During their regular patrols, the officers also keep an eye on bridges, navigation dams, power plants, chemical plants, riverside rail yards and other important pieces of infrastructure.
"Since 9/11, our homeland security duties have expanded," Fayak said. "We're always on the lookout for suspicious activity that might be terrorism-related."
Monthly meetings between Natural Resources Police and federal Department of Homeland Security officials keep officers apprised of potential threats.
"I can't get into why, but there have been times when threat levels have been raised," Fayak said.
During visits from VIPs such as the president, patrol boats are often stationed near bridges where a motorcade will pass, or offshore from the state Capitol Complex.
"People don't notice us, but we're there," Fayak said.
The potential need to do battle with would-be terrorists, or even with well-armed drug dealers, forces river-patrol officers to carry additional firepower. Even on routine patrols, officers typically supplement their .40-caliber semi-automatic handguns with AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and 12-gauge pump-action shotguns. If they perceive a threat, even in boating- or fishing-related scenarios, they don bullet-resistant "tactical vests."
Their primary boating-safety duties seldom require such extremes, but that doesn't mean the officers take their safety-enforcement roles any less seriously.
"Boating accidents - we call them 'incidents' - are almost always really bad," Chandler said. "They usually involve high speeds, and people often end up getting hurt or killed."
He said an incident he investigated several years ago perfectly illustrates boating's danger potential.
"A couple of girls were flying up the river in a speedboat, talking to each other and not paying attention to what was ahead," he recalled. "They ended up running into a barge, and both of them were killed. It was an ugly scene."
Chandler said most of the tickets he writes are for safety violations such as reckless boat operation, too few lifejackets, expired or missing fire extinguishers, and insufficient warning lights.
"Our goal is to keep people safe, and to keep them from running into boats or structures," he said. "The safer they are, the more they'll enjoy being out on the water."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.