By Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger
A group of cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy are working on designs to replace some of the oldest ships in the Coast Guard’s fleet of cutters.
These ships are the Coast Guard’s inland waterway aid to navigation fleet, which include buoy and construction tenders, and have an average age of 52 years. The cadets, who are seniors majoring in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, are involved in a 35-week capstone design project, which specifically focuses on the design of a ship that could potentially replace these groups of vessels.
“As the Coast Guard recapitalizes the inland fleet over the next several years, the work performed by the cadets has the potential to form a baseline from which the larger Coast Guard will start the design process,” said Lt. James Schock, a naval architecture and marine engineering instructor at the Academy. “The cadets are asking tough questions and realizing the compromises necessary to meet the mission requirements of an inland buoy or construction tender.”
These ships, the oldest of which was commissioned in 1944, struggle with obsolete equipment, outdated fire protection systems and lack the facilities for mixed gender crews. The existing fleet is a mix of 35 different ships, which presents the service with a host of management and logistical challenges.
These ships are responsible for maintaining approximately 25,000 miles of waterways that connect about 300 ports. With 66 percent of U.S. crude oil imported via these waterways, the Coast Guard cutters charged with the upkeep are in constant motion.
With such an expansive area to cover, an update to the fleet of current cutters could revolutionize the aids to navigation mission and drastically improve efficiency and conditions for the crews on board.
Applying their study of engineering principles, the cadets will present solutions for replacing the inland waterway fleet in April 2017, prior to graduating with their class. The designs are required to adhere to Coast Guard standards as well as naval and civilian regulations, which because of the size restrictions for these vessels, has made this project that much more challenging.
“Past design projects have been focused on larger Coast Guard cutters, such as an off-shore patrol cutter or a polar icebreaker,” said Schock. “The scale of this design is considerably smaller in vessel size, which challenges the designers to use space efficiently.”
The cadets, who were split into four teams at the beginning of the project, had to work together to come up with their designs, which have required them to put in long hours in and out of their normal class time.
“My team set a goal for our design to make its environmental impact a minimum, which was the reasoning behind our decision to use Liquefied Natural Gas as our fuel,” said Cadet Laura Beck, a member of the naval architecture project. “This project required us to investigate the challenges and precautions associated with LNG, and also advocate for its use.”
As challenging and unique of a project as this has been for the cadets, it is not the only one they have to complete before the end of their academic year.
In addition to designing solutions for the oldest fleet of cutters in the Coast Guard, the cadets are also outlining the construction of a commercial lift boat, which will be an essential tool for the future plans of offshore wind turbine installations.
“We have completed a significant portion of our capstone and I have learned so much,” said Cadet Amanda Roy, a member of the naval architecture project. “We have put so much time and hard work into our projects that I feel ready to take on the volume of work that we will be handling as ensigns.”
Upon completion, cadets will have dedicated approximately 1200 man-hours to each of the projects. They will have gained experience in ship design as well as an understanding of the trade-offs the commercial sector must make, while still maintaining a standard that meets U.S. code. These projects that the cadets complete during their time at the Academy not only help each individual graduate but also greatly impact the Coast Guard as a whole by encouraging creative thinking and bringing new ideas to the table.
“An officer in the Coast Guard is responsible for solving challenging problems every day,” said Schock. “By learning how to work with others, apply strong engineering practice, navigate intrapersonal relationships and creatively solve tough puzzles, it will provide a foundation for success as young officers.”