Red Beech, 1964 (WLM 686)

Nov. 2, 2020

Red Beech, 1964


North American forest tree of the genus Phegopteris, with light green leaves and edible nuts; a.k.a. a large tree of Australasia.

Builder: Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay, Maryland

Length: 157'

Beam: 31'

Draft: 7'

Displacement: 525 tons

Cost: $2,383,984

Commissioned: 24 November 1964

Decommissioned: 18 June 1997

Disposition: Sunk as an artificial reef

Machinery: 2 Caterpillar diesels; 1,800 BHP; twin propellers

Performance & Endurance:

        Max: 13 knots (1964)
        Cruising: 11 knots; 3,000 mile range

Deck Gear: 10-ton boom capacity

Complement: 34 (1964)

Armament: Small arms only



Red Beech was one of five 157-foot coastal buoy tenders built by the Coast Guard Yard that entered service between 1964 and 1971.  They were the first new class of seagoing buoy tenders of the post-World War II era that were designed and constructed by the Coast Guard.  This class of tender was designed to service aids to navigation up to 10-tons and, with a draft of only seven feet, to operate in shallow waters often encountered on the sides of dredged harbor channels.  They were designed with low bows that allowed maximum visibility around approaching buoys and had a bow thruster unit recessed into their hulls and twin controllable-pitch propellers to increase maneuverability.  Their hulls were reinforced for light icebreaking.  The conventional ship's wheel was absent, being replaced by a simple tiller.  The hydraulic steering system provided a change from full left to full right rudder in six seconds.  One press release stated that the crew ". . .would enjoy a new concept in comfort provided by their modernistic living quarters.  All living spaces are air conditioned, paneled in maintenance-free plastic laminates and finished in bright colors."  Each tender was assigned to tend aids to navigation in coastal waters while being "always ready" to carry out other traditional Coast Guard duties such as fighting fires and conducting law enforcement, environmental protection and search and rescue operations when required.

Red Beech's keel was laid on 14 October 1963 and was launched christened on 6 June 1964.  Her sponsor was Mrs. Charles E. Columbus, the wife of the commanding officer of the Coast Guard Yard.  After trials, the Red Beech was commissioned on 20 November 1964.  She was assigned to Governor's Island, New York, replacing the aged tender Oak (WAGL-239).  Her primary assignment was to service 250 aids to navigation along the Hudson River, the East River and the Raritan River, Kill Van Kull, Arthur Kill, and throughout Upper and Lower New York Bay between the Ambrose lightship and Staten Island.  This included the proper positioning, repairing and replacing of lighted and unlighted buoys.

In addition to servicing aids to navigation, she was used to break ice in the Hudson River and in and around New York harbor.  She also performed secondary roles of search and rescue missions, law enforcement, public affairs demonstrations, and research assignments.  On 15 July 1966 she assisted in refloating the cutter Arbutus in Long Island Sound.  On 1 June 1970 she recovered a downed private aircraft in Long Island Sound.  She was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1977 for ice-breaking operations in lower New York harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.  In January-February 1978 she broke over 48 miles of ice, freeing eight vessels from the ice-clogged Hudson River between West Point and Silver Point, New York.  From May to June 1979 she hauled garbage during a strike by garbage workers in New York City.  In September of 1981 she removed buoys used to mark the search site for the sunken yacht Karen E in Long Island Sound.  In November, 1981, she extinguished a fire aboard the yacht Karen K in the Hudson River.  She salvaged 35,000 pounds of hashish from the sunken motor vessel Falcon ten miles off the coast of Monmouth County, New Jersey, the second largest hashish seizure to-date.  In January, 1982, she deiced and recovered navigational aids carried away by ice in the Hudson River and assisted numerous tugs and barges which had become trapped in the ice.  

In 1977 and again in 1982 she was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation.  She was also awarded the National Defense Transportation Association Military Unit Award in 1982.  In 1986 she received both a Unit Commendation for the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration and another Meritorious Unit Commendation for her actions during a waterfront fire.  She was awarded a Special Operations Service ribbon in 1993 for her response to the "Storm of the Century."  The tender's performance was again recognized in 1995 with a Meritorious Unit Commendation for the assistance she provided towards the completion of the Kill Van Kull dredging project.  In 1996 she was awarded the Special Operations Service ribbon for maintaining a security zone in conjunction with the 50th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the United Nations.

She was decommissioned on 18 June 1997 and returned to the Coast Guard Yard.  There she was cleaned and prepared to be sunk as part of the State of Maryland's Great Eastern Reef, an artificial reef 20 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.  A press release noted that on 10 June 2000 "RED BEECH made its decent to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in 22 minutes.  Made environmentally friendly by the skilled hands of the YARD, the Cutter begins its second public service career, serving fishermen and divers for many years to come."


J. Lee Cox, Jr.  "Historical Context and Statement of Significance: USCGC Red Beech (WLM-686)."  Report submitted to USCG, Dolan Research, Philadelphia, PA, 1997.

Cutter History File.  USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Robert Scheina.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.