NEWPORT BEACH — Orange County Sheriff's Department Lt. Tom Slayton said that if you look back at video from his swearing-in ceremony in 1986, you'll hear the emcee say Slayton's career goal was to work in the Harbor Patrol.
It's a unique agency within the Sheriff's Department, employees there say. You have to be well-versed in firefighting, boating and regular law enforcement, among other things.
But being a jack-of-all-trades wasn't what Slayton, 49, was drawn to.
"The Harbor Patrol's mission is unique among law enforcement organizations in Orange County," Slayton wrote in an e-mail. "Much of what we do is service-oriented, rather than enforcement-oriented, and I enjoyed the satisfaction and goodwill that comes from that."
Now, 25 years from taking his oath of duty, and more than 10 years since his first experience with the Harbor Patrol, Slayton is going back out in the water.
On Feb. 26, he'll take over as harbormaster from Mark Long, who is being promoted to captain and moving elsewhere in the Sheriff's Department.
"In total, I spent five years as a deputy assigned to Newport Harbor," Slayton said. "It was the best job I ever had — until now, that is."
Slayton doesn't have many hours logged on the water, but he said he earned his sea legs on his first day with the Harbor Patrol back in the mid-1990s.
"My training officer took me out for a 'coastal orientation,' under the guise of showing me the landmarks and the reefs between Newport and Dana Point harbors," Slayton said. "He left the engines on and let the boat idle for 20 minutes at a time.
"The combination of the exhaust fumes and being sideways to the swell turned me green pretty quickly. To this day, I believe that his real goal was to see if I had the stomach for the job."
Slayton proved he did, and after being promoted to sergeant and leaving the harbor, he said he's continually worked to get back harborside.
His first goal is to continue what Long started: a friendly, established line of communication between the Harbor Patrol and its constituency, which includes an array of commercial and casual sailors, businesses and residents.
"While the name on the door has changed, the philosophy and approach of the Orange County Sheriff's Harbor Patrol has not," he said.