Coast Guard Station Menemsha adds second motor lifeboat

Coast Guard Station Menemsha's two motor lifeboats rested side by side last week following delivery of the latest addition to the station's complement of vessels which includes the rigid hull inflatable in the foreground. — Photo by J.B. Riggs Parker

Coast Guard Station Menemsha got some new muscle last week with the addition of a second 47-foot motor lifeboat (MLB). BMCS Jason L. Olsen, officer-in-charge of Station Menemsha, had plenty of time to get to know his newest vessel.

Mr. Olsen and three crewmen picked up the MLB in Oak Island, North Carolina, where she was delivered from a Coast Guard station located in Sand Key, Florida. The trip to Martha’s Vineyard took six days.

The addition of a second 47 MLB will greatly enhance the ability of Station Menemsha to respond in the event of an emergency response, Mr. Olsen told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday. “Overall, this benefits both the station and the people who rely on the station,” he said.

“If one of our boats is down, the other will be up and running whereas before, if the 47 was down, Station Menemsha would not have offshore response.”

That was left to Coast Guard station located at Point Judith, Rhode Island, Nantucket, or Woods Hole.

It also means the crew will be able to conduct heavy- weather training exercises without the need to meet up with another Coast Guard unit, a requirement. “Instead of being out for six to eight hours we can be out a couple of hours and get the same training,” Mr. Olsen said. “Now we can do training right off Devil’s Bridge [Gay Head] versus going all the way to the Rhode Island state line, or going out to Nantucket.”

Even as the crew welcomed a new 47, the process of replacing the Station Menemsha boathouse, destroyed by fire in July, 2010, continues. The Coast Guard issued design-build requests last month and expects to award a contract in August. Criteria that will be considered in the selection process will include the height of the building, and site management during construction to minimize impacts on the local community, according to Coast Guard officials.

The workhorse of the life-saving fleet, the MLB has a top speed of 25 knots. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in rugged, all-weather durability. The 47 is designed to operate in up to 50-knot winds, towering 30-foot seas and 20-foot surf. The MLB is completely self-righting — meaning, if a wave knocks it completely upside down it will roll until it is upright.

The motor lifeboat is operated by a crew of four, which includes a coxswain in command. The coxswain’s three ratings reflect the capabilities of the boat and crew.

A basic coxswain can operate in 10-foot seas and up to 30-knot winds. A heavy weather coxswain is cleared to operate in 20-foot seas and 40-knot winds. The surfman rating allows a coxswain to operate in 30-foot seas, 20-foot surf and 50-knot winds.

Notified of a call requiring a response, the Coast Guard standard requires the MLB crew to be under way within 30 minutes.

The addition of a second motor lifeboat illustrates a sea change in the importance of the Menemsha station. In 1995, during a period of downsizing, the Coast Guard considered closing Station Menemsha and disposing of the property including the station house on the hill. Strong public and political pressure prevented a closure of the Island’s only search and rescue station, but not a downsizing.

Then came the events of September 11, 2001, after which the Coast Guard’s role in providing homeland security was greatly expanded.

In September 2004 Coast Guard Station Menemsha was officially designated a fully independent “station large.” As a result, the number of Coast Guardsmen increased and the station began to maintain its own radio watch.

The newest 47-foot MLB assigned to Coast Guard Station Menemsha joins a fleet of MLBs assigned to the First Coast Guard District, which includes the eight-state area from Maine to northern New Jersey and eastern New York.

The First District is broken up into five sectors. Station Menemsha, designated a heavy weather station, is part of sector Southeastern New England, an area that includes the waters of Rhode Island and Cape Cod.

Mr. Olsen is responsible for a crew of approximately 24 men and women assigned to Station Menemsha. Their area of responsibility includes the waters west to the Rhode Island border, 50 miles offshore, Buzzard’s Bay, and Vineyard Sound.