MORRO BAY — The Morro Bay Harbor Department is seeking a State grant to buy a used patrol boat from Port San Luis, replacing an old boat that’s performed far beyond the call of duty and for far longer than expected.

The City Council approved applying for an $85,000 grant from the State Department of Boating and Waterways to pay “fair market value” for the 26-foot Radon Craft patrol boat that the Port plans to surplus at the end of the year.

Buying a new boat, outfitted the way the Morro Bay harbor patrol needs it to be with various electronics and firefighting canon, would cost from $350,000-$450,000. 

The Morro Bay Harbor Department is seeking an $85,000 State grant to buy this patrol boat from the Port San Luis Harbor District. Contributed photo

The PSL boat will replace another Radon the department purchased new in 1984.

“The Harbor Patrol’s oldest vessel,” Harbor Director Eric Endersby said in a staff report, “the 27-foot ‘Boat 68’ built-in 1984 by Radon Boat Building, has served the City, boaters, and community beyond compare in her three-and-a-half decade career, saving countless lives and millions of dollars of property.”

But like anything, Boat 68 has seen better days.  

“This vessel, however, suffered a significant structural failure on an offshore rescue mission approximately 8-years ago,” Endersby said, “when a portion of her hull bottom delaminated and tore away [the mission was successfully executed without loss of life or property].”

The failure of a previous fiberglass patch job occurred during an emergency call to Montaña de Oro State Park and was noticed when the two patrolmen onboard saw the boat taking on water. The boat underwent an expensive repair.

“While repaired at the time for approximately $30,000 by DR Radon Boat Builders of Santa Barbara,” Endersby said, “the failure signaled the beginning of the end for this vessel’s career, and plans were begun to start planning for her replacement.”

As the department explored getting a new boat, money has been “the largest hurdle,” Endersby said. Replacing the old boat has been included in the Harbor Department’s budget for several years now and is now a high priority.

It should be noted that the department has two other patrol boats — a 1995 Davis Radon Craft (built by Davis Boats) and a 2013 Radon (built by Radon in Santa Barbara). But the 1995 boat doesn’t really fit their needs. Chief Harbor Patrol officer Becka Kelly said, “It’s 22-foot and a great little bay boat, but for emergency work, it doesn’t fit our needs for a multi-faceted job.”

The department also has two 1028 Kawasaki personal watercraft also used for surf rescues. In the application to DBW, the City lists its 1995 boat as “non-operational.” Boat 68 will be auctioned off as surplus. “It would be a fine recreational or fishing boat,” Kelly said. But they don’t expect a sale to bring in much.

The department tried to get another $500,000 grant from DBW to buy a brand new boat but was denied. They’ve been discussing buying PSL’s old boat for 18 months. 

“This vessel was built in 2002,” Endersby said, “has been well-maintained and has not operated in as harsh an environment as Morro Bay’s waters, and because she is of the same make and general design as Boat 68, is an ideal platform for Morro Bay.”

It may be in good shape, but the boat needs new twin diesel inboard motors and a new pump for the water canon. Those upgrades are expected to cost over $100,000, which is where the Friends of the Harbor Department comes in. 

Bill Luffee, president of the non-profit Friends group, said their goal is to raise $100,000 to repower the PSL patrol boat. In the past, they’ve done things like organizing marine swap meets and drive-in movies at Morro Rock to raise monies to help the department with one-time purchases of equipment.

While their events have worked well, they cannot hold any type of public event in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Luffee said a lot of harbor maintenance needs have been put off due to tight budgets. “The bay is the lifeblood of the city,” Luffee said.

Repowering the boat will take a few months. Once they complete the purchase of the PSL boat, they will send it out for the new engines, which places some degree of urgency on the Friends’ fundraising.

The Friends are asking the public for donations. For more information or to donate to the cause, see: www.friendsofthembhd.org/harbor-patrol-boat-fundraiser or call the Harbor Department (805)772-6254.

Donations are tax-deductible, and donations of $50 or more get a Friends T-shirt and water bottle.