If you look beyond oil service vessels, the newbuild boat market in the US is in good shape. In fact, when you look at the number of boats recently contracted for, underway or just delivered, one could say it’s even booming. Sure, there are yards that have been struggling In the Gulf, some yards that have been hit hard by the energy depression have gone out of business Yet, overall, from the coasts to the Great Lakes, shipyards are cranking out workboats in impressive numbers.

WorkBoat’s boatbuilding section in the magazine hasn’t had room to fit them all lately, but we try to keep up on the website. Over the past four months, the number of newbuilds WorkBoat has covered in its pages is north of 70, few of which are boats from the same contract. If you added in all the boats from multivessel contracts the number is much higher. For example, Seattle-based Kvichak Marine Industries and Metal Shark, Jeanerette, La, are both involved in big series build Coast Guard contracts. Metal Shark completes about one Coast Guard response boat-small (RB-S) each week.


A lot has been written about the depressed oil and gas market in the Gulf of Mexico, but yards that have diversified have found a lot of success.

“We work closely with a lot of shipyards, in south Louisiana, and elsewhere,” said Dr Lothar Birk, associate professor and chair, school of naval architecture and marine engineering at the University of New Orleans. “The ones that tend to be the strongest are those that are diversified, building not only different types of ships but building for the military and commercial customers.”

Eastern Shipbuilding's Allanton Road shipyard in Panama City, Fla. Eastern Shipbuilding photo.

Eastern Shipbuilding's Allanton Road shipyard in Panama City, Fla. Eastern Shipbuilding photo.

One of the most successful yards over the past several years has been Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla. Currently, the yard has a diverse orderbook, including the recently delivered 212'7"x59'1", 9,374-hp multipurpose field support vessel Harvey Stone for Harvey Gulf International Marine. Eastern is also completing a contract for four 5,150-hp, Robert Allan-designed Z-Tech tugs for Suderman & Young Towing and an identical four tugs for Bay-Houston Towing.

“What has happened over the last 18 months to the U.S. oil and gas and U.S. shipbuilding industries is tragic and it seems to continue spiraling downward,” Steve Berthold, Eastern’s vice president, sales and marketing, wrote in an email. “Diversity is another way of saying ‘survive.’ Eastern has survived in the past and plans to do so in the future.

“For those of us who have been around for a while, the workboat industry can turn on a dime and U.S. vessel operators can and will mobilize quickly responding to any sudden market upswing,” Berthold continued. “Will the workboat industry market change over the next year? We don’t know the answer to the next industry change, but what we do know is that the entire U.S. shipbuilding industry along with every U.S. vessel operator is working very hard to survive until the next industry upswing.”

In recent years, Gulf Island Marine Fabricators, Houma, La., worked hard to make sure it wasn’t overly reliant on the energy industry. Recently, the yard delivered the Chad Pregracke, the third of three 180'x48'x11'6" 9,200-hp towboats for Marquette Transportation, Paducah, Ky. Other newbuild projects Gulf Island is working on include two 250' spud barges for McDonough Marine Service, Metairie, La.

“We try to be diverse in our projects,” said the yard’s business development manager, Dan Gaiennie. “You really have to be to survive. We’ve worked hard to reach out to customers looking to build a variety of different boats. We think we have a lot to offer. We’ve gotten some of those contracts and we’re always working to get more.”

Metal Shark took three of its designs (29', 38', 45') to MACC in June 2016. Metal Shark photo.

Metal Shark took three of its designs (29', 38', 45') to MACC in June 2016. Metal Shark photo.

Over in Jeanerette, La., Metal Shark Aluminum Boats recently delivered its 206th 29' Defiant-class RB-S for the Coast Guard. Meanwhile, at its Franklin, La., yard, workers are constructing the first of four 85'4"x26'3" aluminum ferries for Hornblower Cruises & Events, San Francisco. The new ferries, the first that Metal Shark is building, will operate in New York City.

“We developed this production line for small boats years ago, and we’re applying the same approach to the bigger boats we build,” said MetalShark’s Greg Lambrecht, executive vice president.

Morgan City, La.-based Swift.ships LLC was awarded a $15 million contract recently through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program for four 28-meter (91.84') coastal patrol craft production material kits for the Egyptian navy.

“We have a different mindset when it comes to Foreign Military Sales,” said Swiftship’s Eric Geibel, vice president, operations and facilities. “We actually open operations there to help them maintain the equipment, instead of just flying someone over when there’s a problem.”


On the East Coast, workboats from tugs to towboats to fire and rescue to ferries are coming out of shipyards up and down the Atlantic.

CT Marine, Edgecomb, Maine, has designed a new 50'x24' towboat with a steel hull and polished aluminum deckhouse for North Carolina’s Bald Head Island. The 850-hp, triple-screw towboat Capt. Cooper is being built at Metal Trades Inc., Hollywood, S.C.

“We do have some fun stuff going, the North Carolina boat, a 96-foot triple-screw for Cenac [Marine Services] and five 3,840-hp towboats for South America,” said naval architect Christian Townsend, CT Marine’s owner and CEO, “but the towboat market is drying up and we’re diversifying, doing more production engineering.”

Chesapeake Shipbuilding, Salisbury, Md., recently delivered the 12th 94'x32'x13'6" Sassafras-class tug to Baltimore’s Vane Brothers Co. Designed by Entech Designs LLC, Kenner, La., the Fort McHenry is powered by two Caterpillar 3512, Tier 3 diesels connected to 4-bladed wheels through Twin Disc 6:1 reduction gears.

Vane Brothers' Sassafras-class tug Fort McHenry, built by Chesapeake. Vane Brothers photo.

Vane Brothers' Sassafras-class tug Fort McHenry, built by Chesapeake. Vane Brothers photo.

“Now that we’re 12 tugs into our partnership with Chesapeake Ship.building, the vessels have been pretty well refined,” said Vane’s senior port Capt. Jim Demske, who supervises tug construction for the company. “We aren’t fixing what ain’t broken.”

Chesapeake also delivered the 170-passenger American Constellation to sister company American Cruise Lines in July. The new boat is scheduled to begin cruises in the spring.

Blount Boats, Warren, R.I., de.livered the 100'x35', 318-passenger Skyview to Shoreline Sightseeing, Chicago. The steel, Subchapter K passenger vessel will operate as an architectural tour boat in partially protected waters. The Skyview is powered by twin Volvo-Penta D13 MH, 400-hp diesels with twin 65-kW John Deere-powered generators and ZF W325 gearboxes with 2.933:1 reduction ratios. The vessel is also equipped with twin 44"-dia., 4-bladed propellers and Kobelt steering.

Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding, Somerset, Mass., has signed a contract with the Mobile (Ala.) Bar Pilots to build a new 53'6"'x17'8" Chesapeake-class pilot boat. The C. Raymond Hunt-designed all-aluminum pilot boat will be powered by twin Caterpillar C-18 diesel engines, each delivering 671 hp at 2,100 rpm. Top speed will be 25 knots. The engines will turn 5-bladed Nibral propellers through Twin Disc MGX-5135A Quickshift gears. Ship’s service power will be the responsibility of a 9-kW Northern Lights EPA Tier 3-compliant genset.



Northwest shipyards are also producing a wide range of workboats made mostly of aluminum and steel for various municipalities and commercial and military customers.

In the spring, Bremerton, Wash.-based Safe Boats International delivered its first 41'x12' coastal interceptor vessel, specifically built for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Air and Marine Operations (AMO). It also happened to be Safe’s 2,000th boat delivery.

Built for high-speed interdiction, the CIV is powered by four 300-hp Mercury Verado outboards. The boat has a range of 350 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 36-plus knots.

Vigor Industrial, Seattle, is working on the third and fourth new 362'3"x83'2"x18' Olympic-class ferries for Washington State Ferries. The superstructure for the third boat, the Chimacum, which can haul up to 1,500 passengers and 144 cars, is being built at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, as were the superstructures for the first two Olympic-class ferries — Tokitae and Samish. The Chimacum is scheduled for delivery early next year.

Harley Marine Services, Seattle, is building two new tractor tugs at Diversified Marine, Portland, Ore. The new 80'x36'x16'8" tugs are sister vessels to the Michelle Sloan and Lela Franco (named one of WorkBoat’s Significant Boats of 2015), and are intended to enhance Harley’s West Coast fleet presence. Each new vessel will be equipped with a pair of Caterpillar 3516, Tier 3 propulsion engines, for a total of approximately 5,200 hp, and a pair of Caterpillar C7.1, Tier 3 generators.

Harley plans to take delivery from Diversified in December of the Earl W. Redd, a 5,350-hp Z-drive tug. The 120'.35' vessel will be the first tug to receive Caterpillar Tier 4 engines, according to Harley. The tug will be outfitted with a pair of Cat 3516Cs, each producing 2,675 hp at 1,600 rpm.

The 108'.35' fireboat Protector, built by Foss Maritime Co. at its Foss Seattle Shipyard, was delivered to the Port of Long Beach (Calif.) earlier this year. The new fireboat’s 10 water cannons have a capacity of over 41,000 gpm, or four times the output of the port’s present fireboats. Pumping range is 600', higher than a 20-story building, enough power to project water or foam anywhere aboard the world’s largest containerships and oil tankers, according to the port.

The Robert Allan-designed fire.boat is powered by a pair of Caterpillar 3512Cs, combining for 2,012 hp.



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.