying at the outer edge of their weapon’s effective range, officers observe and cover the suspects as they issue commands to get them in position for applying handcuffs. With the advantage against a kneeling, crossed-leg suspect, officers move in and board the vessel to gain full control.
Though drawing a weapon and aiming it at a suspect will cause their compliance in most circumstances, there is always potential for a fight. To build the skills necessary to win it, TAC tows a target boat rigged with mannequins to the training area. Environmental and geographic restrictions prevent live-fire sessions for most classes, but marksmanship is a primary focus in the course. Using Glock handguns with Simunition barrel conversions and FX marking rounds, officers retain the feel and function of an issued sidearm. Making accurate shots from a boat is difficult even for the most experienced shooters, as water moving under and along a vessel’s hull translates to constant movement of its deck, which pitches up and down and sways and dips to either side, affecting the shooter’s stance and ability to maintain sight picture—all basic fundamentals of marksmanship. TAC looks to help officers overcome these difficulties by first getting them underway and exposing them to the issues and then offering mitigation strategies to lessen the effects. Officers soon learn that leaning into their boat’s console or gunnel helps limit movement, and forward momentum through the water will somewhat stabilize the boat even in choppy seas.