Crew Boats: Aluminum yards in high gear as demand and complexity grow

Look closely: Is that a typo in the vessel’s name? Seacor’s Norman McCall played a practical joke before John G. McCall (above) was christened last December: The lettering on the bow spelled out “Joan,” which guests were told was the name of a granddaughter. At the last minute, the “A” was replaced with an “H,” honoring John Gellert, a company exec. (Alan Haig-Brown photos)

As is the case with their big brothers, the demand for crew/supply boats is so strong that deliveries stretch out to 2011. Many vessels in this category are all-aluminum and come under the heading of fast supply boats, underscoring their increasing use for hauling liquids in below-deck tanks and cargo on the main deck.

These speedy, versatile boats are mainly built at small yards along Bayou Teche near Loreauville and Patterson, La. But demand is so great that yards in Morgan City, La., Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans are also building them.

One noticeable trend is that vessels are getting longer and working farther from shore in deeper water. Deck and hull loads are heavier, too, so high-horsepower diesels are needed to reach speeds above 25 knots. More exotic electronics are allowing these vessels to use dynamic positioning (DP) and to maintain better low-speed control of their propellers. Advanced charting systems and more sophisticated monitoring and alarm controls are also spreading.

“There is somewhat of a domino effect here,” said Scotty Tibbs, controller of Gulf Craft and one of three brothers who now run the shipyard. “The inclusion of DP-2 means at least two bow thrusters. We have delivered a 190-foot crew boat with three.”

“No question that crew boats are installing electronic packages that once were reserved to supply boats,” said Karl Beier, president of Beier Radio in New Orleans. Beier is a leading supplier of DP systems, touch-screen monitoring, and alarm systems and communications packages for vessels working in the Gulf.

Gulf Craft

Nowhere are these trends more apparent than at Gulf Craft LLC in Patterson, which has been building crew/supply boats since the 1970s. A second generation of the Tibbs family is now guiding the company.

Gulf Craft is building several boats this year for longtime customer Seacor Marine of Houma, La. Two are of special note. One matches the longest crew/supply boat ever built; the other is the Gulf’s first high-speed catamaran crew boat, with a pair of MTU 3,200-hp engines in each hull for speeds above 40 knots.

At 190 feet, the first vessel, John G. McCall, is the same length as Granville C. McCall, built for Seacor back in 2002. Five Cummins KTA-50 engines, rated at 1,800 hp each (about 9,000 hp in all), power both boats. But the two vessels vary in several key respects: load, electronics and bow thrusters.

Below deck on John G. McCall (Alan Haig-Brown photos)

John G. McCall is outfitted to carry liquid mud in hull tanks. Normally, mud is carried in the displacement hulls, but some Seacor customers wanted the ability to top off tanks of drill ships or semisubmersible rigs or carry specialized drilling mud at speeds greater than the 13 to 15 knots of the average boat.

“Our customers call the shots regarding the way our boats are equipped, so when they want a faster way to get liquid mud to their drilling operations, we listen, and the John G. McCall is the result,” said Joe McCall, project manager for Seacor and son of designer Norman McCall. The boat can carry 1,100 barrels of liquid mud in six tanks.

Of course you can’t add tanks to a boat without taking into account other considerations. “Liquid mud is an environmentally hazardous material,” McCall added. “That drove the requirement for the boat to be rated at DP-2. To receive this rating, all propulsion and maneuvering components had to be redundant.”

This led to the inclusion of three bow thrusters, two tunnel and one azimuthing. Other redundant systems include steering, with five 54-inch-by-54-inch propellers and three independent rudders. With five props, three can be ruddered, one outboard on each side of the boat and one behind the centerline propeller. If one fails, there will still be two for maneuvering.

Four Cummins QSM 11 engines also contribute to redundancy. Two power 290-kW gensets that run ship’s power and power the mud, fuel and water discharge pumps; the other pair are set up so that one drives hydraulic pumps to provide power to the two 200-hp Thrustmaster bow thrusters and the other powers the 400-hp Thrustmaster azimuthing thruster.

In addition to the liquid mud, the vessel can carry 24,880 gallons of rig water and 38,650 gallons of fuel. There is a clear area of 3,444 square feet on the 123-foot-by-28-foot cargo deck. With less cargo on the main deck, the vessel can be outfitted with 2,400 cubic feet of dry bulk mud in two tanks.

Neuville Boat Works on Bayou Teche delivered a 154-footer, Lady Eve, to Iberia Crewboat this year and will hand over a sister vessel, Great Scott, to Texas Crew Boats in 2008. (Courtesy of Neuville Boat Works)


Maximum speed is 26 knots with a cruising speed of 23 knots. To maximize cargo deck space, passenger capacity in the main deck cabin is 36.

If maximum passenger capacity at high speed is the desire, the second Gulf Craft vessel provides a most unusual answer. Seacor Cheetah, an Incat-Crowther vessel, is really a high-speed catamaran ferry hull with two superstructure levels holding 149 passengers.

In each of the hulls are a pair of MTU 16V4000 engines driving two Hamilton HM811 waterjets. Total propulsion horsepower is approximately 13,200, a record for crew/supply boats in the Gulf. Maneuverability is enhanced by two retractable azimuthing bow thrusters, one per hull.

That translates into a speed of 36 to 42 knots carrying 149 passengers with up to 152 tons deadweight. The cargo deck is 2,700 square feet, and the vessel can hold 13,150 gallons of cargo fuel.

Without the space of a monohull, there are no tanks for rig water, and fuel capacity is reduced. Crew quarters are located on the mid deck with cabins, galley, mess and laundry facilities for up to 10 crew.

Here’s betting that when the boat is delivered at the end of 2007, some of the crew spaces will be occupied by Seacor and Gulf Craft executives getting a look at the vessel. Gulf Craft is also building two 175-foot vessels and a pair of 165-foot crew/suppliers, all for Seacor Marine.

Midship Marine

Speaking of building sister ships for a single customer, Midship Marine of Harvey, La., is continuing a relationship begun in 2006 with Bourbon Offshore. Midship has primarily been known for fast passenger ferries in the Caribbean, but high demand has led the company into crew/supply boats.

This year Midship will build five 170-foot-by-32-foot such boats for Bourbon. Each will have significant tankage below deck, including 34,500 gallons of cargo fuel, 30,000 gallons of rig water and 2,000 gallons of potable water. At 109 by 29 feet, the aft decks will carry up to 220 long tons of cargo. Passenger seating for 80 is available in the main deck superstructure and accommodations for a crew of eight are in the hull.

Propulsion is provided by four Cummins KTA 50 engines rated at 1,800 hp each at 1,900 rpm. The engines turn Hamilton 811 waterjets. Two Cummins 99-kW gensets provide electric power and a 200-hp bow thruster is installed for DP-1 rating.

Breaux Brothers Enterprises of Loreauville, La., built Fast Temptress, a 160-footer, for Edison Chouest Offshore. (Courtesy of Edison Chouest Offshore)

Breaux Brothers Enterprises

Most of Breaux Brothers’ new builds are for repeat customers. In the last half of 2006, the Loreauville shipyard delivered two 160-foot-by-30-foot crew/supply boats to Edison Chouest Offshore of Galliano, La., and a 145-foot vessel to Eric Miller Marine, located in Trinidad.

In the first quarter of 2007 another 145-foot vessel joined the Eric Miller Marine fleet, and in mid-May another longtime customer, Gulf Logistics, took delivery of a 177-footer. In the past, Gulf Logistics had purchased 160-foot vessels from Breaux Brothers. The 177-footer is powered by four Caterpillar 3512 B engines rated at 1,750 hp at 1,600 rpm.

Beyond that, Breaux Brothers had a 160-footer for longtime customer Crew Boats Inc. of Chalmette, La., due in August, and another 177-foot vessel in October. After that, Edison Chouest Offshore has two 160-footers for 2008 and 2009.

C & G Boat Works

In Mobile, C & G builds a lot of crew/supply boats for its own operating company, Graham Gulf, plus others for a short list of clients. Eighteen vessels are under contract for 2007-2009.

The big news is a contract to build 10 vessels for Rigdon Marine. Rigdon has made headlines recently with supply vessel newbuilds; this is Rigdon’s first venture into the crew/supply boat business.

C & G will build one 155-foot vessel, four 165-footers and five 180-footers between March 2007 and late 2009. C & G is also building two 175-foot vessels for Tidewater of New Orleans for 2007 delivery. These two crew/suppliers will be sisters to 12 vessels that C & G built for Tidewater in the past three years.

These boats are also designed to be liquid mud haulers. The tradeoff is far fewer passengers in the main deck superstructure.

C & G is also building three vessels for Graham Gulf. The first, delivered in July, is a 165-foot vessel named for the company’s marketing manager, Gayla Graham.

The other two vessels will be 175-footers. Deliveries of these vessels are out to 2009.

Breaux Bay Craft

Breaux Bay Craft is another boat builder with roots back to the 1950s, and the present owner is the son of the founder. Its yard is on Bayou Teche in the center of Loreauville. “We just keep on delivering six to seven hulls a year,” said Roy Breaux Jr., president.

The company is part of the trend to build longer crew boats. “Normally we build 160-footers, but a 175-foot vessel can hold 25,000 gallons of fuel versus 17,000 gallons for the 160-foot vessel and 20 percent more rig water, plus an extra 15-foot-longer rear deck for cargo,” Breaux said.

The first customer for this new design was Joe Broussard’s J & B Operations of Lockport, La., which took delivery of Ms. Caroline in early summer. “With a crew boat this size you need heavier engines, so we opted for four Cummins KTA 50s rated at 1,800 hp at 1,900 rpm,” Breaux said.

“With these big engines we can get 29 knots light ship and 27 knots with 110 tons of cargo,” Breaux added. The vessel also has a bow thruster and a DP-1 rating.

The launchways and sheds at Breaux Bay Craft will likely be full for some time with a 162-foot crew/supply vessel for Tobias, to be delivered in August. Beyond that there is a 162-footer for longtime customer Crew Boats Inc. In 2008, a variety of 162-foot and 175-foot vessels will be delivered, and the same in 2009.

“Right now we have vessels scheduled into late 2010,” said Breaux. “We also have seven more vessels on the books, but that gets too far out for scheduling. Just for some variety, we have a 47-foot pilot boat for the Mobile Bar Pilots that we will start sometime late this year.”

Neuville Boat Works

This Bayou Teche boat builder delivered the 154-foot Lady Eve to Iberia Crewboat in April and will hand over a sister ship, Great Scott, to Texas Crew Boats in April. In addition, Neuville will build four 47-foot-by-15-foot inland crew boats for Parker Drilling. The four smaller crew boats are identical to a pair of vessels Neuville delivered to Parker last year.

All six vessels are powered by Cummins. The larger boats have four KTA38M2 engines rated at 1,350 hp at 1,950 rpm and the smaller ones are powered by a pair of 400-hp Cummins QSL9M engines.

Swift Ships

Swift Ships of Morgan City, La., has been building crew/supply boats for a several years. The Candy Fleet has been a prime customer. In 2007, two more Swift Ships crew/supply boats will join the Candy Fleet.

Gulf Fleet Management has also ordered four 175-foot crew vessels from Swift Ships. Gulf Fleet Management says the first two boats, Gulf Storm and Gulf Fury, will be delivered in June 2008.

By Professional Mariner Staff