The 44-Foot Motor Lifeboat

CG 44363 began serving at Coast Guard Station Quillayute River on 17 April, 1967. After nearly 30 years of service, it was damaged beyond repair, but still managed to re-right itself three times. An understanding of the venerable 44-foot motor lifeboat is a critical part of the story of 12 February 1997. (1)


The 44-foot motor lifeboat is one of the most revered rescue boats in the U.S. Coast Guard’s history and many of the 1960’s-era lifeboats are still operational worldwide. (2)

U.S. Coast Guard image

Work on a prototype “44” began in the spring of 1961 at the Coast Guard’s yard in Curtis Bay, Maryland and was completed by September. (2)

This prototype, CG 44300, was first evaluated at Station Chatham, Massachusetts in April 1962. During its evaluation period, CG 44300 traveled down the U.S. East Coast as far south as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. (2)

In October 1962, CG 44300 was transferred to Station Yaquina Bay, Oregon where it remained in service until 1981. From 1981 to 1996, the 300 remained in Newport, Oregon and survived among other things, a 517-foot freighter losing control and ramming the station’s boat docks while outbound to the Yaquina Bay bar in August 1979. (3)(4) After the freighter was backed off, the CG 44300 bobbed right back to the surface—just one testament to its resilience, robustness, and buoyancy. (2)(4)

Chuck Holden sits in the damaged CG 44300’s coxswain’s chair. MK3 Lauren Bish photo

In 1981, the CG 44300 transferred north to Cape Disappointment, Washington and the Coast Guard’s brand new Motor Lifeboat School. It served students and locals in this assignment until a final case in 1996 when it suffered an engine casualty and was not put back into service. (2)

Former crewmembers remember the accumulated number of rollovers, accounts of pitch-poles (being thrown end-over-end), and how consistently the dependable 44 took care of them. After a 35-year service life, CG 44300 was put on permanent display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. (2)

CG 44301 seen from its replacement, a 42-foot Near Shore Lifeboat. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The first production 44-foot motor lifeboat, CG 44301, served on both coasts and outlasted all 109 other 44s built, becoming the last 44-footer in service in 2008. After 45 years of operation, it was replaced by two state-of-the-art 42′ waterjet-propelled near-shore lifeboats. (2)(5)

44s served outside the United States as well. Britain’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution acquired an American 44 in 1964 and produced a handful of their own. Canada and a number of other countries acquired 44’s of their own, often after many years of faithful service in other countries. (2)

For additional information, Mr. Clive Lawford’s 44-foot motor lifeboats website is the most extensive, dedicated storehouse in existence.

Technical Details

Length: 44′ 1-1/2″
Beam: 12′ 8″
Draft: 3′ 6″
Displacement: 35,400 pounds
Powerplant: Twin Cummins 200HP or General Motors 184HP diesel engines
Maximum Speed: 15.3 knots
Cruising Speed: 10.0 knots
Range: 50 NM offshore and 150 NM (Cummins) or 200NM (GM) total
Maximum Seas: 30′
Maximum Breaking Surf: 20′
Maximum Sustained Winds: 50 knots
Towing Capacity: 125 displacement tons
Hull Construction: Corten steel
Superstructure Construction: Aluminum
Watertight Compartments: 9 total



1961 Prototype Self-Righting Test. U.S. Coast Guard video (5)

Motor lifeboats are built to be “self-righting,” that is, capable of turning themselves back upright after a capsize or rollover. Self-righting ability is function of carefully balanced mass (the downward force of gravity) and water-tightness (the upward force of buoyancy). Newer lifeboats like the U.S. Coast Guard’s 47-footer rely heavily on buoyancy, but the steel, displacement-hulled 44-footer relied more on its low center of gravity. (2)(5)(6)

During their decades of use, 44-foot motor lifeboats were knocked on their sides, rolled over, and re-righted many times. Notorious Surfman and Master Chief Boastswains Mate Thomas McAdams (and others) intentionally rolled lifeboats for training, photo shoots, and the thrill of it. No 44-foot motor lifeboat ever failed to re-right itself. (8)(9)(10)

A famous 1967 George Silk/ LIFE Magazine photo shoot with BMCM Thomas McAdams at Station Umpqua River, Oregon. (10)

Today, Coast Guard vessel operations are more conservative and risk-based; motor lifeboats are no longer rolled on purpose. In fact, on today’s sophisticated 47-footers, damage to electronics and equipment from a rollover can cost more than $10,000.

LIFE Magazine photo/ George Silk (10)

Even during the CG 44363’s harrowing voyage on 12 February, 1997, it re-righted itself three times after being capsized and driven against the rocks of James Island. When it finally came to rest in knee-deep water, its engines were still running. This is perhaps the most enduring demonstration of the 44-foot motor lifeboat’s strength and is the ultimate proof of its ability to take care of its crews. (1)(2)

U.S. Coast Guard 44-foot Motor Lifeboat Operator’s Handbook

Photos by U.S. Coast Guard and LIFE Magazine/ George Silk (10)


(1) CDR Hasselbalch, James M. Investigation into the Capsizing and Subsequent Loss of MLB 44363 and the Death of Three Coast Guard Members That Occurred at Coast Guard Station Quillayute River on 12 FEB 1997. March, 1997.

(2) Lawford, Clive. 44ft Motor Lifeboats,

(3) Bish, MK3 Lauren.

(4) Wire Service reports. “Foreign ship smashes into dock at Newport.” Eugene Register-Guard, 21 Aug., 1979, p. 1.

(5) Wilkinson, William D., and Timothy R. Dring. American Coastal Rescue Craft. University Press of Florida, 2009.

(6) 44-foot Motor Lifeboat Operator’s Manual. ser. CIM16114.3C, U.S. Coast Guard, 1999.

(7) BMC Williams, Mike, contributor. 44-foot Motor Lifeboat Capsize Test Coast Guard Yard. 28 Sept. 1961.

(8) “BMCM Tom McAdams, USCG (Ret.).” U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program, 13 Feb. 2004.

(9) Noble, Dennis L. Lifeboat Sailors. Potomac Books, 2001.

(10) Silk, George. “Photographs of Coast Guard 44-foot motor lifeboats.” Life Magazine, Jul. 7, 1967.

cover: Mock-up 44-foot motor lifeboat hull design. U.S. Coast Guard photo