By Larry Pearson
The Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) has become an invaluable part of 21st century Coast Guard cutters. "Often the mission of the cutter is to get a RIB and its crew on scene for interdiction, rescue and other missions," said J.J. Marie
, president and CEO of Zodiac of North America
, headquartered in Stevensville, Md., a leading manufacturer of RIBs.
RIBs have been used on cutters for many years, especially the large Legacy Class of vessels. Those RIBs were
attached to the ships via davits and lowered in the water and recovered and stowed on deck.
Fast-forward to February 2003, and the start of the Deepwater program, a $20 Billion, 25-year program to upgrade the Coast Guard's land, sea and air assets.
The first part of the program was to renovate and upgrade the 49 Island class, 110-ft. patrol boats. A major part of this upgrade was to add a 13-ft. stern section to accommodate a stern launched and recoverable RIB.
The Coast Guard knew that stern launched and recoverable RIBs would be an important addition to the mission capabilities of the Island Class vessels.
It is well known that this renovation program stopped at only eight vessels because of the deterioration of the hulls. The last of the eight vessels was delivered in January 2006.
Still the concept of the seven-meter Short Range Prosecutor (SRP) a stern launched and recoverable RIB had proven successful and will be used on other cutters built in the Deepwater Program. Zodiac delivered eight SRPs for those 110-ft. cutters that had been modernized.
The Coast Guard's experience with stern-launched RIBs began in 1996 with the development of the 87-ft. Marine Protector Class of patrol Boats. Bollinger built 50 of these vessels, each with a stern deployable and recoverable RIB. Since production began, the RIB on all vessels has been replaced beginning in November 2003 with a Zodiac 17-ft. waterjet powered RIB.
"While we prefer to be a partners with the design team of the ship, we were able to take the existing slot for the RIB and design a vessel that met the Coast Guard's criteria for a fast stable boat," Marie said. "Naturally we prefer for the customer to give us a problem and let us propose a solution, but sometimes we have to work with a given design."
Bollinger was about to close the production line for these vessels in 2001 when the 9/11 disaster happened and the Coast Guard ordered 13 more, all of which have been delivered.
The RIB was 17.62-ft. long with a 7.48-ft. beam when inflated. The vessel had an 11.5-ft. cockpit width with a 4.6-ft. depth. The vessel has a capacity for six persons and has a top speed of at least 33 knots. Power is via a 200 hp Yamar engine driving a Hamilton waterjet. The hull material is aluminum with 40 oz urethane tube outer material.
Zodiac delivered four of these RIBs per month to various ports where the patrol boats had been delivered. In less than 14 months, the entire fleet was equipped with the newly designed RIB.
With so few of the Island Class patrol boats being modernized, the Coast Guard had to advance its replacement, the Fast Response Cutter (FRC). The design concept for this vessel with a composite hull has been completed. The 141-ft. vessel will have two 5,080 diesels and travel more than 30 knots with a range of over 5,00 nm.
The new FRC will carry one SRP RIB, launched from the stern, much like the reworked Island class vessels with a 25-ft. length and waterjet propulsion. The situation for RIBs on the National Security Cutter (421-ft. long) and the slightly smaller Offshore Patrol Cutter (360-ft. long) is more complicated.
Both vessels are designed to deploy and recover two RIBs, the 25-ft. SRP and a larger RIB called the Long Range Interceptor (LRI), a 35 ft. long boat.
Since the cutters will have only one stern slot to deploy and recover the RIBs, a system is being engineered on the main aft deck whereby a crane will lift the best RIB for the mission to the stern launch.
The LRI will have an enclosed coxswain station and twin waterjets for propulsion. The LRI will also have over the horizon capability with SATCOM and GPS.
The LRI is designed to travel at 45 knots with up to 14 people and 150 lbs. of cargo. Willard Marine, Anaheim, Calif. has the design contract for the LRI.
The first of the National Security Cutters is well under way at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in Pascagoula, Miss.
In total, the Coast Guard is planning to purchase 33 of the Long Range Interceptors and 91 of the smaller Short Range Prosecutors.
The Coast Guard also has a number of 378-ft. Legacy cutters. These vessels use side launched RIBs via davits. Zodiac over-the-horizon RIBS (RHIB/MSB) are used on these vessels.
"We also supply Navy Seals, Special Forces and other military units with RIBs," said Bob Beck, Coast Guard customer support manager.
"Often these vessels are shipped on pallets and inflated at the site of entry into the water," Beck said.
One special deployment recently showed the value of RIBs. Beck and a crew of his instructors from the Zodiac Maritime Academy deployed to New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
"In one truck we carried 20 inflatable RIBs plus outboard motors and spare parts to New Orleans," Beck said. The group set up Camp Katrina in Algiers, directly across the Mississippi River from the devastation in New Orleans.
"We did search and rescue, transporting dead bodies and a hundred other things these versatile RIBs can do," Beck reported. "We carried out these missions during the day and repaired any vessel that needed work at night.
These RIBs traveled over wrought iron fences, debris in the water and submerged cars, putting an end to those who thought RIBs were not tough enough for these severe, even brutal conditions," Beck added.
"We served basically as the maritime arm for the 82nd Airborne who did the "heavy lifting" as far as the missions were concerned. I will never forget traveling down Canal Street in a RIB," Beck concluded.