Decisive, WMEC 629
B-Type Reliance Class 210-foot Cutter
Builder: American Ship Building Company, Lorain, OH
Keel Laid: 12 May 1967
Launched: 14 December 1967
Commissioned: 23 August 1968
Decommissioned: 01 March 2023
Construction Man-hours: 297,433
Normal Peacetime Displacement: 1006.4 tons full load (1968)
Length: 210' 6"
Draft: 10' 6"
Powerplant: 2 x 2,500 h.p. 251B 16-cylinder Alco diesels (1968)
Maximum Sustained Speed: 18 knots; 2,700-mile range (1968)
Cruising Speed: 14 knots; 6,100-mile range (1968)
Complement: 12 officers, 63 enlisted (1999)
Radar: AN/SPS-23 (1968); 2 x SPS-64 (1991)
Armament: 1 x Mk 22 3-inch/50; 2 x 81mm mortars; 2 x M2HB .50 caliber Browning machine guns (1968);
1 x Mk 38 25mm machine gun; 2 x M-2HB .50 caliber machine gun (1991)
The 210-foot cutters were added to the Coast Guard as part of an effort to upgrade the aging fleet of World War II-era cutters. The Naval Engineering Division designed these cutters for search and rescue and law enforcement patrols of a "medium endurance"--i.e. they could conduct patrols of up to three weeks without requiring replenishment. The outward appearance of these new cutters reflected the evolving nature of Coast Guard operations during the latter part of the 20th Century. They had sleek lines with the most prominent feature being their flight decks.
They were originally fitted with transom exhaust ports that provided more room for a larger flight deck and kept the flight deck clear of exhaust smoke. In practice, however, the exhaust system proved problematic. Their high pilot house gave the bridge crew unrestricted all-around visibility, making ship-handling easier. A number of other concerns figured into the design phase including maximum serviceability, improved habitability, long service life, and safety.
Two shafts capped by controllable pitch propellers drove these cutters to a top speed of 18 knots. Those shafts were powered by a number of different power plants. The Coast Guard actually designed two types of propulsion. Cutters 615-619 received a CODAG propulsion plant consisting of two Cooper-Bessemer Corporation FVBM-12 turbocharged diesel engines coupled with two Solar Aircraft Company gas turbines, the first U.S. vessels to receive this unique propulsion system. The other cutters received only the diesels. The powerplant could be remotely controlled from the pilothouse, either bridge wing, or the engine room control booth.
Crew comfort and convenience were also a priority. The Coast Guard actually hired the interior design firm Raymond Loewy Associates of New York to design the cutters' interior arrangement, colors, materials, furniture and appointments. The interior spaces were paneled and all piping and cables were hidden behind removable panels. The entire interior of the cutter was air conditioned for crew comfort. Additionally, "color schemes have been designed to give varied and pleasing effect." The recreation rooms included television sets, tape recording and playback equipment, AN/URR-44 radio receivers, and commercial AM/FM high fidelity radio receivers.
These cutters were also designed to incorporate additional armament in case of national emergency. This equipment originally would have consisted of: an additional 3-inch gun; a total of six .50 caliber machine guns with mounts; an SQS-17 sonar (later suggestions included using a SQS-36); one anti-submarine projector (Hedgehog); two torpedo launchers and two depth charge tracks. Space was included in the original design to incorporate the additional equipment although stability issues were a continual concern. No cutter, according to the historical documents, was actually ever fitted with this wartime armament.
Each cutter underwent a "Major Maintenance Availability process," or MMA, between 1986 and 1996 at a cost of between 19 and 21 million dollars per cutter. The Coast Guard Yard conducted the work on all but two cutters and Colonna's Shipyard, in Norfolk, Virginia, converted the remainder. The first five cutters traded in their unique powerplants and every cutter received the following modifications and upgrades: improved habitability, improved stability by rearranging tank locations, replacement of all asbestos paneling, increased the berthing space, upgraded the flight deck and helicopter equipment, increased the amount of helicopter fuel carried, improved the evaporator, increased and upgraded the communications and electronics capacities, installed vertical exhaust stacks and associated ballast, and installed a smoke detection system and new fire-fighting equipment.
Decisive was first commissioned at the Coast Guard Yard on August 23, 1968, under CDR Eugene Delaney, USCG. Decisive was a 210' medium endurance cutter. Originally, homeported in New Castle, New Hampshire, Decisive was a familiar sight to the New England fisheries community. From 1968-1982, the crews of Decisive aided mariners in distress, towed disabled trawlers and fishing boats to safety, enforced the 200-mile marine resource zone and participated in the International Ice Patrol in the North Atlantic.
During its time in the Northeast United States, Decisive was cited for its crew's dedication during three difficult rescue missions in a severe winter storm in 1978. Decisive and its crew also rescued crewmembers of the Canadian S/V Toberua after it foundered in 40-foot seas and 60-knot winds. In April 1977, Decisive executed the first seizure of a Soviet trawler for violating the newly established 200-mile marine resource zone.
In 1982, Vice President Bush ordered the transfer of Decisive to St. Petersburg, Florida as part of the drug interdiction initiative. In 14 years from this new homeport, Decisive interdicted and seized more than 125 tons of cocaine and marijuana. One of the most exciting seizures was the F/V Cone, a Colombian fishing boat that refused to heave to as ordered in April 1982. Failing to stop the Cone by fouling its propeller and flooding its engine compartments with fire hoses; Decisive received permission to fire more than 300 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition into the Cone's engine compartment, thus disabling the vessel. Once onboard, Decisive's boarding team discovered over 100 bales of marijuana, with a street value of $31 million.
Decisive was also instrumental in Operation ABLE MANNER/ABLE VIGIL -- the stemming of the Haitian and Cuban mass exodus in the early 1990s. For its part, Decisive rescued more than 2500 migrants, whose shoddy, jury-rigged vessels were barely seaworthy. In November of 1995, Decisive executed the second largest migrant interdiction in history by intercepting a 75' freighter overloaded with 516 Haitians.
In September of 1996, Decisive entered the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Maryland, for its Major Maintenance Availability. This extensive two year overhaul saw the removal of Decisive's original stern exhaust system and the addition of an exhaust stack at the front of the flight deck. The Coast Guard Yard completely stripped Decisive of all internal parts and furniture, replacing them with new or refurbished equipment. The original SPS-64 cathode tube-based radar system has been replaced by a modern SPS-73 digital radar, similarly, the electronics and communications suite has been upgraded as well.
Decisive was the last of the 210' medium endurance cutters to undertake this mid-life retrofit. On October 9, 1998, it rejoined the fleet at its new homeport of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Since that time, Decisive has had an impressive operational resume, including the interdiction of the MN Castor, resulting in a seizure of 10,000 lbs. of cocaine, one of the largest in Coast Guard history.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Decisive assumed tactical command of Mississippi Coastal Recovery Base Gulfport and coordinated the efforts of all Coast Guard units in the area conducting response, recovery and search operations throughout the Gulf Coast. In addition, Decisive's crew reached out to the community providing additional law enforcement presence and assisting at food shelters and safe houses during this challenging time.
In October 2007, Decisive underwent a 7-month modernization project as part of the Coast Guard’s Mission Effectiveness Program (MEP). During this period, Decisive received numerous upgrades to her auxiliary and command, control and communications systems that allowed the cutter to continue to operate for an additional 15 to 20 years.
At the end of the day, Decisive was just one more highly trained and equipped asset executing the Coast Guard's primary missions. The cutter and its crew stood ready to answer the call to those in need, all the while protecting and serving America's citizens and saving lives where no one else can.
Decisive continues to repeat and make history by interdicting migrants, conducting search and rescue, counter narcotic operations and performing homeland security missions. Most recently, Decisive played a significant role in the response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the largest oil disaster in American History.
Decisive was decommissioned on 1 March 2023.
210-foot Class File, Historian's Office, USCG HQ
Anderson, F. C. & R. C. Stancliff, "The Reliance Class 210-Foot WPC," The Engineer's Digest (May-June 1962), pp. 11-15.
USCGC Decisive's Official Website (LANTAREA Website)
Schiena, Robert, U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990), pp. 39-47.