History of MLB44 Class

Probably one of the most legendary boats ever introduced into American coastal rescue service was the 44-foot Motor Life Boat. The 44-foot MLB is a unique craft in the overall development of American coastal lifeboats, having been used successfully for almost fifty years around the nation, as well as having had a worldwide influence on search and rescue craft designs. The development of the 44-footer is a prime example of a vessel being designed for very specific conditions, translating design concepts of seaworthiness, ease of handling, speed, weight, draft, strength and capacity into a much-loved boat that Coast Guard crews speak of in almost reverent tones. A coastal lifeboat needs certain essential design characteristics to make it a sea boat for all weather. A high degree of stability, great strength of construction, rapid self-righting and selfbailing, reserve buoyancy, a hull bottom reinforced against damage from grounding, moderate weight and, not so incidentally, speed are critical factors. These characteristics reached a peak in the 44-foot MLB design.

By the late 1950s, the 36-foot MLBs in wide use by the Coast Guard were averaging 25 to 30 years of active service, and the oldest boats had serious deterioration problems. There were some design deficiencies that had been observed over their years of service. At the same time that maintenance costs for the 36-foot boats were rising, the Coast Guard’s operational needs were also changing. Their missions involved a growing number of fishing vessel and

recreational boating search and rescue cases. Faster rescue craft with greater cruising range and towing capability were clearly needed. Those craft would come about in the early 1960s as a completely new Motor Life Boat class.

By the late 1950s, the art and science of small craft design had progressed significantly, with advancements in reliable towing tank studies using precisely dimensioned models to simulate actual boat performance under different sea conditions. Significant improvements in the metallurgical qualities of steel and aluminum used for boatbuilding and diesel engine design, which produced more powerful engines that were also smaller in size and lighter in weight,

would play key roles in new designs. The Coast Guard, in establishing the requirements for a new lifeboat class, undertook a very comprehensive design, construction and evaluation process. They consulted experienced

lifeboat crewmen from throughout the country on the weaknesses as well as strengths of the 36- foot MLB. They also sought recommendations as to what features should be included in a new lifeboat design. The resulting set of  requirements was published in July 1960. The new Motor Life Boat had to be self-righting and self-bailing, and able to operate successfully in coastal waters under unusually severe weather and sea conditions. It had to be able to negotiate large breaking surf and run into large seas without excessive pounding. It had to have increased power and speed, with a full-speed range of 150 miles, and twin-screw propulsion to provide greater reliability and improved handling. Improved rescue and towing capability, protected accommodations for survivors and crew, and more efficient, safer working areas were also called for. Structurally, the outer hull was to be of corrosion-resistant, welded Corten steel for greater strength, and the superstructure was constructed of marine-grade aluminum. It was designed to operate in light ice, and survive accidental groundings as well as the hard use of working in severe weather, heavy seas and surf. Construction of the prototype boat, CG-44300, began in April 1961 at the Curtis Bay Yard, and in February of 1962, CG-44300 was launched.

Key design improvements over earlier motor lifeboat types included:

  • semi-displacement hull to provide increased speed and improved seakeeping in heavy seas, with hull lines in the forward section designed to minimize pounding while heading into heavy seas at higher speeds

  • twin diesel engines to provide increased propulsion power reserve, increased towing capacity, improved maneuverability, and redundancy in case of engine breakdown

  • twin rudders, with hydraulic power-assisted steering, for improved maneuverability

  • coxswain’s station with integrated steering and engine controls, as well as electronic equipment

  • steel hull with increased scantlings to improve resistance to damage

  • double-bottom installed in forward half of hull for protection in case of grounding

  • increase in survivor accommodations, providing space for as many as 21 people

  • improved accommodations and protection for a crew of four

  • improved towing bitt location

  • installed fire pump

 

The 44-foot MLB is 44 feet, 1.5 inches in overall length, with a beam of 12 feet, 8 inches and a draft of 3 feet 2 inches. Powered by two 186 brake horsepower General Motors Detroit Diesel 6V53 diesel engines, maximum speed was about 13-15 knots, depending on loading and sea state. The boats have twin 30-inch diameter propellers with a 25-inch pitch, transforming the torque from the engines into towing capacity of over 120 tons, or approximately seven times the 44s own displacement. During initial trials at the Curtis Bay Yard, prototype CG-44300 self-righted in approximately three seconds, but took approximately 55 seconds to self-bail the cockpit of water. This was rectified by the subsequent installation of larger scupper openings. In addition, the twin-rudder design was revised to a balanced type rather than the original flat plate type, which provided better steering control. Prototype CG-44300 completed her initial sea trials with flying colors, and Coast Guard Headquarters announced the completion of the CG-44300 on March 9, 1962. In total, 110 of the 44’ motor lifeboats were built over a ten-year period. During that time, inflation took its inevitable toll on the boat’s cost; i.e., whereas the cost per boat in the first program was $115,000, the last boat (CG-44409) was completed in 1972 at the cost of $225,000; an increase of almost 100%. On April 14, 1962, the CG-44300 left the Curtis Bay Yard for Station Chatham, Massachusetts, visiting a number of other lifeboat stations along the East Coast from Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina to Maine before reporting for duty. The delivery and station crews all

evaluated the boat’s performance capabilities. By October, the boat had left Chatham for the 13th Coast Guard  district, arriving in Seattle, Washington, on October 19. She then went to Station Yaquina Bay, Oregon, for rough-water evaluation in the heavy breaking surf conditions of the Pacific Northwest. The 44300 turned in outstanding performances under conditions ranging from large ground swells offshore to strong ebb chop, moderate breaking seas, and large dangerous seas on the bars and reefs. Operation in following seas was also excellent. During the evaluation period she covered 3,000 miles at an average speed of 11.1 knots, while consuming fuel at the rate of 20.4 gallons per hour. CG-44300 served at Station Yaquina Bay from October 1962 to 1981. In July 1981, she was  transferred to the National Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment, Washington, serving there for another 15 years. The boat always saw very hard duty, including episodes of going end-over end (pitch-poling) and rolling over completely several times. But she also won the admiration and, indeed, the affection of her crews, training coxswains from Coast Guard stations across the United States in adverse weather and sea conditions. While responding to a search and rescue mission out of Cape Disappointment on July 29, 1996, CG-44300 experienced a serious engine breakdown and was withdrawn from service. Although the boat itself was still in excellent condition, the cost of repairing or replacing the damaged engine could not be justified. By then the 44-foot Motor Lifeboats were being replaced by new 47-foot MLBs. After surveying the boat, the Coast Guard loaned the boat to the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon, where a display was created to recreate motor lifeboat operations in surf conditions.

Almost from the moment it was designed, the 44-foot MLB has been recognized as a major and historic step forward in lifeboat design. In June 1963, delegates to the ninth International Lifeboat Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, saw official Coast Guard movies of the CG-44300 being tested on the bar at the entrance to Yaquina Bay, and two papers were presented on the new 44-foot Motor Life Boat design. Great interest among the delegates eventually resulted in

the spread of the design to several other countries. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute was deeply impressed and purchased CG-44328 in May 1964, which served as the design prototype for more than twenty lifeboats that were built in England as the Waveney Class. Other countries also adopted the new 44-foot MLB design: the Italian Coast Guard, the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Norwegian Life Saving Service (which made a few modifications, such as an enclosed bridge for operation in the extreme cold of Norwegian waters). Very few 44-foot MLBs were lost or severely damaged enough to prevent restoration to service. Over the forty-plus years that the boats were in Coast Guard use, the 44-foot MLB has been highly praised for its ruggedness and surf capabilities. Many of the retired 44-foot MLBs have been sold overseas and continue to serve foreign governments and lifesaving services. The last 44-foot MLB in active Coast Guard service, CG-44301 (the first production boat), was located at Station Chatham, Massachusetts, was decommissioned in Spring 2009. As of Spring 2015, she will be returned for static display at Station Chatham. It is expected that 44301 will be nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, likely at a national level of significance. This will pave the way for other 44s still in the U.S. and in Coast Guard configuration or specification (like 44334) to be listed on the Register as a major engineering accomplishment as members of this historic class of Motor Life Boat.