The Coast Guard's new 47-foot rescue boat is twice as...

The Coast Guard's new 47-foot rescue boat is twice as fast as its predecessor. (Mar. 26, 1999) Credit: Newsday Photo / Dick Kraus

This story was originally published in Newsday on March 26, 1999

U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Phil Heyl could be forgiven for overconfidence yesterday when he steered his state-of-the-art 47-foot Motor Life Boat alongside an unsleek 41-foot all-purpose vessel from Station Fire Island.

Under the auspices of putting the newly delivered "47" through its paces, this was to be a nonsanctioned U.S. government boat race.

Hand signals were exchanged, as if the two coxswains were teenagers dragging on a Saturday night on nearby Ocean Parkway. Then both engines roared, and both sterns dipped.

Soon the boats were plowing through the chop off Gilgo Beach at more than 20 miles an hour. Eventually, the plain-vanilla utility boat edged ahead of the groovy newcomer.

"Well, we're fully loaded here," said Boatswain's Mate Ken Seebeck, referring to the eight people the 47 carried, twice as many as the 41-footer. "We were making 29 knots this morning."

Opening a new era in rescue boats, the U.S. Coast Guard has unveiled a new $ 800,000 model that is twice as fast as its venerable 44-foot predecessor.

"This is a 1990s boat," said Heyl. "The 44 was basically a World War II boat."

Coast Guard stations nationwide are putting about 120 of the boats into service. Locally, the Shinnecock station is first to take delivery. The units at Fire Island and Jones Beach are to get 47s later this year. The 44s are to be sold to foreign nations or auctioned domestically.

Heyl skippered a series of port calls yesterday, helping drive the vessel from New York City to the units he commands along the South Shore.

Like the old 44-foot boat, the new vessel can safely capsize and right itself in heavy surf, but there the similarities end.

As Long Island's boaters and commercial fishermen may soon find out, the 47 has higher life-saving qualifications. It has water-level platforms for easier recovery of people; it can reach a respectable 32 mph; and its pilot house glitters with marine electronics, including an automatic-pilot navigation device and a signal-direction finder that will allow crews to locate vessels whose operators don't know where they are.

"The 44 has been in Coast Guard service for 33 years and we just got GPS last year," said Fire Island station commander Kevin Galvin, referring to a widely used satellite-based navigation system.

Unlike the open-air 44, the new Motor Life Boat also has an enclosed bridge, with air conditioning and windshield defoggers.

Combined, these comfort features "minimize crew fatigue," said Chief Warrant Officer Dom Bee, an official from Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., who helped on yesterday's shakedown cruise. "It keeps everyone fresher. Believe me, after a 12-hour case aboard the 44, you are ready to get home and crash."

The 47 s most distinctive feature is its paint job - or lack of it. The raw-aluminum finish saved designers 200 pounds, as well as maintenance costs.

That leaves the 47 looking a bit like a high-tech Navy patrol craft. It's a marked departure from the homely 44, a solid ride on which there had never been a crew fatality nationwide until 1997.

Galvin is about to be transferred, but he regards his station's 44 with such affection that he plans to return to Long Island this fall to be aboard the boat for its last day in service.

"The 44, it might be old and funky looking," said Petty Officer Juan Figueroa, "but that baby's going to bring you home."



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