Inland cutters are some of the Coast Guard’s most versatile boats, and the oldest — on average now more than 53 years.

A new class of Waterways Commerce Cutter is next in the Coast Guard’s recapitalization effort, and the WCC team came to the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans Friday to brief the shipbuilding and design industry.

“We’re looking for what’s state-of-the-market,” said Aileen Sedmak, manager of the WCC program, now in partnership with the Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command to analyze needs and design requirements.

“Our internal Coast Guard design team is working on an indicative design,” and seeking help from the Corps of Engineers design center as well, Sedmak explained to a standing-room crowd at the presentation. “What does ‘early’ mean? Early means we have not fleshed everything out yet.”

Aileen Sedmak, manager of the Waterway Commerce Cutter program, says the Coast Guard is looking for input from the industry to design the new class. Kirk Moore photo.

Aileen Sedmak, manager of the Waterway Commerce Cutter program, says the Coast Guard is looking for input from the industry to design the new class. Kirk Moore photo.

The inland fleet includes the Coast Guard’s oldest vessel, the 100’ tender Smilax, a World War II-built cutter homeported at Fort Macon, N.C., and all of the vessels face issues of obsolescence and sustainability. The goal is to have the first new waterway cutter complete sea trials and be operational in 2024, and have the new fleet operational in 2030.

The challenge is to come up with a concept that will replace a fleet of 35 vessels that accomplish three main missions, across the lower 48 states and Alaska, including inland construction tenders, river buoy tenders and inland buoy tenders.

“It’s our biggest hurdle. Can we combine the missions in one or two (designs)?” said Sedmak.

In walking around the show, Sedmak noted, she had heard that industry people are coming up with questions about the WCC needs. The Coast Guard already has a request for information (RFI) out to solicit ideas, and some in the briefing audience had more.

The RFI calls for 150 tons deck cargo capacity, and Stephen Berthold, vice president of sales with Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla., asked if the preliminary draft dimensions were open to change. The Coast Guard officials replied they are wide open to suggestions.

“If you think what we are putting out is physically impossible … we want to hear that,” said Sedmak. “We’re at a point where we’re still trying to figure it all out.”

That goes for deck equipment too, said Lt. Cmdr. John M. Singletary. “Please respond to the RFI because we’re using the same cranes and drivers as since 1961,” he said.

“Everyone says this is just a workboat … here we are trying to get a vessel for three different missions across the nation up into Alaska,” said Sedmak. “Think of it as a system of systems. It is not an easy problem.”

While the WCC program is still analyzing options, the team says it has some broad requirements already:

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.