NOT all police officers patrol our towns and streets in uniform.

There is a specialist unit within Essex Police which many people may not be as aware of despite the vital role it plays in keeping the county safe.

The brave officers of the Essex Police marine unit have been saving lives and solving crime for more than seven decades.

The unit, which based in Burnham-on-Crouch, covers 365 miles of the Essex coastline, one of the longest in the UK.

On a day-to-day basis the team can deal with incidents ranging from saving lives to catching smuggling rings.

In 2006, quick actions from two constables saved seven lives as they pulled people from the waters of the River Crouch.

Windy conditions had led to 18ft waves bashing against a pontoon.

As people were trying to get on to the pontoon, their boat flipped and everyone was tipped into the rough waters, trapped between the pontoon and the boat.

Officers helped the people out of the water on to the pontoon, one of whom was an elderly woman of 76 who was hypothermic.

The officers provided the pensioner with emergency medical treatment before handing her over to the ambulance service.

Since its launch in 1949, the unit has been involved in hundreds of similar life-saving missions.

In those days, the team only patrolled the River Thames.

Originally named the River Section, a sergeant and four constables were the first officers to become members of this new unit which specialised in marine policing.

Over the next decade, the section grew with the addition of officers and boats to cope with increasing demand for its service, whether this was to prevent a rise in coastal crime, the illegal importation of goods or the utilisation of search and rescue skills.

Divers were added to the unit in 1967 and assisted with the search and recovery of evidence, stolen goods and missing people and in 1971 an inspector was appointed to oversee the expanding unit which was renamed the marine section.

Fast forward 50 years and officers today use high-speed RIB boats and small inflatables to navigate the coastline.

Marine unit inspector Brad Dickel said: “The sheer dedication and professionalism of our marine unit officers cannot be underestimated.

“Deploying both day and night, in all weathers, in the fight against those who use our waterways to commit crime, is nothing short of exceptional.

“I am continually impressed by the level of skill, expertise and most of all, motivation the team bring to the role.”

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

One of the team took her day job on the water to the next level by rowing the Atlantic.

PC Dawn Wood rowed 3,000 miles from Gran Canaria to Barbados in just 53 days before settling back into the unit as one of the most experienced members of the team with 17 years under her belt.

She went on to raise £15,000 for the Marine Conservative Society.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

The team are also on hand to help with large events, such as the Clacton Airshow, where the team help to create an exclusion zone in the water in case the worst was to happen and a plane came down into the sea.

In 2012, the unit also played a vital role in policing the Thames 24 hours a day during the London Olympics.

During the games, the team came to the aid of an American warship which nearly offended the Queen.

The warship was coming in and had raised what is called a courtesy flag.

One of the team realised the flag was upside, so called the warship to tell the crew of its faux pas.

In July, the team welcomed two special constables and a specialist marine technician ahead of the busy summer season.

Later that month officers enlisted the help of the public after a video emerged of anti-social jet ski riders on the River Blackwater.

In 2019, the unit celebrated its milestone 70th anniversary at Burnham Yacht Club.

PC Wood said: ”Our fundamental responsibility hasn’t changed over the past 70 years.

“We’re here to protect Essex, target those who exploit our waterways and bring offenders to justice.”