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Coast Guard bringing new response boat up to speed

Posted: September 5, 2011 - 12:02am
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Coast Guard Station Juneau petty officer 1st class boatswain's mate Philip Ketcheson steers the Response Boat-Medium (RB-M) in Gastineau Channel on Friday.  Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Coast Guard Station Juneau petty officer 1st class boatswain's mate Philip Ketcheson steers the Response Boat-Medium (RB-M) in Gastineau Channel on Friday.

Coast Guard Station Juneau’s newest asset for fast, efficient response is making an impression on those who get to be part of its crew. The 45-foot Response Boat-Medium (RB-M) arrived on July 20 and Station Juneau ‘Coasties’ are slowly being brought up to speed on all it can do.

“It is really responsive,” CGSJ executive petty officer BM-1 Philip Ketcheson said as he piloted the boat into Gastineau Channel on Friday. “Just barely moving the nozzle and the boat really minds what you want to do.”

The RB-M is replacing the aging fleet of 41-foot utility and 47-foot motor life boats with improvements in performance, crew efficiency and operational availability.

“It is the easiest boat I have ever driven,” CG Station Juneau operations Petty Officer First Class Joseph Baxter said from the adjacent pilot’s chair.

Ideally situated for a crew of four, the pilothouse has two shock-mitigating seating stations fore and aft, providing for greater comfort and endurance. The two pilot stations have computer screens that feature real-time navigational charts and chart plotters with automated vessel tracking systems, forward looking infrared radar and the ability to monitor deck movements.

The user-friendly electronic steering can be switched to either forward pilot station on the fly without slowing down. The Duel toggle sticks also act as a form of trim tab, keeping the vessel up on step and turning at slight increments instead of abrupt changes of direction.

The two aft stations feature an engineer’s computer monitor with charts and close-circuit television system for engine room view and a fourth passenger chart table.

“Basically I can keep an eye on all the displays and conditions within the engine room,” Station Juneau 45-foot RB-M engineer MK2 Patrick O’Connor said. “It is pretty advanced and high tech with a lot of gizmos on it. It’s a big toy.”

According to O’Connor, the only problem with the vessel is he doesn’t get to pilot it much.

The boat features crew-com headsets used to communicate between one another if needed due to noise or for use portably in rough weather if out on deck.

“Now we can be mobile and talk,” Ketcheson said. “It was great when we did a towing exercise, towing the CG cutter Elderberry in Petersburg. Our crew went on the outboard side of that boat and we couldn’t actually see our crewmen but we were talking just fine.”

The coms can also communicate, with a twist of the toggle steering, to radio or helicopter crews as well.

The electronics have to be started in proper sequence and the Coast Guard has adopted the air industry standard of pre-system checks before starting the engine.

“It isn’t just flipping the battery switch, turning the key and go,” Baxter said. “But we can get started and be underway while electronics are properly brought up to speed.”

Powered by twin Detroit diesel engines with twin-disc reduction gear and Rolls Royce waterjet propulsion nozzles, the jet drive redirects water to move the RB-M at speeds up to 42.5 knots. It has a 520-gallon fuel capacity with a range of 250 nautical miles at 30 knots. It was tested on a law enforcement mission to Gustavus, Cross Sound and Icy Bay. It also has a towing capacity of 100 tons.

With no propellers beneath the boat it makes for safer rescues in the water, and better engine protection.

The jet drive has only suffered two mishaps, one small oil leak on a fitting and a small debris item sucked into impellers.

“It has only happened once,” O’Connor said. “And we have a way to spin the jets backwards and spit it out. We can also open a covering on the aft boat step and manually reach in to remove debris.”

Seattle based Kvichak Marine, a world-wide leader in high-quality, hard working aluminum vessels designed and constructed the RB-M. It features a prominent fendering to allow the boat to come alongside distressed vessels or obstacles without concerns, and a deep V, double-chine hull for balance of speed and stability in various conditions.

The RB-M has port, starboard and aft recovery platforms and fore and aft weapons mounts.

The RB-M’s mission limit is 8-foot seas and 30-knot winds but it is being enhanced to survivability limits of 12-foot seas and 50-knot winds. The boat has a three-foot draft and isn’t beach landing-capable.

“You would have to have some type of life and death situation where damaging the boat would be justifiable in order to save a life,” Baxter said. “A life-and death-situation would be the only justifiable landing. The responsibility is the safety of the crew and completion of the mission.”

The Station Juneau RB-M’s missions include homeland security, search and rescues, general law enforcement, boating safety, fisheries enforcement and minimal aids to navigation. A second RB-M will arrive in October.

“Everything the Coast Guard does, essentially, this is a platform that is either very good or adequate to do the job,” Baxter stated.

Added Ketcheson, “The best part of the boat is for the crew, it has comforts for us. From an operator’s standpoint, in the design phase they did an excellent job of bringing operators on the boat, taking recommendations, and applying those recommendations. When we sit on this boat, things are where we want them.”

Among those comforts are heaters, air conditioning, a toilet, sink and a microwave for the three initial crews that have been trained. Station Juneau hopes to have five crews certified to operate the RB-M on an area of responsibility form Eldred Rock, just west of Hoonah, south to and including Tracy Arm, and Endicott Arm.

“Because there is not other station north of us,” Baxter said. “And the only other station south of us is Ketchikan and there is an approximately 200-mile gap with only patrol boats to cover that. If there is a real emergency and a legitimate need we are always going to go and do the best we can.”

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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