Pilot Boats: Smaller vessels benefit from innovation

Gladding-Hearn’s Corpus Christi pilot boat. (Courtesy of Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding)

The truly hot markets in the commercial boat building business involve anything made of aluminum. Both crew/supply boats and megayachts feature 150-foot-plus vessels with price tags in the millions, but an equally busy but far less glamorous and much less costly sector is fireboats, pilot boats and police boats. These vessels can be as short as 30 feet, but unlike their bigger brothers they’re produced in the hundreds every year.

Pilot boats

Pilot boat production is centered on both coasts, with Gladding-Hearn on the East Coast and Kvichak Marine Industries on the West.

Gladding-Hearn, of Somerset, Mass., produces a half dozen or more such boats each year. Recent deliveries include pilot boats for Matagorda, Corpus Christi and Galveston in Texas and Delta Launch Service in Louisiana.

The Corpus Christi boat is typical. The C. Raymond Hunt Associates design is 53.6 feet long with a 17-foot beam and a 4.8-foot draft. Top speed is 26 knots through two Caterpillar C18 diesel engines rated at 671 hp each.

The midships pilothouse has four Stidd reclining seats. Steering and throttle controls are located at the transom, and there is also a control console at the rooftop boarding station. The forecastle is heated and cooled and has two berths, a galley and a head.

Under construction are a 53-footer for the St. Johns Bar (Jacksonville, Fla.) Pilots, a 75-foot pilot boat for the Lake Charles Pilots, and a 52-foot vessel for Freeport, Bahamas.

Kvichak, based in Seattle, thinks nationally, as recent deliveries indicate. The Virginia Pilot Association has added a 45-foot-by-18-foot catamaran to its fleet, the first vessel to incorporate Kvi-chak’s Foil-Assisted Ship Technologies foil design for pilotage duty in the United States. Two Caterpillar C-18C engines rated at 715 hp drive Hamilton HJ 403 waterjets.

There is seating for four pilots and one operator in the cabin and a heated deck and side rails for safety.

A 43-foot boat for the Port of Spain, Trinidad, Pilots Association delivered by ALMAR of Tacoma, Wash. (Courtesy of ALMAR)

Kvichak delivered its largest pilot boat ever to the Savannah Pilots Association. At 78 feet, Georgia is also the largest pilot boat from Camarc Design. With three staterooms, the boat “is in a class by herself,” said Keith Whittemore, Kvichak’s vice president. To propel a boat this size, a pair of Cummins KTA-38 M engines rated at 1,350 hp each were used, along with Hamilton 651 waterjets yielding a top speed of 28 knots.


Most fireboats are constructed on small-boat hulls for easy maneuverability and fast response. Moose Boats of Petaluma, Calif., has built a 33.5-foot fire/rescue boat for the Northport Fire Depart-ment on Long Island, N.Y. The catamaran can attain a top speed of 37 knots and is powered by a pair of 250-hp Yamaha outboards.

The large cockpit and stern pulpit provide space for rescue operations with access to water emergencies via dive doors. The fire-suppression system consists of a 500-gpm Hale pump with a 2.5-inch Stang Monitor at the bow, as well as connections at the stern.

Derecktor Shipyards, known for large passenger ferries, can build small too. One example is a 66-foot aluminum fireboat for the Philadelphia Fire Department. The designer was Robert Allan Ltd. of Vancouver, B.C. The boat has 5,500-gpm pump capacity and a 200-gallon foam tank.

The City of Seattle Fire Department received a new 108-foot fireboat, Leschi, in January (see story, Leschi).

Police and patrol vessels

Among a large number of vessels delivered by companies such as Moose Boats and SeaArk of Monticello, Ark., one delivery doesn’t fit neatly into any category: a 36-foot utility boat built by Gladding-Hearn for the New York City Department of Transportation. The vessel was built for emergency transportation and general harbor duties.

By Professional Mariner Staff