Metal Shark delivers launch to Texas pilots


The following is text of a news release from the Brazos Pilots Association:

(FREEPORT, Texas) — Brazos Pilot Association President Capt. Billy Burns said a good pilot boat is essential to saving lives.  

That is the expectation of their newest boat, Brazos Pilot: a vessel tailored to fit the job and provide the pilot association with performance, dependability and the safety systems integration to fulfill their maritime mission.

“Transferring personnel on and off huge ships at sea is a dangerous job. It’s important for pilot associations to have the safest equipment possible. The pilot boat is the platform on which all other safety systems are built,” Burns said. 

The 64-by-19-foot Defiant-class monohull arrived two weeks ago and will be christened at a ceremony on Jan. 31. It was designed by Metal Shark and built at the company’s Franklin, La., shipyard.

The new $2.5 million pilot boat is intended to replace the pilots’ smaller pilot boat, Freeport Pilot, a 36-year-old 45-foot, single-screw monohull vessel with less than 400 horsepower, as well as improve safety for crews while enhancing service to operators and provide around-the-clock service at Port Freeport.

“Our port and the maritime industry have changed, grown and evolved over the last four decades in ways we could not have imagined then. So has the mission requirements of our pilot boats. Freeport Pilot was never designed to do what we require out of a pilot boat today. Freeport Pilot has served our port well over the last 36 years and we will all miss her. She has earned a good retirement,” Burns said.

Brazos Pilot is 20 feet longer, 6 feet wider, almost three times heavier, and has triple the horsepower of its predecessor. To compare the two boats is like comparing a 1920 Ford Model T with a 2019 Ford F-250, Burns said. 

“The (20 feet) in additional length gives us better sea keeping ability, the additional 6 feet in width gives us better stability, the additional weight handles the seas better, and the increased horsepower gives us greater safety when boarding the largest most powerful ships on the ocean,” he said.

Burns said the new pilot boat was not designed for speed. “Although nice to have, our real design criterion was the ability of the boat to break powerful suctions that large ships generate near their stern,” he said. “These suctions are very dangerous to pilot boats and many pilot boats have been sunk because they lacked the power to break away from the ship.”

He also said the boat’s larger and wider design was designed with a specific purpose. For example, the gunwales are raised, the bow flare is deeper and the freeboard is taller, allowing the boat to operate in heavier seas than their current vessels.

The wheelhouse is also purposely larger, with a 360-degree visibility and unobstructed views in every direction. “Parts of the ceiling are glass so the boat operator can see pilots on the ship as they descend down the pilot ladder. The forward windows are slanted out to reduce glare and heating coils inside the glass prevent any condensation from obstructing the boat operator's view,” Burns said.

Giving the pilot complete visibility and putting him or her in a command position on the boat makes transferring personnel safer, he said.

Burns said the boarding platform is also three feet higher than their current one, allowing transferring pilots fewer chances to be hit by seas and spray when transferring to ships.

The boat has rough weather seating for seven people (twice as many as their older boat) and comes with cup holders and USB charging stations. The seats are designed to hold passengers securely in bad weather “so you don’t fly out of your chair every time you hit a large wave,” Burns said.

The crew stateroom below deck includes two bunk beds, spacious lockers and storage areas as well as a kitchenette and head.

“We designed the boat to accommodate a two-man crew. The boat it’s replacing was only designed for a crew of one,” Burns said.

The new boat also came with a gyro-stabilized forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera, which is an added bonus for the pilots during their night time jobs. Using heat signatures to identify people in the water, the FLIR has added another degree of safety to pilot boat operations, Burns said. 

“Night operations have always been more dangerous. If a pilot were lost in the water the boat could only use spot lights to find him. Now using the FLIR camera you can spot a man in the water at night from two miles away,” he said. 

Burns said it was hard to measure what type of economic impact Brazos Pilot will have on Brazoria County, adding that its chief responsibility lies in ensuring world commerce flows in and out of the system effortlessly, efficiently and safely.

“Our greatest responsibility is to keep our local gulf coast marine environment pristine. One accident has the ability to destroy our local marine habitat and effect all of our local marine species. Protecting the local marine environment is our utmost duty to the citizens of Brazoria County,” he said.

Burns also said a single accident would mean a disruption in accessibility for all of our local industries. One accident has the potential to shut down multiple local plants and refineries.

“Whether it's piloting ships with some of the most dangerous chemical cargos in the world to their international markets or piloting liquefied gas carriers over three football fields in length … the association must remain accident free to insure our local industries have access to world markets and their international customers,” he said.

Vessel details from Metal Shark

In the wheelhouse, shock-mitigating seating has been provided for five crewmembers, with a foot rest, cup holder, gooseneck light, and 110-V USB plug at each seating position for comfort and convenience. A settee and table are also provided in the main cabin.

An integrated suite of navigation electronics includes GPS, radar, depth sounder, and AIS, which are accessed primarily through three 19-inch Furuno MU195T multifunction displays. These large touch-screen panels also display real-time video from a FLIR M400 thermal imaging system, as well as live onboard video feeds via two CCTV cameras installed in the engine room.

Accommodations include a galley area with microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator, and sink; an enclosed head compartment; double-tiered set of lockers for crew storage; and a berthing area with double bunk, drawer storage, and an LED TV with Blu-ray player and KVH TracVision TV3 satellite television system. From the countertops to ceiling panels and flooring, modern finishes are used to create a bright and airy, comfortable atmosphere for crews onboard for extended periods.

Outside, the 64 Defiant ’s fully flush non-skid decks allow for unimpeded access around the vessel, and hand rails have been placed for easy reach at all times. Low-level LED pathway lighting enhances safety during nighttime operation.

To meet the client’s requirements, a large pilot transfer platform was engineered into the vessel’s foredeck, with a wide, integrated non-skid stairway and specially-configured safety rails.

To facilitate operation in close quarters, the vessel has been outfitted with a secondary control station on the aft deck, equipped with steering and throttle controls and a set of digital displays, which allow the operator to monitor engine performance while controlling the vessel from this station.

Powered by twin 803-horsepower Caterpillar C-18 diesel engines coupled to Twin Disc MGX5146SC transmissions and turning five-bladed 36-by-43-inch nibral propellers, Brazos Pilot achieves a top speed in excess of 28 knots, with a nominal cruise speed of 18 knots.

By Professional Mariner Staff