A member of Beachmaster Unit 1's Bravo Detachment trains with a personal watercraft Feb. 28 off Coronado, Calif. The detachment will take WaveRunners with it this summer when it deploys with the amphibious assault ship Boxer. (Gidget Fuentes / Staff)
SAN DIEGO — A group of sailors are trading some aging watercraft for something that's easier to maintain — and perhaps more fun to operate.
A detachment from Beachmaster Unit 1 will ride and operate Yamaha WaveRunners instead of LARCs, or lighter amphibious resupply cargo vehicles, when they deploy later this summer aboard amphibious assault ship Boxer.
In the past year, Coronado, Calif.-based BMU 1 received two Kawasaki three-person Jet Skis and two Yamaha three-person watercraft. They're probably 8 or 9 years old, and came from other local commands. The plan is to take a pair of new watercraft along with a wrecker vehicle in place of the three LARCs the detachment usually takes on deployment.
The sailors with Detachment Bravo will deploy with the San Diego-based Boxer Amphibious Ready Group in late summer to the western Pacific and the Persian Gulf regions. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will accompany the ARG.
BMU 1 plans to spend about $30,000 to buy two WaveRunners, plus trailers and sleds, as part of an Office of Naval Research assessment comparing them against the LARCs through the deployment.
"This is an assessment to see if this is a good thing or a bad thing," said Cmdr. Chris Nelson, head of BMU 1. Nelson is confident sailors, who helped developed a set of standards to guide training, can quickly learn how to ride and use the watercraft.
He expects the smaller watercraft, which can travel more than 60 mph, or eight times faster than LARCs in water, will save on fuel costs as well as the time and aggravation it takes to maintain the unit's 10 aging and unreliable LARCs. In a service-life extension five years ago, the craft got hydraulic and electrical upgrades that require lots of maintenance, but BMU 1 has no electricians or machinist's mates who could easily service them. And three fewer LARCs on Boxer will mean more space on the ship — about 300 square feet, or enough for two additional Humvees.
Jet Skis can't travel on land like wheeled LARCs can, or carry as many passengers, but the detachment believes the benefits will outweigh these drawbacks.
The unit began its Jet Ski assessment in January, taking off from the beach and launching the watercraft from a utility landing craft to practice missions similar to what LARCs do. They conducted more training in February, including a final Naval Beach Group 1 evaluation that gave them the green light to deploy with the Boxer ARG.
While the watercraft are capable of seating three people, the plan is to carry two sailors and a tow line for salvage missions.
LARCs are used to tow broken-down vehicles, resupply crews, carry passengers and haul equipment ashore to help mark landing areas. The hope is that Jet Skis can do the same.
For the final mission evaluation, Detachment Bravo sailors took to sea Feb. 28 off Coronado aboard a Kawasaki Ultra 300x and a Yamaha WaveRunner for a mission: Salvage a utility landing craft that was stuck on the beach, taking a tow line from the stuck LCU to another just beyond the surf zone.
The seas were light, but in the shallow water the crippled LCU shifted sideways in the surf, prompting the detachment to scramble to straighten the LCU so it could be pulled into deeper water. It added some realism to the evaluation, Nelson said.
But it didn't add too much delay before the detachment completed the mission. "It does work," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tim Hartman, who will deploy as Det Bravo's officer-in-charge. "At the end of the day, everybody is safe and there's no craft sitting here."
Accompanying the WaveRunners on the deployment will be a 7-ton wrecker equipped with a crane to help with salvage missions, such as amphibious craft or vehicles that break down or get stuck in the surf zone or along the beach, with four Humvees and a 5-ton truck hauling gear storage.