The Coast Guard’s inland tender fleet comprises three main cutter types. Shown clockwise from left are an inland construction tender, a river buoy tender and an inland buoy tender.
The Coast Guard’s current inland tender fleet consists of 35 ships that support the service’s aids to navigation (ATON) mission in federal inland waterways. These tenders play a vital role in directing the traffic of the nation’s Marine Transportation System and support the U.S. economy by enabling the efficient flow of goods nationwide. The fleet is responsible for maintaining more than 28,200 marine aids throughout 12,000 miles of inland waterways, which move 630 million tons of cargo annually.
The inland tenders can also perform missions such as search and rescue; ports, waterways and coastal security; marine safety; and marine environmental protection, enabling them to quickly and effectively respond to emergencies such as environmental incidents and severe weather events.
Why this program?
The Marine Transportation System (MTS) accounts for more than $4.6 trillion in U.S. economic activity, and inland ports and waterways are critical to the MTS’ success. The inland tender fleet possesses the unique capability to establish and maintain inland ATON to support the safe and efficient flow of economic activity along U.S. rivers, lakes, intracoastal waterways and harbors. However, the current inland tenders have been in operation for an average of more than 53 years, so the Coast Guard is examining options to ensure continuity of its inland maritime mission capability and address obsolescence concerns.
How is the Coast Guard working to sustain and update its inland ATON capability?
The Coast Guard established the Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program to replace the capability provided by the inland tender fleet. The program recently partnered with the Naval Sea Systems Command to conduct an independent alternatives analysis to determine viable solutions to meet its mission needs within cost and schedule constraints. This analysis will include the possibility of renewing and standardizing its inland maritime mission capability with modern, state-of-the-market tenders equipped with proven technology to conduct missions in the Western Rivers, Intracoastal Waterway, and other inland and coastal waters of the United States. The WCC Program has released four requests for information – one each in February 2018, June 2018, October 2018 and February 2019 – to conduct market research and invite industry to comment on creative, effective and affordable solutions.
The WCC Program is working under a heavily accelerated program schedule to reach initial operational capability by fiscal year 2024 and full operational capability by fiscal year 2030.
How does the Coast Guard perform the inland ATON mission?
The current inland tender fleet can be divided into three main tender types, each of which performs specific parts of the ATON mission:
|Inland Construction Operations
|WLIC (13 total)
|Built 1962 1976
|WLICs construct, repair and maintain fixed ATON within inland waterways. The WLIC is the only Coast Guard platform with the capability to drive and remove piles, erect towers, and effect major structural repairs.
|River Buoy Tending Operations
|WLR (18 total)
|Built 1994 1963
|WLRs service short-range ATON on the Western Rivers. They set, relocate, and recover buoys to mark the navigable channel in the rivers as the water level changes. They also establish and maintain fixed aids, lights and daybeacons within their area of responsibility.
|Inland Buoy Tending Operations
|WLI (4 total)
|Built 1960 1990
|WLIs service short-range ATON along the coastal and inland waterways. These vessels maintain buoys that are beyond the capabilities of the nearest aids to navigation team and that are located in areas either too shallow or otherwise too restricted for larger platforms to reach. One WLI each is located in South Carolina, Michigan, Oregon and Alaska.