A speedy, capable military boat to the rescue
When you’re out for a bit of fishing in your outboard boat and find yourself sinking, or overwhelmed by a wave, or, having misjudged a sudden blinding rain squall and need help, who you gonna call?
If you have a marine radio aboard, Channel 16 will put you in touch with U.S. Coast Guard Station Galveston; if your cellphone is in range, 911 will get to them almost as quickly.
The response will likely come, and come quickly, in the form of RB-M 45618, a speedy, capable boat.
“It would be nice if she had a real name,” said Boatswain’s Mate 2 Brooks Hargrove, who might be in charge of the boat in your hour of need. “But the military likes things, you know, uniform.”
Small boats in the Coast Guard are designated by a number, beginning with their length and then in the order of their delivery into the service. “RB-M,” short for “Response Boat-Medium,” conforms to the odd but universal military syntax, like “Meals Ready to Eat.”
RB-M 45618, one of four at the Galveston station, is an impressive craft. A deep-V, double-chine, all-aluminum hull is driven by two 825 horsepower Detroit Diesel engines in a tightly packed engine space below the after deck, each powering a Rolls-Royce waterjet drive.
“It’s like having two big truck engines down there,” Hargrove said.
The boat can reach speeds of more than 42 knots, but at a cruising speed of 30 knots, she can travel 250 nautical miles without refueling.
In profile, a continuous orange fender defines her extreme sheer. The after-half is low to the water to facilitate taking aboard the rescued and for towing from the large bit at the stern. It then sweeps up to the high bows to meet the waves. She is rated to operate in up to 8-foot seas.
Although 8-foot seas aren’t common along the upper Texas coast, in such a situation a small boat in distress would certainly be glad to see RB-M 45618 as she rises over one of them. In the worst-case scenario, the boat is self-righting, meaning that if she were capsized in heavy seas, she would bob back upright and keep on going. At least, that’s what her specifications call for.
Often, the steepest, most challenging seas here are found just at the mouth of the jetties, where the channeled outflow of the whole system of Galveston bays and tributaries meet and exaggerate the incoming Gulf seas. RB-M 45618 and her sisters have participated in search and rescue operations along the coast from High Island to San Luis Pass.
The wheelhouse of the boat feels like the cockpit of a jet airplane, with two impact-absorbing seats behind the forward-sloping windshield. There is no wheel; each of the forward seats is equipped with joysticks on the armrest controlling speed and direction. Behind them, two similar seats accommodate the engineer and deckhand. Each seat faces a display screen and an array of indicators and controls.
The coxswain, who is in charge of the three-person crew, steers with his eyes on the water and the readouts on the screen. The usual state-of-the-art equipment — radar, GPS, depth-finder, radio and the like — are enhanced with forward-looking infrared imaging capacity, which is useful in finding a warm body afloat in a cold sea in nighttime search and rescue operations.
The engineer’s screen monitors the state of the engines and other mechanical systems, and can even provide a view of the sealed engine compartment by video monitor.
“It’s an old Coast Guard joke,” Hargrove said about the teamwork of coxswain and engineer: “I break them and he fixes them.’”
Accessed forward from the wheelhouse is a compartment below the foredeck containing a small head and five fold-down seats with seat belts for survivors of a truly bad day on the water.
Above their heads on the foredeck is a mount for a machine gun, a reminder of the multiple mandate of the modern Coast Guard, which includes search and rescue, law enforcement, safety inspection and education, environmental protection and homeland security. RB-M 45618 and her sisters are versatile assets in fulfilling that mission.