Looking at Replacing the 52 Foot MLBs

Coast Guard crew members aboard four 52-foot Motor Life Boats and one 47-foot Motor Life Boat transit in formation outbound of Yaquina Bay, Ore., April 9, 2019. The four 52-foot MLBs are the only active vessels of their kind and the crews are assigned to different units across the Pacific Northwest, which is why having all four together for the roundup was a rare occurrence.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Lilburn)

It looks like the Coast Guard may be finally looking at replacing the 52 foot Motor lifeboats.

“The U. S. Coast Guard (USCG) is conducting market research in preparation for the replacement of four Special Purpose Craft – Heavy Weather (SPC-HWX).  The primary purpose of the SPC-HWX is to conduct Search and Rescue (SAR) missions in extreme weather conditions to include surf and extreme seas and be able to tow larger fishing vessels.  Other missions will include Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) and law enforcement.  These boats will replace 52-foot SPC-HWX boats that were built in the 1950s and are increasingly difficult to maintain.  The SPC-HWX boats will be deployed to four USCG stations in the Pacific Northwest.  A preliminary table of requirements that outlines the features desired in a new SPC-HWX is attached…”

We could see this coming. One has already been taken out of service. They are approaching 60 years old, and, while they have warranted affection from those that have served on them, we can certainly do better. We have been discussing possible replacements for over seven years, here, here, here, here, and here

There are two specifications that I saw as unnecessarily limiting, first the dimensions, length, 64′, beam, 22′ max with fendering, draft 7′, and secondly the maximum speed, 25 knots. Are the maximum dimensions based on infrastructure limits, or are we unnecessarily limiting our choices? Limits on length in particular might preclude use of innovations like the Axe Bow. We really should not have to specify a maximum length, unless there are limits on supporting facilities. Competition will inevitably favor smaller craft as long as they can meet the other specifications. Higher speed is desirable and attainable, so why not add 30 knots as an objective speed and provide an incentive in the contract for reaching speeds over 25 knots. On the other hand the RFI include nothing about noise of G-force limits.

This RFI only refers to replacing the four 52 footers, but in many places, a larger, relatively fast motor lifeboat could be a suitable replacement for the 87 foot WPBs, after all you can expect heavy weather from time to time, anywhere the Coast Guard operates. If the Coast Guard does see the advantage of replacing WPBs with these larger MLBs, it is also possible to make this type of vessel ice-capable for operation in Alaska and and other Northern ports.

There should be no problem finding a builder with the appropriate experience. I expect  Vigor now owner of the former Kvichak Marine Industries, Seattle, WA will be a bidder.

I do hope someone will look at the RAFNAR hull form.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

6 thoughts on “Looking at Replacing the 52 Foot MLBs

  1. The specs read like an upsized 47 MLB. They are specifically calling for design items that limit top speed ie: must use propellers (not waterjets) and must be able to tow 350 displacement tons. I did like that it calls out a house generator instead of relying on main engine driven alternators for heavy loads. The max length is probably a factor of existing pier/mooring or haul out capability. It is much easier to get new boat money than shoreside money. It has been a factor in the past with small boats for large cutters. The boat Kvichak just made for Eagle had to fit the existing davits. The same thing happened years ago when they made a second batch of 25 MLB for the 210s and 270s even though there were much better designs of boats. No money to modify the ships to handle them.

  2. Approaching 60 years old? The Victory was commissioned in 1956. She has done very well for being 64 years old.

    They should also consider building more of these. They fit a niche that is useful, particularly in longer range calls instead of using a larger patrol boat. They could be strategically based on both coasts.

  3. Another possible candidate. Pilot boat with man in the water rescue facilities in the stern. https://www.marinelog.com/shipyards/shipyard-news/gladding-hearn-delivers-new-maryland-pilots-launch/

    “…all-aluminum launch measures 52.6 feet overall, with a 16.8 feet beam and a 4.8 feet draft. Powered by twin Volvo Penta D16, EPA Tier 3-certified diesel engines, each producing 641 bhp at 1800 rpm, the vessel’s top speed is over 26 knots.”

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