Return to History

Merged with Lighthouse Service

On 1 July In 1939, Congress incorporated the Bureau of Lighthouses into the Coast Guard as part of a government-wide reorganization.  All lighthouse tenders and lightships became Coast Guard cutters.  The Coast Guard christened the new mission Aids to Navigation (ATON) and continued the traditions of experimentation and adoption of new buoy technology.

When the Coast Guard absorbed the Bureau of Lighthouses, Juniper, a 177’ all welded steel buoy tender, was under construction and preliminary plans for other vessels were on the drawing board. USCG planners reviewed the preliminary plans for the new class of buoy tenders and modified them to meet the service’s multi-mission requirements.  They had to be capable of conducting Search and Rescue (SAR) and Law Enforcement (LE) missions, as well as their primary mission tending ATON. On 20 January 1941, the Coast Guard contracted Marine Iron and Shipbuilding Company of Duluth, Minnesota to build the design based on Juniper and modified to meet the service’s requirements. On 31 March 1941 Marine Iron and Shipbuilding laid the keel for the first vessel of the new buoy tender class. The new vessel measured 180’ overall and had a beam of 37’ at the extreme. She had a displacement of 935 tons and drew 12’. The new design was similar to Juniper in appearance but did exhibit some important differences. Gone was the turtle back forecastle. A notched forefoot, ice-belt at the waterline, and reinforced bow gave the vessel icebreaking capabilities. Extending the superstructure to the ship’s sides increased interior volume above the main deck. A single propeller, turned by an electric motor powered by twin diesel generators, replaced the twin-screw arrangement. The 30,000-gallon fuel capacity gave the new design a range of 12,000 miles at a 12-knot cruising speed; at 8.3 knots the cruising range increased to 17,000 miles. Finer lines at the bow and stern increased the new tender’s sea keeping ability in rough weather; an increase in draft also promoted seaworthiness. Numerous minor alterations increased the vessel’s utility as a SAR platform while deck-mounted guns and depth charge racks supported military duties. Marine Iron and Shipbuilding launched the prototype vessel on 25 November 1941, even as three more took shape. Preparations also went forward to begin a fifth vessel. By the time they commissioned the first 180, Cactus,on 1 September 1942, twelve vessels were under construction at the Marine Iron shipyard and at the Zenith Dredge Company shipyard, also in Duluth.

Since the class was commissioned during WWII, the Coast Guard had been transferred to Navy control and adopted the Navy vessel classification system. Subsequently all tenders (sea-going, coastal, inland, and river or construction) were grouped as under the same classification of “WAGL.” The “W” indicated a vessel was a Coast Guard vessel; the “AG” stood for Miscellaneous Auxiliaries; and the “L” identified the vessel as a lighthouse tender.

The cutters served until the turn of the century.

To see a complete list of the lighthouse tenders that became Coast Guard cutters go to this Link.

To see a complete list of buoy tenders that served in WWII go to this Link.