Law Enforcement Asset
Swift boat expands Coast Guard’s homeland security capabilities
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
The Coast Guard’s new Special Purpose Craft–Law Enforcement
boat is faster and more stable than the service’s Defender-class boat.
■ The Coast Guard signed two separate contracts with Safe
Boats International that could allow the service to have up to 111
of the new craft by 2011.
■ Service officials rave about how quick the boat is and its
amenities, such as a climate-controlled environment.
■ The vessel has been used in New York harbor.
With the Coast Guard’s fleet for just two years,
the 33-foot Special Purpose Craft–Law
Enforcement (SPC–LE) boat has quickly
become a valuable homeland security asset.
Considered an upgrade from the widely used 25-
foot Defender-class boat, the newer SPC–LE can take
on harsher sea conditions and is faster and more stable, according to Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Love of the service’s Office of Boat Forces in Washington.
There are 44 SPC–LEs in service in the Great Lakes,
Florida, California, Washington state, the Gulf of Mexico
and New York. With an average price tag of $300,000 per
boat, Love expects the service to buy more in the future.
Introduced into service with U.S. Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) in 2003, the Coast Guard saw
the vessel’s potential and in 2005 contacted the builder,
Safe Boat International in Port Orchard, Wash. Today,
the Coast Guard maintains a separate contract.
The original contract, signed in 2005, was for up to 17
boats. The CBP used one of those boats, while the Coast
Guard used the other 16. A second contract was signed in
2006 for up to 95 boats over five years. Maintenance work
on the vessels is done through the CBP national vessel
maintenance contract. The initial contract, signed in 2005
with the CBP, was for $6.05 million. The second contract,
signed exclusively for the Coast
Guard, was worth $62.3 million.
The SPC–LE can reach speeds of
60 mph, has three Mercury Verado
275-horsepower engines and can
carry up to 14 people. The vessel also
features air-conditioning and heating
in their cabins, and weighs approximately 13,000 pounds fully outfitted.
A majority of the Coast Guard’s
SPC–LEs are used for border protection and migrant interdiction
but their primary use is to catch
“targets of interest,” Love said.
“That’s what it was pretty much
designed to do: Intercept the quick boats out there.”
The SPC–LE is often compared to the Defender
class, which entered the fleet in summer 2003. The
Coast Guard has 457 Defender-class boats, and a contract for up to 700.
The Defender-class boat has a top cruising speed of
52 mph, is powered by two 225-horsepower outboard
engines and seats up to six people. It does not have a
climate-controlled cabin and is designed for use in
somewhat calmer and shallower waters. The SPC–LE —
the fastest boat in the service — was first used in Florida
and Texas to strengthen border security, although its
range has a radius of 30 miles from shore.
Lt. Cmdr. Richard Burke, commanding officer of
Coast Guard Station New York, said the 33-foot boat
has been a great asset for his area.
“New York harbor has a great deal of recreational
traffic and you need to quickly be able to identify who
is a threat and who is a recreational boater,” Burke said.
He added that the boat’s speed allows the service to
quickly put itself between a potential threat and a target.
When a crew is deployed in the harbor they wear
full body armor, a uniform and carry weapons. The
amenities offered by the SPC–LE provide more comfort
for the crew when they are aboard.