VESSEL REFIT | Waitoa Barrier Rescue – Ex-racing chase boats take on SAR duties with Coastguard New Zealand

Photo: Coastguard NZ
Photo: Coastguard NZ

Maritime search and rescue (SAR) charity Coastguard New Zealand is currently expanding its fleet of rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) with the hand-over of 26 vessels that were originally manufactured as race support craft.

The RIBs were designed and built by local company Rayglass Boats to serve as chase boats for the America's Cup yacht sailing race that was held in Auckland in March of last year. The chase boats are being refitted to meet the specific demands of coastguard service and rebranded for coastguard units across the country that had been identified as having aging vessels and limited capacity to raise funds on their own.

<em>Photo: Coastguard NZ</em>
Photo: Coastguard NZ

The refit of the entire fleet of RIBs, which includes both nine- and 12.5-metre boats, is made possible by a NZ$9.8 million (US$6.6 million) grant awarded by a partnership formed by local lottery operator Lotto NZ and representatives of racing organisation Team New Zealand.

<em>Photo: Rayglass Boats</em>
Photo: Rayglass Boats

Rayglass said that, over the coming months, a number of former chase boats that have been customised to the specific demands of the areas they patrol will be delivered to Coastguard NZ units, though deliveries to some coastguard stations already commenced in 2021. One such boat is Waitoa Barrier Rescue, which has already begun operating out of the coastguard station on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

A further two vessels will be retained as training boats for centralised crew training requirements, and another two boats will be placed on standby to support coastguard units as and when required. Projects over the coming 12 to 24 months will see a further four vessels delivered to other units with more bespoke needs.

<em>Photo: Rayglass Boats</em>
Photo: Rayglass Boats

Each 12.5-metre-long Coastguard NZ RIB will have custom-fitted equipment and SAR-optimised features to enable effective emergency response even under harsh weather and sea conditions off the New Zealand coast. Tim Thomas, Rayglass' fitting manager, said every boat will require between 220 and 300 hours of labour for the necessary modifications to be incorporated.

Every vessel also includes a number of lights to illuminate the water during SAR missions. That includes a spotlight that can be controlled with a joystick and rotated 360 degrees and a floodlight for wider illumination. One RIB among those being refitted, which is slated for Coastguard Dunedin on South Island, now also has a thermal camera for use during low-visibility operations.

<em>Coastguard Dunedin's 12.5m Rayglass RIB fitted with a thermal camera (Photo: Rayglass Boats)</em>
Coastguard Dunedin's 12.5m Rayglass RIB fitted with a thermal camera (Photo: Rayglass Boats)

The boat's Simrad radar is placed on an arch mounted on the roof of the cabin. The arch can be folded fully flat against the roof if sailing underneath bridges and other low-hanging features becomes necessary.

Every boat has a 12V window demister to help improve visibility under low temperatures. A water pump on the transom can be used to put fires out by spraying water, or suck water out of sinking boats to re-float them. Further forward is a loudspeaker that can be controlled by the crew via the boat's Simrad VHF radio.

The elevated cabin features four Shark suspension seats for the coxswain and three other crewmembers and cabinets for storing rescue gear, from stretchers to first aid equipment and handheld fire extinguishers.

<em>Photo: Rayglass Boats</em>
Photo: Rayglass Boats

The RIBs each draw power from twin Mercury 260kW outboard engines that will allow continuous operations at speeds of up to 40 knots, ensuring safe operation even under extreme wind and sea conditions.

Waitoa Barrier Rescue
Type of vessel:RIB – Search and rescue
Flag:New Zealand
Owner:Coastguard New Zealand
OperatorCoastguard New Zealand
Designer:Rayglass Boats, New Zealand
Builder:Rayglass Boats, New Zealand
Length overall:12.5 metres
Main engines:2 x Mercury outboards, each 260 kW
Maximum speed:40 knots
Radio:Simrad VHF
Other equipment installed:Loudspeaker; folding radar arch; window demister; equipment cabinets
Seating:4 x Shark
Firefighting equipment:Water pump; handheld extinguishers
Operational area:Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

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