Into the shallows: U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats go where others cannot

 The shallow draft of the search and rescue craft allows it to operate in waters that were previously out of reach of the Coast Guard.

Until last December, all of the U.S. Coast Guard boats at Station Grand Isle, La., drew too much water to get into the ubiquitous shallows of southeast Louisiana to rescue boaters and fishermen who got into trouble. Now they have a 24-foot, aluminum monohull built in Louisiana at Metal Shark Aluminum Boats, a subsidiary of Gravois Aluminum Boats in Jeanerette, La. The Special Purpose Craft-Shallow Water (SPC-SW) is powered by twin 150-hp, four-stroke Honda engines capable of speeds up to 40 knots.

Left, Petty Officer 1st Class James Laughlin at the controls of the 24-foot craft powered by twin 150-hp outboard motors.

“The kicker is it has an 18-inch draft, which is the big feature for this area," said Lt. James Bendle, commanding officer of the station on the barrier island fronting the Gulf of Mexico. “It’s a very cool platform. Before the boat arrived, we couldn’t get to a lot of people in shallow areas. We could see them and we could yell to them, but we couldn’t get to them. We had to rely on locals with flat-bottom boats, contact partner agencies with airboats, and in some cases, resort to sending a helicopter."

The crew comprising Petty Officer 1st Class James Laughlin, the boatswain’s mate; Lt. James Bendle, the commanding officer; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Gawlik, the technician.

Last fall, a sport fishing group went aground. The distressed people, cold and thirsty, declined a helicopter. “We had to use the small boat off the CGC Sturgeon to maneuver alongside and transfer the personnel," said Bendle. “It took three days and several local boats to unground the vessel."

The two 150-hp, four-stroke Honda outboards that propel the boat at up to 40 knots.

Petty Officer 1st Class James Laughlin, a boatswain’s mate from Dulac, La., is very familiar with the vanishing coast along the Gulf of Mexico.”We have tons of water and a vast area of water, but it’s all shallow water, not your normal area," he explained, hands on the wheel of the SPC-SW skimming along the lee side of Grand Isle, the barrier island that stands as the front line of defense against hurricanes feeding on the warm Gulf water.

“South Louisiana is the fastest area of erosion in the country, and what was an island a few years ago is now under water. They’re good places for fishing, but the boats get caught up on them because the bottom is only inches under the water. We would have to send a helicopter. Now we can go in and get them."

 The aluminum monohull was built in Louisiana at Metal Shark Aluminum Boats, a subsidiary of Gravois Aluminum Boats, Jeanerette, La.
The boat’s draft of just 18 inches allows it to go almost anywhere in a state with extensive wetlands. The boat’s small size means that it can be transported by trailer and then launched a short distance away from wherever it is needed.
By Professional Mariner Staff