Written by Lara Southgate
Since the first response boat was delivered in 2008, coxswains around the country and their commanders have consistently lauded the response boat’s capabilities to perform the full spectrum of Coast Guard response boat missions.
Florida has the most RB-Ms of any state or territory. Station St. Petersburg, Florida, which received the 174th RB-M just last month, in addition to another it received in 2010, reports that the new boats have cut response time in half.
The speed has been a huge help, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Eamon McCormack, the officer in charge of Station St. Petersburg.
The RB-M’s speed combined with its other capabilities to help secure the Port of Tampa in April 2013, when a Customs and Border Protection law enforcement dog detected a material used in explosives during a routine check. The port was shut down, and Station St. Petersburg sent its RB-M to secure the waterfront.
The boat reached the port in record time, McCormack said, and was able to secure the port and use its onboard Automatic Identification System to identify commercial traffic to make sure everything was in order.
With six RB-Ms, Station New York has one of the highest concentrations of RB-Ms in the country. The station’s area of operation receives a high volume of commercial and recreational traffic and requires heightened security zone enforcement.
“The maneuverability of this larger craft is excellent during enforcement of security zones, especially when maintaining a position with a high volume of boaters,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Walsh, the commanding officer of Station New York.
He added that the RB-M’s stability and maneuverability make it the station’s workhorse for many law enforcement activities.
On the other side of the Empire State, RB-Ms help Sector Buffalo patrol the waters near the Canadian border. The sector also has the highest search and rescue case load in the Coast Guard during the summer: it handles about 900 cases annually, around 500 of which occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
The RB-M’s speed allows the sector to complete its search and rescue mission quickly and efficiently, said Cmdr. Dan Jones, the chief of response for Sector Buffalo.
The boat’s forward-looking infrared capability and command and control platforms are especially useful for patrolling the waters near Canada. Because the Canada-U.S. border is close to shore on both sides, responses to attempted border crossings must be launched quickly and without support from cutters or surveillance aircraft that sectors with large offshore patrol areas can coordinate.
“The RB-M, with its [forward looking infared], radar and communications package, helps us identify vessels coming across early,” Jones said. “It’s kind of a one-stop shop: identify, prosecute, intercept.”
“It’s a great asset for us,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Losinger, a boatswain’s mate at Station Ketchikan. “It’s opened up our response time and will actually expand our AOR and help us reach other areas we previously weren’t able to because of fuel consumption and time constraints.”
The station is a designated heavy weather station and receives about 256 inches of rain on average each year, so the RB-M’s climate-controlled cabin extends the ability to be outside longer, Losinger added.
In California, RB-Ms are often used for drug interdiction, including that of the panga vessel and crew responsible for the 2012 death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, who was serving as executive petty officer of Coast Guard Cutter Halibut.
Horne was in the cutter boat sent to approach the panga, but once Halibut and its cutter boat announced their presence, the panga rammed the boat and fled, leaving Horne fatally wounded.
A Coast Guard HC-130 long range surveillance aircraft continued to track the panga, and Station Los Angeles/Long Beach deployed an RB-M, the crew of which located, chased and boarded the panga, which was nearly 100 miles offshore, and took custody of its two-man crew until Coast Guard Cutter Petrel arrived on scene.
Also in California is Station Channel Islands Harbor, the only Coast Guard station classified as both a heavy weather and a pursuit station.
“[The RB-M] has excellent seakeeping ability and significant horsepower to plow through heavy seas,” said Lt. Chris Miller, the station’s commanding officer. “To capsize it, it has to be almost upside down to flip.”
During rescues or vessel recoveries, the RB-M’s waterjets can be used to change the position of small disabled vessels in order to avoid hazards that might prevent the RB-M from coming alongside, which works well for search and rescue cases where station crews encounter de-masted sailboats.
In terms of returning disabled vessels to shore, said Miller, the RB-M’s towing ability is just great.
“I wish I could shake the engineers’ hands because they really got this boat right,” Miller said.