On Saturday morning, Budd Inlet was calm and quiet. The sky was overcast, and the tide was low. Few boaters were out on the water, waiting instead for the afternoon’s clearer skies and warmer weather.
Suddenly, the roar of an engine disturbed the calm. A white dinghy zipped along the eastern shore of the bay, going much faster than 5 knots in the no-wake zone. It was the Port of Olympia Harbor Patrol’s first excitement of the morning.
When the crew caught up to the errant boater, he claimed that he hadn’t been speeding — he’d just gotten the boat back from the shop, and he was trying out the motor. But Harbor Patrol Cmdr. James Broman said he hears that excuse all the time.
“We get a whole list of ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuses,” Broman said. “I just got my boat fixed, I was just trying it out, I didn’t know. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.”
During summer months, Harbor Patrol crews are on the water from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday through Sunday. The Harbor Patrol boat is typically run by a four-person volunteer crew that keeps an eye on port security and boater safety. Crews remove logs and other hazards from Budd Inlet’s waters, rescue stranded kayakers, assist or tow in boats with engine trouble, and guide large ships into the port.
Crews can also be called in on off hours to assist in search and rescue, Broman said. That typically happens 15 to 20 times a year.
Broman, the former chief at Lacey Fire District 3, signed up with the Harbor Patrol about seven years ago when his own boat broke down. A crew came to his rescue, and he asked how he could repay them. They handed him an application.
The Harbor Patrol has 23 active volunteers, and the port is training a few more to bring the force up to about 30 people. Many of them — including the crew that worked Saturday — are recreational boaters who want to give back to the community.
“It’s very important to keep the water safe,” volunteer Pat Brower said. “It’s the most important part of our job.
“But it is a lot of fun too,” she added.
Once, Brower and volunteer Steve Hager were working a shift together and had to rescue a group of senior citizens, visiting from Europe, from a broken down boat. Everyone arrived at shore safely — but both Brower and Hager remember there being a lot of excitement.
“I’ve never seen a group of more excited senior citizens in my life,” Hager said.
Broman’s best advice for those enjoying the water in Budd Inlet is for them to wear life jackets — not just have them, wear them. He said he frequently sees people in kayaks or on paddle boards carrying their life jackets instead of wearing them. The problem, he said, is that it’s difficult to climb back into a capsized kayak, and paddle boards often float away when people fall off. So then people are stuck waiting for Harbor Patrol.
“I’ll never understand why people don’t just wear them” Broman said.