Birdon America Inc., Denver, has been awarded a $190 million contract to perform a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for the Coast Guard’s fleet of 47' motor lifeboats (MLB).

The contract is a firm-fixed price (FFP), indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) for the design, development, testing, and upgrade/build of MLBs over five years with an option for an additional five years.

“There are between 107 and 117 of these boats,” said Jim Ducker, Birdon’s president. “This is a service life extension program that we’ll be using two shipyards to complete, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.”

The West Coast shipyard is Fred Wahl Marine Construction Inc., Reedsport, Ore. The East Coast yard has been chosen, but Ducker said he’s not yet ready to announce who it is.

The current in-service MLBs were designed by the USCG and built from 1997 to 2003. These boats, designated 47B MLB, are now approaching the end of their original 25-year service lives. The goal of the SLEP is to extend the 47 MLBs’ service life for an additional 20 years and retain or exceed their original operational capabilities and characteristics.

Birdon America developed and proposed a solution that met or exceeded the Coast Guard's SLEP requirements and included system replacements, performance enhancements in the areas of noise, seating, and reliability and addressed structural issues. As part of that process, Birdon was able to procure a pre-production 47 MLB that had been retired from the Coast Guard in the late 1990s.

The lifeboat, called a Risk Reduction Boat (RRB), was modified to reflect the proposed SLEP changes and extensively tested (including rollover testing) prior to Birdon’s proposal submission. The RRB enabled Birdon to demonstrate in its proposal to the USCG that the RRB exceeded all threshold requirements and most of the objectives. Birdon’s solution includes vessel SLEP production capabilities on both the East and West coasts through a strong team of well-known and capable partners.

The next step is to get the boats to the shipyards so the retrofits can be performed. “It will be a combination of towing and transport over the road,” said Ducker. “The first set of boats will come from the Great Lakes. It’s not your typical job, but that’s what we like about the contract.”

Birdon America is also the designer and manufacturer of the U.S. Army Bridge Erection Boat (BEB) — 140 BEBs have been delivered to date. Ongoing production in the Denver facility will deliver over 300 additional boats in the next five years.


Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.