Here are the arguments in favor of buying Coast Guard small inflatable boats
In early 2019, my fellow crew members and I, aboard a 45-foot Coast Guard response boat from station Charleston, South Carolina, responded to a distress call from ‘a sailboat that had run aground on a shoal near the mouth of the Stono River. When we arrived at the scene we were told to stand while a Coast Guard helicopter tore the family from the boat and brought them to safety. As we watched the evolution, we discussed what we would have done if the helicopter hadn’t been available. Because the draft of our response boat was too deep to approach, and because we didn’t have a smaller boat on board, the best option would have been for one of us to swim for save the family from the sailboat, one at a time.
The sailboat had been pushed so far across the shoal that none of the station’s boats would have been able to pick up directly. Swimming in broken waters above a bench can be tricky business for a strong and experienced swimmer, and the dangers would be magnified by the fourth trip due to fatigue. Trying to think of another way, we wished our boat was equipped with a small skiff or dinghy, capable of entering very shallow water. It would have allowed us to take the whole family on one trip. In a situation where more people need to be rescued, the helicopter may not have been able to transport them all at once. A 45 ‘Medium Response Boat (RBM) can carry up to 25 people, far more than any Coast Guard helicopter. This awareness prompted us to think about how we could make response boats more efficient by equipping them with a smaller dinghy that can be used for shore rescue.
The primary means of responding to US Coast Guard small craft stations in inclement weather are 47-foot Motor Lifeboats (MLBs) and 45-foot RBMs. These assets are designed for rescues at sea in conjunction with larger vessels. Increased safety measures for large commercial vessels, fishing vessels and charter vessels have significantly reduced the frequency of large-scale shipwrecks in the United States, although In April 2021 capsizing of a commercial vessel off the coast of Louisiana has shown that they still pose a threat and that the Coast Guard needs a capability to respond to them. However, driven by the boom in boating, the most common emergencies now are people in distress aboard small motor boats, sailboats and paddle steamers. In many areas, this has led to an increase in the need for rescues from small remote islands and remote sections of shore. Many of these emergencies are unfeasible from land and in areas without helicopter rescue facilities. RBMs and MLBs can navigate inclement weather to the beach or island section, but would not be able to perform a rescue due to their draft limitations. In these cases, small rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) could be deployed from larger boats to rescue people.
Also from the US Naval Institute:
The National Marine Manufacturers Association saw constant sales growth since 2018: 2 to 4% growth for freshwater boats and 9 to 11% for wake boats. This growth has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic which has prompted more people to seek outdoor recreation opportunities that they had not previously considered. More Americans on the water led to a 25% increase in Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) cases on Lake Ontario in 2020, for example. And another 25 percent increase is expected this year.
While some people are experienced boaters, many are new to boating and have not taken formal maintenance, boating, or safety courses. A 2017 Coast Guard report on shipping statistics found that 81 percent of boating accident fatalities involving operators had not received boat safety training. The most difficult areas for navigation are those closest to the shore. The Thousand Islands region in the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, Puget Sound in Washington State and the coast of Maine have areas with many hidden shoals, dangerous currents, and other dangers for navigation which can quickly and easily get into trouble for inexperienced boaters. The areas around the Great Lakes and along the Pacific coast have high cliffs overlooking beaches that are almost inaccessible from above. In some areas, including the Eastern Great Lakes, helicopters are not readily available for rescue, so boat rescues may be required.
A viable solution for emergency response in Great Lakes cases is to use a SKIF-ICE, a fully inflatable “banana boat” powered by a 3.5 horsepower motor. Designed for use either in water with broken ice or on thin ice, a SKIF-ICE can be propelled by a motor or pulled by an ice rescue team. It can transport survivors who have fallen through the ice to medical care. Unfortunately, SKIF-ICE boats are difficult to handle in strong winds and slow enough for situations that may be encountered in open water.
Another solution can be found along the coasts of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The coasts of Great Britain and Ireland have many of the same characteristics as the remote areas of the United States. The Royal National Lifesaving Institution (RNLI) provides most of the SAR capability of vessels throughout the UK and has efficient means to access remote and hard-to-reach areas. The Class D lifeboat is a small open boat, powered by a single outboard motor, and used for rescues near shore and in surf conditions. It was introduced to the RNLI fleet in 1963 and has been an effective SAR tool ever since. Its ability to move up and down large waves, instead of crossing them, makes it efficient in the hands of a good operator, even in heavy seas. Coastal rescue boat could be carried on US Coast Guard 45ft RBMs or 47ft MLBs. Even smaller than Class D, the shore rescue boat is designed for beach launches by a lifeguard to go after swimmers or surfers have drowned.
An ideal boat designed to be launched from an RBM or MLB would focus on survivability, speed, maneuverability and weight. It must be light enough to be launched sideways or aft by a crew en route in bad weather, and maneuverable enough to allow the coxswain to navigate difficult situations and have the speed necessary to reach the boat. the survivors and return. The ability to power off a beach, potentially in the face of breaking waves, and get back to the bigger boat is key. The boat would have to be able to be returned to the water, by the crew, in the event of capsizing, and the engine restarted so that it could continue its mission. Such a boat would require a new set of skills and training for Coast Guard crew members. The ability to handle small boats with tiller-bar outboards, swim well and understand the areas they operate in will allow Coast Guard members to perform rescues in harsh environments.
USCG Station Southwest Harbor in Maine has already started using a 10-foot skiff (the type used by tall ships to access shore from an anchorage) to perform rescues in this type of environment. In 2019, crew members used the single scull to rescue two stranded kayakers.
The Coast Guard has a long history of using small boats, in the waves, to carry out rescues at sea. Joshua James and the men of the US Lifesaving Service were the pioneers of this service in the 1800s. Today, unfortunately, the Coast Guard does not have such a capacity on its response boats, but it is a gap which could be easily mitigated with existing boats in production and which could be purchased quickly. As more Americans spend more free time on the water, the need for Coast Guard search and rescue services will increase. An investment in inflatable boats, which could be deployed from response boats with trained crew members, would mean a Coast Guard better prepared to save lives in emergencies far and near shore.
Since 1873, the US Naval Institute has championed intellectual debate on key issues for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. For more information, visit usni.org.
View full article
© Copyright 2021 United States Naval Institute. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.