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The Coast Guard waterways commerce cutter (WCC) program held public virtual information sessions May 11-12, 2021, to inform the public about and seek comment on potential environmental impacts associated with the WCCs.

The Coast Guard released a request for proposal for the design and construction of its new river buoy and inland construction tenders April 30, 2021.

The Coast Guard WCC program released two videos Jan. 15, 2021, showing layouts, operational footage and crew interviews from the river buoy and inland construction tenders in anticipation of the upcoming request for proposal release.

Waterways Commerce Cutter

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 tenders 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 facilitating 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, through which 630 million tons of cargo move 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 $5.4 trillion annually in U.S. economic activity, and inland ports and waterways are critical MTS components. 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 55 years. The fleet is approaching obsolescence: its maintenance costs are rising, and the vast majority of the inland tenders do not support mixed-gender berthing. To address these concerns, the Coast Guard is taking steps to ensure continuity of its inland maritime mission capability.

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:

River Buoy Tending Operations WLR Commissioned
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 areas of responsibility.
Inland Construction Operations WLIC Commissioned
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.
Inland Buoy Tending Operations WLI Commissioned
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 tenders to reach. One WLI each is located in North Carolina, Michigan, Oregon and Alaska.

How is the Coast Guard working to sustain and update its inland ATON capability?

Shown above are Coast Guard indicative designs of a river buoy tender, inland construction tender and inland buoy tender.

The Coast Guard established the Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) Program to replace the capability provided by the inland tender fleet. The program partnered with the Naval Sea Systems Command to conduct an independent alternatives analysis to evaluate materiel and non-materiel solutions to meet mission needs within cost and schedule constraints. Additionally, the WCC Program released nine requests for information to conduct market research and has conducted engineering trade studies and design analysis, including development of indicative designs.

Based on this analysis, the program has determined that three WCC variants will best meet mission needs. All three variants will be monohull ships, meaning self-propelled cutters instead of tug and barge configurations. The river buoy tender and inland construction tender variants will be acquired on one contract; these variants are expected to be common except for hull length, working deck layouts, and deck equipment, including the crane. The program released the request for proposal (RFP) for these variants in April 2021 and anticipates awarding a contract in early 2022.

The inland buoy tender will be procured separately from the other two variants. The WCC Program has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Marine Design Center to develop a government-led design for the inland buoy (WLI) tender variant starting in June 2021. The WLI will be contractor-built.

The Coast Guard plans to acquire 16 river buoy tenders, 11 inland construction tenders and three inland buoy tenders. The new tenders will have greater endurance, speed and deck load capacity than their predecessors. The ships will also feature improved habitability and will accommodate mixed-gender crews.

The WCC Program is working under an accelerated program schedule to reach initial operational capability by 2025. Initial operational capability is achieved following post-delivery availability, test and evaluation, and certification that the first hull of each WCC variant satisfies all key performance parameters, or the threshold requirements without which the ATON mission cannot be performed. Full operational capability, which will be achieved when the capability has been fully fielded, is planned for 2030, although this date may change based on Coast Guard capital investment planning.


WCC: In the News


May 17, 2021 - Coast Guard holds virtual environmental impact information sessions

May 3, 2021 - Coast Guard releases river buoy, inland construction tender request for proposal

Feb. 16, 2021 - Coast Guard updates river buoy, inland construction tender draft specifications

Jan. 15, 2021 - Coast Guard releases cutter videos, announces waterways commerce cutter webinar


July 29, 2020 - Coast Guard releases draft request for proposal for river buoy and inland construction tenders

Jan. 10, 2020 - Coast Guard releases request for information for prospective inland buoy tenders


Nov. 21, 2019 - Coast Guard announces small business set-aside to replace river buoy and inland construction tender capabilities

Nov. 7, 2019 - Coast Guard releases inland buoy tender top-level requirements

Oct. 16, 2019 - Coast Guard releases draft waterways commerce cutter specifications, plans industry engagement

Sept. 18, 2019 - Coast Guard releases request for information to inform WCC training solutions

Sept. 6, 2019 - Coast Guard releases request for information to inform acquisition strategy

Feb. 15, 2019 - Coast Guard seeks information to support Waterways Commerce Cutter Program


Oct. 22, 2018 - Coast Guard seeks information to support Waterways Commerce Cutter Program

June 12, 2018 - Coast Guard Releases request for information for waterways commerce cutter capability

Feb. 15, 2018 - Coast Guard releases request for information for inland maritime aids to navigation capability


Nov. 27, 2017 - Coast Guard examines options for inland aids to navigation capability replacement


RFI 1, February 2018: Gather information about the state of the market and current industrial capabilities to support the Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) acquisition program.

RFI 2, June 2018: Gather additional information about state of the market items currently in production or in use along the inland waterways that can be used as potential solutions for the WCC acquisition program. In addition, obtain an understanding of domestic shipyards’ capabilities and experience in designing and building assets that may meet the WCC requirements.

RFI 3, October 2018: Gather information about the state of the market and current industrial capabilities to support various ship-mounted, marine cranes for the WCC program.

Special Notice, November 2018: Announce the WCC program’s exhibition at WorkBoat to provide industry information about program mission needs, status, and desired schedule, and learn about industry’s production capacity and product capabilities.

RFI 4, February 2019: Gather information about the state of the market and current industrial capabilities to support pile-driving systems for the WCC program.

RFI 5, June 2019: Gather additional information regarding ship-mounted, marine cranes for the WCC program.

RFI 6, September 2019: Gauge industry interest, capability and capacity to design and build the WCCs.

RFI 7, September 2019: Gather information regarding the analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation of crew training and performance support solutions. [Reference ID RFQ1396764]

Special Notice, April 2019: Announce that the program would be presenting information at the 2019 Sea-Air-Space exposition.

Special Notice, October 2019: Release the draft specification for the river buoy tenders and inland construction tenders and announce that the program would be holding one-on-one meetings with shipbuilders and ship designers at the 2019 International WorkBoat Show.

Special Notice, November 2019: Announce that the Coast Guard solicitation for replacing the capabilities of 13 Inland Construction Tenders (WLIC) and 18 River Buoy Tenders (WLR) will be a set-aside for small business.

Special Notice, November 2019: Release inland buoy tender top-level requirements and announce industry meetings regarding ships or ship designs that meet those top-level requirements or that could meet those requirements with minor modifications.

RFI 8, January 2020: Gather information regarding whether shipyards have built or know of designs for ships that meet the WCC program’s inland buoy tender requirements or that could meet those requirements with minor modifications.


RFI 9, Draft Request for Proposal (RFP) – River Buoy/Inland Construction Tenders, July 2020: Provide and gather feedback on the draft statement of work, specifications, data requirements, proposal evaluation criteria, guidelines for submitting proposals, and other information industry will need to prepare their proposals for the river buoy and inland construction tender acquisition.

Special Notice, February 2021: Announce updates to the draft specification based on industry feedback received and additional internal analysis performed since July 2020.

RFP – River Buoy/Inland Construction Tenders, April 2021: Solicit proposals for the design and construction of its new river buoy and inland construction tenders.