There's a new, 1,600-horsepower beast in Marathon and another en route to Islamorada.
Coast Guard Station Marathon crews received their new 45-foot Response Boat-Medium (RB-M) in January and Master Chief Charles Lindsey, the officer in charge, couldn't be happier with the new speed demon.
"The biggest advantage is that this boat is much faster," Lindsey said. "It draws less water, so we can utilize it in far more areas. The 41-footer has a much deeper draft."
The new RB-M is capable of speeds over 42 knots, so it's twice as fast as the 41-foot non-standard utility boat (UTB) it replaces, according to the Coast Guard.
These are the aluminum Coast Guard boats most often seen responding to private vessels in distress near shore. Though they are not designed specifically for shallow water, the boats will be much more effective, Lindsey said.
The new boats are powered by two Detroit Diesel 800-horsepower engines that power two Rolls-Royce jet drives -- sort of like personal watercraft propulsion systems on steroids.
The old UTBs are at the end of their life cycle, and the Marathon boat alone has been in service for more than 30 years, Lindsey said.
Station Key West already has its RB-M, and Station Islamorada is scheduled to get its RB-M later this year as part of the overall Coast Guard plan to update the fleet nationwide. There are 166 RB-M boats nationwide that are entering service.
Some of the key features of the new boat include a deep-V, double-chine hull for balance and an all-aluminum construction.
The lack of propellers beneath the boat makes it safer when operating around people in the water and protects the engine from debris and the shallow waters around the Keys.
"It also has the ability to right itself if there's an emergency and the boat is knocked over," Lindsey said. "That's a tremendous safety advantage."
And there's a swath of new electronics and navigation systems as well as joystick controls that leapfrog the old UTB gear, he added. The new boat also has a range of 250 miles at 30 knots.
The RB-M boats are part of a much larger Coast Guard move to modernize its entire fleet. Mariners should begin seeing the new 154-foot Fast Response cutters arriving in Key West in the next 18 months.
These are new vessels that will replace the older 110-foot ships. By this time next year, Sector Key West and its piers will be full of the Coast Guard's newest weapons against smuggling, or "counter-illicit trafficking" in defense-speak.
"Sector Key West enthusiastically welcomes another Response Boat Medium to our area of operations," said Coast Guard Sector Key West spokeswoman Lt. Kara Lavin. "This acquisition will contribute to Sector Key West's tradition of outstanding service to the public."