USCGC Smilax – A History

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Smilax, which will be honored as the “Queen of the Fleet” on April 14, 2011, is the oldest commissioned Coast Guard cutter. The Coast Guard construction tender, a unique 100-foot bay and sound tender, was designed by the Coast Guard with detailed drawings by Dubuque Boat & Boiler works in Dubuque, Iowa. The keel for Smilax (WAGL-315) was laid November 26, 1943; the cutter was launched August 18, 1944; and commissioned November 01, 1944. She was the most expensive ship in her class, coming in at a cost of $194,238.

During World War II, Smilax was assigned to the Seventh District and stationed at Fort Pierce, Florida, where she was used to complete the aids to navigation mission.  After World War II, she remained in Fort Pierce, Florida. From June 1, 1954 until November 9, 1965, she was homeported out of New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

During her stay in Florida she assisted in several notable search and rescue cases. On November 15, 1950, Smilax assisted the grounded fishing vessel Ava Maria near St Augustine, Florida. On January 1, 1953, she assisted the disabled yacht Mimosa at New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Then on January 17, 1956, Smilax assisted the yacht Quest, aground at St. Augustine, Florida.

Twenty years into her service life in the 1960’s, Smilax was fitted with new engines, given a 70 foot barge and redesignated WLI-315. On November 9, 1965, she was moved to a new homeport of Brunswick, Georgia, where she continued the aids to navigation mission.

After serving diligently for the people of Georgia, for 40 years, Smilax continued her migration north and relieved CGC Primrose of her duties in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Smilax now supports the Fifth District aids to navigation mission and is responsible for constructing and rebuilding 1,226 fixed aids throughout the intracoastal waterway of North Carolina and northern South Carolina. The challenging area of operation is known for narrow passages and depths that can average less than six feet deep. In addition to their fixed aid responsibility, Smilax is responsible for 26 floating aids located throughout the treacherous inlets of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Click here to read a Carolina Coast article on Smilax and her distinction as the the oldest commissioned cutter.

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