Tune-up scheduled for Menemsha lifeboats

10-year extension program set to service more than 100 vessels.


Updates are coming to Station Menemsha’s motor lifeboats, but they may not be coming for a few years.

On August 5 the U.S. Coast Guard awarded a firm-fixed-price contract to Denver-based Birdon America Inc. to conduct work on more than 100 of the nation’s motor lifeboats as part of the service life extension program (SLEP). “It’s a big contract,” Station Menemsha Chief Justin Longval said.

Station Menemsha operates two motor lifeboats out of its facility. The 47-foot motor lifeboat is the Coast Guard’s primary search-and-rescue vessel. Operating in surf and heavy weather conditions, it has self-righting capabilities, and can operate in winds up to 50 knots, seas up to 30 feet, and surf up to 20 feet. Lifeboats have been in service for 15 to 21 years, quickly approaching their 25-year service life.

SLEP will extend lifeboat lives by 20 years. The total project contract value SLEP is $190 million over a 10-year period. 

Main work will be done on outdated systems, including the main propulsion, electrical, steering, towing, and navigation systems, and hull and structure replacements. Despite these changes, the original capabilities and characteristics of the lifeboat will not change. 

Longval told The Times lifeboats are important for the offshore search and rescue work they do off the Island’s shores. “They are a vital part of what we do in Menemsha,” Longval said. “A lot of what we do is several miles south of the Island or west of the Island.”

Since then the lifeboats have worked well for the up-Island station, but the updates are needed since the technology on the boats is becoming outdated. “They almost update as often as an iPhone,” Longval said.

While there is no definite date for updates to Station Menemsha lifeboats, Boatswain’s Mate Chief and Executive Petty Officer Steven White told The Times the program will be completed within 10 years. 

“They do the job. It’s my favorite boat in the Coast Guard,” White said. “I trust this boat just as much as 10 years ago, when I was driving the boat.”

In addition to search and rescue, the lifeboats are used to run drills. One of the Coast Guard’s 11 missions is marine environmental protection, which frequently means picking up deflated balloons floating in the ocean.

“We’re environmentally conscious,” White said. “It’s a forward-looking, proactive means of preventing future incidents, as well as protecting marine environments.”