July 22, 2007
While many people are aware of the Coast Guards cutters and some even have a grasp of some of the many jobs the Coast Guard performs, few realize that among the hardest working and most useful cutters are those not actually painted white.
The black hull fleet is made up of the Coast Guards buoy tenders and small domestic icebreakers.
They maintain the thousands upon thousands of buoys daymarkers and lighthouses. All but the smallest riverine blackhull ships are fitted to break ice in winter.
With their fairly large cargo capacity they supply isolated stations, and can carry impressive amounts of pollution control equipment (skimmers, oily water separators and more) that the more graceful whitehulls can't. They have even been fitted with oceanographic labs. In time of war they serve as seagoing tugs, minesweepers, minelayers, light cargo craft and they break ice for the thin skinned greyhounds.
Of course they also do search and rescue, law enforcement, customs, boarder enforcement and fisheries patrol missions that the other cutters perform.
Legendary amongst these were the 180 foot buoy tenders. These were just about the most useful vessels the Coast Guard ever had. If you are at all interested in maritime history, read the whole thing.
I think only one of the 180's remains in Coast Guard service, as a training ship for the Caribbean navies, but the class served for over 60 years. They have been replaced by the "Keeper", and Juniper classes, which, (while likely not quite as robust) are faster bigger and have much smaller crews and larger cargo spaces. These new cutters are now doing the work of half again as many of the older class....and more.
One final note, the first CG buoy tenders were inherited from the lighthouse service when it was amalgamated into the Coast Guard in the 1930's. With the exception of the Keeper class, (who are named for the heroes of the old Lighthouse Service) and the SPAR, they follow the lighthouse service tradition of being named after American flowering plants.
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