25 pushboats from Eastern for Florida Marine

For Eastern Shipbuilding Group, the 25 pushboats it’s building for Florida Marine Transporters is the largest single boatbuilding order ever for the Panama City, Fla., yard And, said Jason Belcher, chief financial officer at Mandeville, La.-based Florida Marine, it’s probably “the largest contiguous build of a homogeneous workboat ever.”

By early May, three of the 90’×32’×12’ boats had been delivered, and the fourth was due to be completed by mid-May. After that, a boat will be delivered every three to five weeks, said Joe D’Isernia, Eastern Shipbuilding’s project manager for the towboats.

Florida Marine’s 25-boat order shouldn’t come as a surprise since the company has been busy over the past few years upgrading its barge fleet. “We’ve built more tank barges in the last seven years than any other company on the inland waterways,” said Belcher. 

That amounts to 125 double-hulled barges, and there’s a “firm order at Jeffboat through 2008 for another 50 barges,” Belcher said. 

While it was adding barges, Florida Marine Transporters was also acquiring older pushboats that could be refurbished. But in the end, “the truth is there are not enough good hulls around,” said Belcher. So the company took the lessons it had learned from its existing pushboats, and using one of its more successful boats as a model, went to Eastern Shipbuilding. 

Then Eastern took a general design to Entech Associates, Houma, La., and the two worked out the final design. “The concept was theirs. They came in with some drawings, and we did the engineering work,” said Entech’s Frank Basilie. 

The boats’ performance has been better than expected, Belcher noted. For example, he said, “fuel burn is one-third less than boats of comparable horsepower.”

The propulsion package consists of twin 1,155-hp Caterpillar 3512s bolted to Twin Disc MC 5600 marine gears with 5.04:1 ratios, which turns 84” props. The setup produces a maximum speed of 11.5 knots. 

On deck are two 40-ton Patterson electric winches. 

Belcher said the boats were designed with “crew endurance and safety in mind.” There are individual accommodations for six crew. To reduce vibration and noise, all the engines and gears are rubber mounted. “And it’s one of the few vessels I’ve seen with air conditioning in the generator room,” he said.                     — Michael Crowley 

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