by: Cindy Weihl, sourced from the Welding Journal
Before sunrise on the coast of South Florida, welding sparks can be seen and heard on the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) Base Miami Beach.
Located on Terminal Island alongside the MacArthur Causeway in Miami Beach, Fla., Base Miami Beach spans more than 11 acres and 177,000 sq ft. It includes an industrial production facility, where starting at 6:00 a.m. on weekdays, both active-duty Coast Guard and civilian welders can be found working to keep the Coast Guard’s boat fleet afloat.
“Base Miami Beach consists of separate welding entities with unique mission sets,” explained Lieutenant Christian Stanco, industrial production facility manager, USCG Base Miami Beach. “The maintenance augmentation team consists of active-duty members who perform repair and maintenance welding while the industrial division consists of civilian welders focused on fabrication and more complex maintenance and repair needs.”
The maintenance augmentation and industrial production teams work together on several projects based on the workload and the project.
Base Miami Beach performs more than 300 search and rescue operations per year in addition to enforcing federal laws and treaties; ports, waterways, and coastal security; alien migrant operations; and environmental protection. To carry out this multimission operation, the USCG relies on response boats and smaller vessels that require scheduled maintenance and oftentimes emergency repairs.
Boat and ship repairs are the main business line for Base Miami Beach welders. Every 60 days, workers pull one of the fleet’s 45-ft response boats out of the water for inspection. The boats are dry docked and then thoroughly inspected below the waterline. “When the hulls are inspected, we blast down to the base metal, conduct ultrasonic testing (UT), and then depending on the loss either clad weld or replace any parts that have been damaged by water or wear. We then apply coats of anticorrosion paint,” said Tirrell Marsh, general foreman. Stanco added that the maintenance team will also remove, inspect, and reinstall jet drive components, which have high wear rates. Everything from joinery modifications, windows, electrical systems, and engines will be inspected and necessary maintenance will be done.
“The response boats are on a rotating maintenance schedule. Every station needs a boat for search and rescue,” explained USCG Base Miami Beach Commander Terry Trexler. According to Trexler, the boat currently dry docked at Base Miami Beach came from Key West, Fla. Once maintenance and repairs are complete, it will go to the Sand Key Station in Clearwater, Fla. In turn, the 45-ft response boat from Sand Key will return to Base Miami Beach for its scheduled maintenance.
While maintenance schedules keep welders busy year round, emergency repairs can be a daily occurrence for the workers. “Sometimes a boat comes in from patrol, and if there’s a hole on the side of a hull or something broken that needs welding, it’s usually an emergency and takes the lead over anything else we may be working on,” said Kevin McCarthy, weld shop leader. Welders at Base Miami Beach also perform repairs in support of other Coast Guard units. Recently, they welded and repaired the bottom of a large stainless steel transfer case for generators that will be sent to Bahrain.
Base Miami Beach Weld Shop
McCarthy oversees seven civilian welders and a pipefitter in the industrial production facility’s welding shop and is qualified to AWS standards in both gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) and gas metal arc welding (GMAW). He said the 45-ft boats are all aluminum while some of the USCG’s larger boats contain steel. The shop welders mostly work with stainless steels, aluminum, copper, and nickel.
Gas tungsten arc welding is the most common process used by Base Miami Beach welders, but GMAW, shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), cladding, and plasma arc welding up to a 1-in. thickness can all be part of a day’s work depending on the project.
While there are no qualified weld inspectors employed or assigned to Base Miami Beach, anything that is repaired or replaced close to the water line of a vessel or that involves welding on high pressure piping requires inspection by a USCG critical weld inspector or AWS Certified Welding Inspector.
Welding at Sea
When patrol boats are out to sea for a period of time, there are occasional welding repairs that must be done onboard. Smaller vessels will sometimes have someone aboard that has very basic welding knowledge and can make a simple repair, while major cutters will typically have a damage controlman (DC) aboard. The DCs are part of the maintenance augmentation team and are trained in a variety of engineering practices including welding, oxyfuel gas cutting, firefighting, carpentry, plumbing, and shipboard damage control. Training occurs both on the job and by attending the USCG’s damage controlman “A” school in Yorktown, Va.
When more complex welding repairs need to happen while at sea, and it is not possible to get the boat to a nearby station with repair facilities, an industrial production welder is sometimes called on for help. McCarthy said he has been flown to jobs all over the United States.
Fabrication work is also a key responsibility for industrial facility welders at Base Miami Beach. Boat, buoy, hydraulic, and piping components are all fabricated on site.
Several industrial production team members work alongside welders to fabricate the buoy headers that hold navigational lights. Inside the station’s machine shop, a waterjet table is used to cut the aluminum pieces needed to fabricate the headers. The shop’s waterjet table can cut up to 6-in.-thick material.
Chris Carter, welding and electrical supervisor at Base Miami Beach, indicated that using the waterjet cutting machine minimizes material loss and improves precision, which is important for the unit’s busy industrial production team. Once all the buoy header pieces are cut, they are welded and shipped to Coast Guard stations throughout the country.
Because not all USCG stations have an industrial production facility, welders at Base Miami Beach fabricate many important pieces for other stations to use. Aside from the buoy headers, welders fabricate and send out exhaust rings for 87-ft Coast Guard cutters. Stanco pointed out that Base Miami Beach “supplies the Coast Guard with exhaust rings, 40 to 50 at a time.” They are sent to the USCG Surface Forces Logistics Center, Inventory Control Point, in Baltimore, Md. The Inventory Control Point serves as the Coast Guard’s primary supply warehouse.
Weld shop leader McCarthy estimates the industrial production team spends about 30% of its time doing fabrication work and the other 70% welding. His favorite part of the job is when he’s able to combine both fabrication and welding as well as contribute a little bit of his own creativity. He recently had the opportunity to do just that when the Coast Guard was looking for ways to control potential oil spills on its own vessels for environmental protection. McCarthy and his team came up with their own design for an oil boom reservoir restraint for use on piers. It then took him three weeks to fabricate and weld the aluminum oil boom prototype. Base Miami is currently testing the prototype, and if successful, the welding team will begin producing more of the oil boom reservoirs for other Coast Guard stations.
Being one of the busiest USCG units in the country doesn’t come without challenges. According to McCarthy, one of those challenges is finding proficient welders to join the industrial production team.
Base Miami Beach is partnered with the National Job Corps to advance professional development in the junior workforce. Apprentices work in the industrial production facility to learn welding and other skilled trades. They recently had success with one Job Corps member returning full-time to become one of the shop’s most valued welders.
“There are plenty of job opportunities for welders in the Coast Guard, but a lot of people, especially young adults coming out of trade schools, don’t even know that there are civilian welding jobs available within the Coast Guard and other military branches,” said McCarthy.
All current Base Miami Beach shop welders are civilians, and although some do have previous military service experience, it is not required. What McCarthy and the Base Miami Beach industrial production team do look for is motivated individuals who want to learn, don’t mind sometimes having to work in confined spaces, and can keep up with ever-changing priorities ranging from maintenance and emergency repairs to fabrication solutions