Harbor to Get Rescue UTV

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 26, 2024

The Friends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department have finished fundraising to buy a new Polaris UTV, like this one, for use4 by beach lifeguards for emergencies on the beach. Photo submitted

This summer, people who have an emergency on Morro Strand Beach should see help arrive a bit sooner, after the City accepted a large donation to buy an off-road vehicle. 

The Friends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department recently finished a fundraising campaign to raise $40,000 to buy a new Polaris UTV (Utility Task Vehicle), commonly called a 4-wheeler for easier access to the beach. 

“This vehicle will make it much easier to navigate on the beach,” Harbor Director Ted Schiafone told Estero Bay News, “as well as the ability to get around traffic on the Embarcadero if needed for an emergency.”

The Polaris UTV is the latest in a string of essential equipment for the Harbor Department, and Harbor Patrol, that the Friends group has raised money for.

Friends President, Bill Luffee said, “The Friends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department is again grateful to our numerous supporters that stepped up to the plate and we purchased the Polaris UTV a couple of weeks ago and hope to get delivery and equipped to be used for the Summer Season.”

Luffee, who sits on the Harbor Advisory Board, and a handful of others, formed the Friends several years ago. They’ve made a significant impact for the Harbor Department in general and purchased several key pieces of equipment, like a beach wheelchair for public use, and night vision equipment for nighttime rescues on the water, among others.

Raising the money for the Polaris went relatively quickly. “We started the process in November of 2023,” Luffee said, “and it took approximately 5 months to raise the necessary funds. We sent out a special invitation to our supporters to contribute to this project and created a link on our website, so people had the information to learn about it. We printed flyers, posted them around town, and set up a booth at various events making people aware.”

Getting a smaller vehicle for the waterfront became apparent in the face of disaster. “If you recall,” Schiafone said, “after the high surf storms in late December, all roadway accesses to our beaches were blocked by debris. Our rescue trucks could not have been able to get onto the beach had there been need for a rescue. However, the UTV would have easily navigated those conditions.”

The basic model Polaris Ranger Crew XP 1000 — Desert Sand vehicle is $22,000 but the Harbor Patrol ordered several accessories that bumped the cost up to $35,800. They still need some gear to be ready for the type of emergencies beach lifeguards see, like drowning and medical emergencies. “While this UTV is custom ordered with many important off-road features,” Schiafone said, “there are some additional custom items that need to be added so that it can handle beach emergencies and rescues; such as the ability to carry some medical equipment and transport a person on a backboard. Those items will be added after we receive the UTV.”

He expects they’ll get the vehicle sometime in June. They will also have to learn how to safely drive the vehicle and will train with other first responders.

Schiafone said, “Our Harbor Patrol Officers and Lifeguards will go through training with our Fire Department on all the necessary safety and protocols for emergency operations.” 

That the same training regiment they’ve used with personal watercraft or PWCs, which they use for rescuing people in the surf.

The department’s pickup truck, which is normally what the lifeguards use, is old. “Large pickup trucks are not the best vehicles for beach use,” Schiafone said, “they are difficult to navigate traffic backups on the Embarcadero during emergency response and have blind spots for driving around crowded beach activities.”

For Luffee, the new vehicle will be good for everyone. “This isn’t just a vehicle,” he told EBN, “it’s a commitment to the well being of every soul that sets foot on our sands, ensuring that our cherished beach remains a haven of joy relaxation, and security.”

With this $40,000 fundraising campaign drawing to a close, Luffee reported that their group has raised nearly $300,000. “With this approximately $40,000 earmark,” Luffee said, “we are up to close to $290,000  Raised for our Harbor Department over the years.”

One of the Friend’s big fundraisers is set for the end of June. The Annual Morro Bay Marine Swap Meet is set for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 29 at the Maritime Museum located at the north end of Front Street and The Embarcadero. 

Vendors will have a myriad of nautical items — fishing poles, rods and reels, nautical art, marine electronics, boat gear, lifejackets, surfboards, and more. It’s the most unique swap meet anywhere and is done in conjunction with the Morro Bay Youth Sailing Foundation and the Maritime Museum.

If readers would like to know more about the Fiends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department, see the website at: www.friendsofthembhd.org. 


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