The Coast Guard’s workhorse lifeboats are in danger of becoming obsolete with aging engines, and the answer will be either building a new class or embarking on a major service life extension, the Coast Guard’s acquisition chief says.

The 47’ lifesaving boat was a leap forward when it replaced the old 44’ design in the 1990s. But the Detroit Diesel engines in the class are no longer manufactured, and “unfortunately they’re becoming obsolete in terms of support,” Rear Adm. Mike Haycock said Wednesday at the Multi-Agency Craft Conference.

Coast Guard planning is in the very early stages, but considering the service’s limited capital funds, Haycock – who heads the Acquisition Directorate – said he expects a service life extension project (SLEP) will be a likely outcome.

“The cost differential is substantial. I don’t think we have room in our capital budget,” he said.

“If you’re in the boat sustainment business, I’d keep an eye on that,” Haycock advised the audience at MACC, organized by the American Society of Naval Engineers and hosted by the Coast Guard Yard at Baltimore.

A service life extension would require not just new engines for the 107 lifeboats in service, but new transmissions and other systems “so we can get another 20 years out of these,” Haycock said.

The 47’ class was originally 117 boats, and about 10 are retired now – originally because they were no longer needed, and now are a source of spare parts, Haycock said.

Haycock could not say what the timeline would be for doing a SLEP, but the time is coming for a decision.

“The way things are going, we won’t be able to support them past 2019,” he said.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.