Time to replace the 52 footers? New Larger MLBs for D13, Maybe the Arctic?

File:USCG 52 foot motor lifeboat Intrepid, 2009 11 18.pngUS Coast Guard photo

The Coast Guard has four 52 foot motor life boats, all built in the 1960s, all in the Thirteenth District:

Victory -Station Yaquina Bay, Newport, Ore.
Invincible II -Station Grays Harbor, Westport, Wash.
Triumph II -Station Cape Disappointment, Ilwaco, Wash.
Intrepid –Station Coos Bay, Charleston, Ore.

The Coast Guard’s information sheet regarding this class is available here (pdf). There is also a short Wikipedia entry here.

These boats were brought to my attention by a reader who felt they needed replacement and further suggested that a replacement might also be useful for seasonal work in the Arctic.

I have to assume they have some unique capabilities, for these fifty year old boats to have been retained when first 44s and then 47 foot MLBs might have replaced them. At 32 tons they are considerably bigger than the 20 ton 47 footers, and they have considerably more range. It also appears they have more comfortable accommodations for extended missions.

The reader alluded to, recommended a C. Raymond Hunt designed, 61 foot 43 ton pilot/rescue boat, built by Gladding Hearn Shipbuilding. Somerset, Mass, for service in Bermuda.

Earlier we discussed the Netherlands’ new 32.5 ton design that might also be an appropriate replacement. There is also more here.

At any rate it would be a small class, probably less than ten, but we would not necessarily have to start from scratch in seeking a replacement for these now very old, but apparently uniquely useful rescue vessels.

34 thoughts on “Time to replace the 52 footers? New Larger MLBs for D13, Maybe the Arctic?

  1. That Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM) beach launch rig could be the perfect answer for the Arctic, and the lack of port Infrastructure there. They could be hanger kept during the winter and quickly launched when needed in the summer. A cool looking setup!

    If they do replace the old venerable 52’s, I wonder if a larger style surf capable boat could find a useful home on both coasts.

  2. Reblogged this on luvsiesous and commented:
    Friends, [br][br]

    This blogger brings up a great point. These Coast Guard 52 footers are getting old. [br][br]

    What do we replace them with, and when do we replace them? [br][br]

    Wayne [br][br]

  3. There is considerable risk in operating these intermediate craft in the Arctic. Because of the lack of port infrastructure they would benefit from beach launch systems that would also allow them to be stored and maintained under cover in winter/inclement summer weather. They would need to have high equipment redundancy and robustness to survive alone in areas with no back up craft. Finally, high speeds and ice do not mix well for small craft. The suggested craft from Damen and the pilot boat are all high speed boats. Floating ice could quickly render either of these boats inoperable or even sunk if operated at speeds. The self righting features would also be highly impacted if topside icing is encountered.

    The 52-footers are really long in the tooth and have been far from cutting edge for decades. If this very large heavy weather boat is truly still needed then its replacement should be sourced from existing global designs and not attempted in house. Of course, the CG would need to modify the design to account for equipment packages in common use in the States.

    As far as an Arctic service rescue boat, there would probably be little commonality in a 52-footer replacement and a vessel suitable for North Slope operations. IMHO

  4. Just to toss out something from left field perhaps a hovercraft might be better for some Arctic missions. No beach launching gear needed, can run on and through the ice if the pressure ridges aren’t too high (i.e. can be run during freeze-up and breakup too), high speeds possible when conditions permit, might be able to utilize existing airport hanger infrastructure in some localities…

    There are a few running up around Barrow servicing offshore oil islands, I think Crowley might be running them. They haven’t had a very positive experience with the one running to the new airport in Akutan and it is being replaced with helicopter service now. The Canadian Coast Guard has fairly long experience running hovercraft out of a facility near the Vancouver, B.C. airport which is located on the shallow Fraiser River delta.

  5. I’ve always been curious what capability these boats have vs. the 44′ & 47′ MLBs.

    I remember the CG testing (on lease maybe?) some air cushion vehicles back in the 70s. Saw one operating over the ice on the Illinois River when it toured District 2. They were looking at it’s usefulness for light icebreaking and SAR in winter/ice conditions. We noted it was faster than anything else on an icey river. For some reason, even with a lot of experimenting including several different vehicles, they weren’t adopted. Perhaps the technology has matured some in 40 years and it is time to re-visit this idea. My concern, both for in the arctic and Pacific NW, is what strong winds do to craft stability?

  6. Does anyone have a picture of a 52′ Motor Life boat to add the challenge looking for a picture of the boat with # 52312. My father is a retired Coastie & he is approaching a significant Bday that I would love to fulfill his dream to get a picture of one for him. That was the boat he was stationed on. “Victory”

  7. If the MLB gets larger will it still be a MLB? At 65-foot it would be classified a cutter and probably a WPB. Could a new six-bitter be in the making?

      • It is probably bad enough riding a 110 out here on a multi-day patrol. I’d hate to do that aboard something smaller on a regular basis.

  8. As a former Coxswain, that is budget minded, overhaul and upgrades are better than replacement if the hull detail inspections show good integrity. If not, replace with exactly the same design, just new and upgraded with electronics. There is no need to change these vessels, there was a lot of thought put into them. Slow, heavy, powerful,…because they needed to be. They were designed for a specific task,…saving lives, and they do it very well, not only the civilians that benefited from them but also Coasties from time to time. In heavy seas, the 52 could tow fishing vessels far easier than the 44. The Invincible did just that one stormy night for me and my shipmates in 30 ft seas…

    • Agreed…..the design has proved itself over and over. It has out lived the 44 and maybe even the 47. Upgrade the systems to currently used equipment available off the shelf. TRIUMPH was my charge for a few years and brought my crew and I home in some nasty crap. Why reinvent the wheel? It took almost 8 years to develop the 47 from concept to prototype…..

  9. Four years ago this was written, and another month before that I ran the case of my career. My crew and I towed the 170 ton, 80-something foot F/V Steve C across a break bar coming into the Columbia River mouth. We came across with 1100ft of towline out, thought all was well until we found ourselves in over 16′ breaking seas. Triumph more or less broached 4 times; instead of rolling up and over in the trough she straightened up on her towline, each wave covering us in tons of water, and she still charged across the bar as designed. Had we not been on Triumph and instead had been on a 47′ MLB I don’t believe we would have made it through the crossing without a mishap. A good portion of our success was due to luck, but the 52 proved herself to the four on board who were not already believers.

    Is the 52 old? You betcha. Replace? Nah. You could sink half a million dollars into each of these marvelous vessels and they’d be around for generations. There’s nothing like the confidence you get from an 80,000lb steel hulled boat that has survived worse than what they are allowed to go into these days; being restricted by modern SAR policy pretty much eliminates the need for anything updated because the 52’s have proven themselves over and over again in conditions far worse than what I took her into….

    That said, I honestly believe that the mission of the Surfman is going by the wayside. Policies are becoming more safety oriented, and currently a 52′ can only go out at her limitations if she is watched by a helicopter. With that in mind why risk the lives of a boat crew at all if you can safely hoist them up with a helo? Patrol boats on all coasts are doing the same job as the 52′; having served on CGC Sanibel for 2 years and towed numerous F/V’s while serving there I can say that the 110’s can safely respond to any mission a 52′ can provided it isn’t in the surf. I’m saying this as the biggest 52′ supporter I met in 10 years of running them, except for maybe CWO Beth Slade.

    The USCG has always been the organization that makes do with the least funding of the five services. I think it’d be a waste of money to build replacements for these boats. Rehab and update, that’ll save money that the service could put towards their ambitious plan for new cutters. If not then just get rid of the niché mission the USCG only keeps around because we keep the 52’s in service.

    BM1 Rob Mantell (Ret)
    Surfman #443

    • Thank you for your service and BZ, BM1 Mantell. The 52s are workhorses, as your story illustrates. The 47 is a great for what it does, but the 52 provides stability, towing capacity, and range far in excess of what the 47 can provide. With four bunks in the bow, it can carry two crews on extended missions. They are remarkable vessels and well-suited for the PNW coast.

      The summer before my son’s senior year, when he was looking to enlist in the USCG, we toured Station Yaquina Bay and the Victory in Newport OR. When we called to see if we could come in for a tour, we were told “gonna have to be this afternoon, we’re working kind of a big case right now.” You can see the “big case” at https://www.facebook.com/USCoastGuardStationYaquinaBay/posts/1269382093071786. If I remember right, it was an 11-hour tow. The BM2 who gave us the tour said it was the biggest tow he had ever done. I doubt a 47 could have brought that boat in.

      • Big ol’ boy there! Yep, they don’t make lifeboats like this anymore. Fun fact, the guy standing on the stbd side of the Vic is BMC Sean Crahen, one of the guys who had a hand in my certification process all the way from crewman to Surfman on both platforms. He’s an interesting cat, his whole approach to running boats was very different from anyone else I met in my service time. He is a very sharp individual who was able to dissect every part of everything going on around him from a more technical approach than the rest of us. It was a real treat to learn from him, He’s a fine leader and a supremely capable seaman.

  10. I’ve served on the Invincible from 1980 to 1982 that boat pulled us through so many situations I would ride it before I would ride any of those 47 foot boats. And if it works and it ain’t broken don’t fix it. I just saw the Invincible this year refitted with new engines and new generators. She’s been brought up to date and there’s no reason she can’t serve another 50 years. She’s been doing the job she was built for. And she can still do it. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Why start over when she’s already doing the job doing it well why start over. We made the investment she solid she’s up to date let her work.

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  12. Bravo Sierra! The Mighty 52 does not need replacement. It is a mission specific vessel that has stood the test of time. And, they have paid for themselves many times over. It has been my experience that the new is not always the better; note the 270 WMEC program. No, what your “reader” expressed has less to do with mission capability than is does about increased appropriations for the Coast Guard. For the coastal environs of the D-13, the 52’ cutter is legendary. Build copies, sure. But replace? Not needed.

  13. I was at Yaquina Bay in the latter part of the 70’s and my first SAR call was on the Victory. The F/V Lady Grace and it was a classic gut busting winter call.

    Sadly I read a story a week or so ago that the Victory is being taken out of service. No real details except that the 52’s are getting very hard to keep up with. The Intrepid has had some recent problems as well. It sounds like the end is near for these great lifeboats. Yaquina Bay wants to put the Victory in front of the station and that is where she belongs if the powers to be decide to retire her.


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  17. All four 52 footers are officially retired today. They are all currently underway to rendezvous at Station Cape Disappointment. The Intrepid left Coos Bay yesterday, the Victory left Yaquina Bay at 0200 this morning and the Invincible will leave later today.

    The end of a era.

    • I heard in December they were finally being retired. It makes me sad but it’s time. I don’t think the USCG surf units need that mission anymore, the extreme weather super heavy tow. It’s a manly ass’d mission, but policy has made it so it’s not likely, and when it is you have to have a helicopter as a back up?. My platform is that if I have to have a helicopter as a backup then why I am I out there risking my neck and those of my crew?

      I’m not a nobody, I have over 500hrs on Triumph and Invincible, I love those boats and spent as much time on them as ops, maintenance and training would allow. I also went to the QR memorial two of my last three years in the service, it hurts my heart knowing that while they were dying a helicopter made their rescue. I know, different everything surrounding that case, but the potential is there for the same result.

      I’ll miss them, but it’s time to let part of this mission go the way it should.


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