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U.S. Coast Guard
River, Inland & Construction Tenders, 1939-2000

A Historic Image Gallery


River, Inland, and Construction Tenders of the U.S. Coast Guard: 1939-1940 

The Coast Guard's smaller buoy tenders are perhaps the most unknown and unrecognized part of the Coast Guard fleet.  Yet these tenders play an important role in maintaining safe waterways throughout the entire country.  They sail on our rivers and lakes in areas where even the local residents, let alone the rest of the country, do not know the Coast Guard is there!  Yet they are there, everyday.  From Dubuque, Omaha, Lake Erie, Memphis, St. Louis, Duluth, and all over this vast country, Coast Guard cutters sail the rivers, bays, and lakes of our nation, always ready to maintain the waterways, protect the environment, enforce the law, and lend assistance when and where needed.   

Like all Coast Guard cutters, these tenders are capable of conducting a number of different missions.  First and foremost they are designed to service the aids to navigation in our inland waterways.  They are also capable of law enforcement, environmental, icebreaking, and search and rescue operations.  The latter duty is frequently carried out during flood relief efforts.  These tenders, then, are true Coast Guard cutters: vessels capable of carrying out the multitude of tasks assigned to the nation's oldest continuous sea-going service.

The Coast Guard continued the Lighthouse Service tradition of naming tenders after flora.  As for their designations, during the war when the Coast Guard transferred to the U.S. Navy in 1941, the Coast Guard adopted the Navy's designations and classifications.  The Coast Guard then grouped all of the buoy tenders, be they sea-going, coastal, inland, river or construction tenders under the classification of "WAGL."  By 1965, the service divided them by their area of operations and their capabilities.  The seagoing tenders were designated "WLBs" and those tenders that operated in coastal waters became "WLMs."   The remaining types of tenders were classified thusly: river tenders became "WLRs," inland tenders became "WLIs," and inland construction tenders were designated "WLICs."  The inland, river, and construction tenders are the focus of this image gallery. 

This is not meant to be a complete history of every river, inland and construction tender of the Coast Guard.  Rather, this page is a visual history and celebration of the differing types of ships that fell under the designations "WLR," "WLI," and "WLIC" and the changes they underwent from 1939-2000.  See what types of interesting and unique craft have protected our nation's inland waterways while flying proudly the Coast Guard ensign.  We hope you enjoy this historic image gallery and hope that it will inspire you to check and see if there is a cutter sailing near you!

Unless otherwise noted, the following are official U.S. Coast Guard images.


A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USLHT Rhododendron [WALG-267]; "U.S.L.H.T. RHODODENDRON, MCH. 16, 1935, 69402."; photo by Angelus Com'l Studio.

Rhododendron, shown here at her launching in 1935 as a tender of the Lighthouse Service, was built by Commercial Iron Works in Portland, OR.  She serviced ATON along the northwest coast during her career.  She was decommissioned in 1958 and donated to the state of Washington the following year.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Greenbrier [WAGL-214]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Greenbrier, a 165-foot, 440 ton stern paddlewheel steamer, entered service with the Lighthouse Service in 1924.  She was built by Charles Ward Engineering Works of Charleston, WV.  She was capable of making a top speed of 10 knots although her economic cruising speed was a respectable 7 knots.  Only about five percent of her space was allotted to buoy tending equipment and the remaining space was made up of "hotel features."*

She transferred to the Coast Guard in 1939 along with the rest of the Lighthouse Service and remained in commission until 1947.  She was then sold.  

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

SCGC Willow [WAGL-253]; no caption/photo number; date unknown; photo by Esther F. Cohn.

Willow, a 200-foot, 1,070 ton, side paddlewheel river tender, was built by the Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works for the US Lighthouse Service for service on the Mississippi River.  She was commissioned in 1924 and was decommissioned and transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers in 1945.  She had two noncondensing steam engines powered by six "western river" type 225 psi oil-fired boilers.  Her maximum speed was 7.5 knots and her economic cruising speed was a stately 4.0 knots.  She was stationed at Memphis and in 1944 collided with USS LST-841 in December, 1944, and sustained considerable damage.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Cottonwood [WAGL-209]; "Coast Guard paddle wheel river tender COTTONWOOD."; 2CGD-091345 (01); 13 September 1945; photographer unknown.

Cottonwood was originally an Army Corps of Engineers' river tug named Le Claire that was built in 1915.  She was acquired by the Lighthouse Service in 1938 and renamed Cottonwood.  She was stationed at St. Louis and then Chattanooga while in Coast Guard service.  She serviced ATON for 650 miles of the Tennessee River above the Kentucky Dam.  She was decommissioned in 1946 and sold the following year.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Cottonwood [WAGL-209]; "View of COTTONWOOD on the Tennessee River, U.S. Coast Guard-St. Louis District."; no photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Cottonwood was a 151-foot, 243 ton, stern paddlewheel river tender with two tandem compound steam engines powered by one Foster-Wheeler Express coal-fired boiler.  Her maximum speed was 8 knots and her economical cruising speed was 6 knots.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Wakerobin [WAGL-251]; "View of Coast Guard Cutter WAKEROBIN."; Photo No. St.L. 05034502; 3 May 1942; photographer unknown.

Wakerobin was a 182-foot, 622 ton, stern paddlewheel river tender.  She was steel-hulled and had a wood and steel superstructure.  She had two horizontal steam engines powered by two coal-fired Babcock & Wilcox section header boilers.  Her maximum speed was 9 knots and she had an economical cruising speed of 5 knots.  She was commissioned into the US Lighthouse Service in 1927 and was decommissioned and placed in storage in 1948.  She was temporarily transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers in 1949 and in 1955 the transfer was made permanent.  During her Coast Guard service she was stationed in Memphis.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Wakerobin [WAGL-251]; "View of Coast Guard Cutter WAKEROBIN."; Photo No. St.L. 05034501; 3 May 1942; photographer unknown.

In 1948 the always parsimonious Coast Guard noted in an official report that "the cost of operation of the Wakerobin is approximately twice that of diesel cutter Foxglove engaged in similar, but more arduous duties."  The Coast Guard then decommissioned Wakerobin, ending the era of side and stern paddlewheel cutters.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Azalea [WAGL-262]; no caption/photo number; 1943; photographer unknown.

Azalea, a 150-foot, 352 ton stern paddlewheel steamer, was originally a US Army towboat named Minneapolis.  The Coast Guard acquired her in 1940 and she was stationed at St. Louis during her service career, which ended with her decommissioning in 1946; she was renamed Azalea in 1942.  During her Coast Guard career, she serviced ATON from Cairo, IL, to Dam 26, and on the Mississippi River from Keokuk, IA to Alton, IL.  She evacuated cattle from Grand Tower, IL, in March and April of 1945 because of flooding.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Forsythia [WAGL-63; WLR-63]; "CGC-FORSYTHIA, 113' River Tender, starboard view; Built by Avondale Marine Ways, New Orleans, La., February 16, 1943."; no photo number; photo by F. A. McDaniels, New Orleans, LA.

Forsythia, a 114-foot, 230 ton tender, was one of three such vessels (her sisters were the Dogwood [WAGL-259] and Sycamore [WAGL-268]) built to replace the stern paddlewheel steamers that the Coast Guard decided were too expensive to maintain.  She was built by Avondale Marine Ways of Westwego, LA, and entered service in 1943.  She was stationed at Sewickley, PA until 1963 and then Memphis, TN, until she was decommissioned in 1977.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Shadbush [WAGL-287; WLI-74287] (left); USCGC Clematis [WAGL-286; WLI-74286] (right); "INBOARD VESSEL -- U.S. Coast Guard Cutter "Clematis"; OUTBOARD VESSEL -- U.S. Coast Guard Cutter "Shadbush" taken at BLAIR, NEBRASKA, 18 July, 1944."; Photo No. 5-3; photographer unknown.

These 73-foot tenders were designed by the Coast Guard, with detail drawings provided by A. M. Deering of Chicago, and were constructed by Peterson & Haecker, Limited, of Blair, NE.  Both entered service in 1944 and each had their pilot house raised four feet in the mid-1960's.  They were powered by two GM diesel engines that could drive their twin screws to a maximum speed of 10 knots.  Clematis was stationed at Galveston, TX through August of 1966 and then moved to Corpus Christi, TX through her decommissioning in 1976.  She was then transferred to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Shadbush was stationed at Mobile, AL until being transferred in 1967 to New Orleans.  She assisted in the search for survivors after the sinking of the cutter White Alder in 1968.  She transferred to Galveston in 1975 and served for one more year.  She was decommissioned and sold in 1976.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Fern [WAGL-304; WLR-304]; "The Coast Guard Cutter FERN, one of four Coast Guard ice-breakers engaged in operations on the Illinois River, is shown at Peoria, Illinois, preparing to go to the aid of a tow lodged in the ice choked River."; no photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Fern was a 115-foot river tender built in Blair, NE, and commissioned in 1942.  She was designed to work in tandem with a detachable "Amsterdam" ice plow for clearing shipping channels through ice-choked rivers.  She was instrumental in clearing passages for naval shipping that was constructed on the Great Lakes and upper inland waterways, particularly LST's, destroyer escorts and frigates, that then sailed down to the Gulf of Mexico for final outfitting and commissioning.  Such icebreaking duties made sure that construction and delivery of vessels vital to the Allied war effort could continue year round.

Fern was stationed at Peoria, IL, and Burlington, IA and was used for servicing ATON and icebreaking from Dubuque, IA to Keokuk, IA and Hennepin Canal, IL during the war.  After the war, she was station at St. Louis, MO, Cincinnati, OH, and finally Dubuque.  In 1965 she assisted with flood relief near LaCrosse, WI.  She was decommissioned in 1971 and sold in 1972 (along with her ice plow).  

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Cherry [WAGL-258]; "86-ft. U.S. Coast Guard inland tender USCGC CHERRY (WAGL-258) was built in 1932.  Her present station is Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  Length: 86 ft., Beam: 24 ft., Draft: 8 ft., Displacement: 202 tons, Propulsion: Diesel Reduction, Screw: 1, Shaft H.P.: 500, Speed: 10.0 knots."; Photo No. CPI-09-22-59 (02); 22 September 1959; photographer unknown.

Cherry was an 86-foot, 254-ton bay and sound tender.  She was built by Leathem D. Smith Dock Company of Sturgeon Bay, WI.  She was commissioned as a tender of the Lighthouse Service in 1932.  She transferred to the Coast Guard along with her sister tenders and the Lighthouse Service itself in 1939 and remained in commissioned until 1964.  Cherry was stationed at Buffalo, NY, and Sault Ste. Marie, MI, during her Coast Guard career.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Sumac [WAGL-311; WLR-311]; no caption; Photo No. ST.L. 032554703; 25 March 1954; photo by Polk.

Sumac, a 114-foot river tender, was designed by A. M. Deering of Chicago.  She was constructed by Peterson & Haecker Limited of Blair, NE, and entered service in 1944.  She was originally powered by three Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines but these were replaced with three GM diesels in the mid-1970's.  During her Coast Guard career she was stationed at Owensboro, KY, Owensboro, KY, Peoria, IL, Cairo, IL, Hickman, KY, Dubuque, IA, Keokuk, IA, and St. Louis.  

Note her work barge and equipment.  She was decommissioned in 1999.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Wisteria [WAGL-254; WLI-254]; "U.S. Coast Guard Cutter WISTARIA, 121-ft. inland tender, built in 1933.  Present homeport, Baltimore, Md."; Photo No. CPI-12-01-61 (01) G.F.; December, 1961; photographer unknown.

Wisteria, a 121-foot, 328 ton, inland buoy tender was commissioned in 1933 and served until 1966.  She was stationed in Baltimore until 1966 and was used for ATON and light icebreaking.  In 1949 she assisted a grounded barge and in 1965 fought a fire on a merchant ship near Baltimore.  She was sold in 1968.  Their post-war Coast Guard color scheme is readily apparent in this photograph.  The Coast Guard stripe was added to the cutters of the fleet beginning in 1967.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Narcissus [WAGL-238; WLI-238]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Narcissus, a 122-foot bay and sound tender, entered service along with her sister Zinnia, in 1939.  Both were the first tenders to be built using extensive welding.  They were powered by two Superior diesels that were capable of driving the twin screws to a maximum speed of 9 knots.  Narcissus was stationed at Portsmouth, VA, for her entire Coast Guard career while Zinnia served out of Edgemoor, DE, Gloucester City, NJ, New York, NY and New Orleans, LA. 

Narcissus served until she was decommissioned and transferred to Guyana in 1971.  Zinnia was decommissioned and transferred to the US Air Force the following year.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Buckthorn [WAGL-642; WLI-642]; "Artist's conception of new U.S. Coast Guard 100-ft. INLAND BUOY TENDER currently under construction."; Photo No. CPI-011364; 13 January 1964; photographer/artist unknown.

See a photo of the tender as constructed, below.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Buckthorn [WAGL-642; WLI-642]; "CGC Buckthorn, 100 FT WLI."; no photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Buckthorn, a 100-foot "C" class inland buoy tender, was built by the Mobile Ship Repair, Inc., of Mobile, AL.  She was commissioned in 1964 and was first stationed at Detroit.  She then transferred to Buffalo in 1967 and transferred once again to Sault Ste. Marie in 1970.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Clamp [WLIC-75306]; "USCG CLAMP: Sea Trials."; no photo number; 23 December 1964; photo by Herb Reynolds.

Clamp, a 75-foot "D" type inland construction tender was built by the Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Drydock Company.  She was one of ten 75-foot construction tenders of this class that were built.  These cutters can drive pilings in depths of water from 4 to 20 feet and can set or retrieve up to medium-sized buoys.  They work in tandem with a barge that is pushed from the bow.  She was commissioned in 1964 and was stationed at Galveston.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Oleander [WAGL-264; WLR-73264]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown (probably 1961).

Oleander, a 73-foot river tender, was built by the Heffersonville Boat & Machine Company in Jeffersonville, IN.  She entered commissioned service in 1941 and served out of Peoria, IL, Kansas City, MO, St. Joseph, MO, and Point Pleasant, WV.  During her Coast Guard career, in addition to her ATON duties, she marked a temporary channel following the collapse of the Point Pleasant bridge and later supported the bridge's reconstruction in late-1968 and early 1969 and assisted following a chlorine gas leak in South Charleston, WV in July, 1969.  She was decommissioned in 1977.

This photo was taken after a major reconstruction in 1961 in which she received a new pilot house, rudder, and galley.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Sledge [WAGL-75303] & barge CGB 84001; no caption/photo number; 21 August 1989; photographer unknown.

Sledge, a 75-foot inland construction tender, was built by McDermott Fabricators of Morgan City, LA, and entered service in 1962.  She has served at Portsmouth, VA and later at Baltimore, MD.  She is one of ten 75-foot inland construction tender class vessels built between 1962 and 1966.  They usually work in tandem with a barge, with which they use to drive pilings in depths of water from four to 20 feet and set or retrieve medium-sized buoys.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Poplar [WAGL-241; WLR-21]; no caption; Photo No. 2CGD-081861-09; 18 August 1961; photographer unknown.

Poplar, along with her sister Goldenrod, was a 104-foot 235 ton river tender.  Both were built by Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works of Dubuque, IA and entered service in 1938 and 1939, respectively.  They were built of steel except for the top of their pilot houses and Texas deck, which were made of wood.  Their propellers were mounted in tunnels for operation in shallow waters and both were reengined in 1960.  Poplar was first stationed at St. Louis where in 1955 she assisted in fighting a barge fire that year.  She was transferred to Sewickley, PA where she served for the remainder of her Coast Guard career.  

Her sister, Goldenrod, was first stationed at Kansas City, MO, then Peoria, IL, and finished her Coast Guard career at Keokuk, IA.  In addition to her ATON duties, she helped train visiting Vietnamese officials, assisted in flood relief near Keokuk, IA, in April of 1965 and again near Niota, IA in May, 1965.  She also assisted after a fire at La Grange, MO, in 1969.

Both were decommissioned and transferred to the National Science Foundation in 1973.  Note the machine shop, boom, sinkers, and the various types of buoys all on the work barge.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Osage [WLR-65505]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Osage, a 65-foot 145-ton river tender, was built by Gibbs Corporation in Jacksonville, FL, and entered service in 1962.  She was one of six tenders in her class and all entered service between 1960 and 1962.  They were designed to service ATON on the western rivers and to work in tandem with a barge.  The barge served as a work platform, storage area, and machine shop.  Osage was first stationed at Sheffield, AL and Sewickley, PA.  During her career she escorted NASA's missile barge Promise, which carried stages of the Saturn rocket used for the Apollo missions, on five occasions.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Myrtle [WAGL-263]; no caption; Photo/Neg. No. 8986; 22 January 1960; photo by Thornhill's Studio, New Orleans.

Myrtle, a 93-foot bay and sound tender designed by the Lighthouse Service, was built by Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works of Dubuque, IA.  She entered service in 1932.  She was based at Galveston and later at Corpus Christi, TX, during her career.  She was decommissioned in 1963 and sold the next year.

Note the pile driver mounted on her starboard side.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Tern [WLI-80801]; no caption; Photo No. 3CGD-031770-06; 17 March 1970; photographer unknown.

Tern, an 80-foot stern-loading tender, was built by the Coast Guard Yard and entered service in 1969.  According to Scheina, "The greatest value of this design was its capability of hoisting a large buoy as compared to the size of the tender.  The Tern could handle a 7 x 17 buoy; the smallest side-loading tender capable of handling this buoy was the 122-foot Narcissus.  The Tern had a number of shortcomings, principally excessive noise on the deck caused by the gantry crane driver, poor visibility of the crane operator, inadequate complement [crew of seven], numerous blind spots on the bridge that interfered with the conn of the vessel, and an overly complicated propulsion and control system.  Qualities includes excellent maneuverability and habitability.  The two 250 hp diesels were fitted to right-angle drive train.  The Tern had a 125-hp bow-thruster."**

Tern was used for test and evaluation after commissioning in 1969 and was then stationed at Governor's Island during her relatively short career with the Coast Guard.  She was decommissioned in 1977.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Dogwood [WAGL-259; WLR-259]; No caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Dogwood, a 114-foot river tender, was constructed by the Dubuque Boat & Boiler Works Company in Dubuque, IA.  She was commissioned in 1941 and served until 1989.  She was stationed at Vicksburg, MI and later Pine Bluff, AR.  She had an active career, from tending ATON to escorting the NASA rocket barge Palaemon on three occasions and assisting in the cleanup operation along the gulf coast in the aftermath of hurricane Betsey.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Sumac [WLR-311]; "The Coast Guard Sumac (WLR-311) on Kaskaskia River in Illinois."; Photo No. 901010-I-0000A-001 (FR); 10 October 1990; photo by PA2 Robin Ressler.

Note 1954 photo of Sumac and barge above.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Saginaw [WLIC-803]; no caption; Photo No. CGY-022478-13; 24 February 1978; photographer unknown.

The Saginaw, one of four 160-foot inland construction tenders that were all built by the Coast Guard Yard, entered service in 1977.  They were designed to construct, repair and alter fixed-ATON structures.

Saginaw is stationed at Mobile.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Elderberry [WLI-65401]; no caption/photo number; 10 September 1968; photographer unknown.

Elderberry, shown here underway near Petersburg, AK, after her red racing stripe was added.  The stripe was added to the cutter fleet as each cutter went in for maintenance after the stripe was approved in 1967, not all at once.  Elderberry has been stationed at Petersburg, AK.

See Bayberry gallery below for more information on this class.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Kankakee [WLR-75500]; "75 WLR-F KANKAKEE W/BARGE STERN VIEW STBD."; Photo No. 90-09-1399; NEG-12-1399; 5 September 1990; photographer unknown.

Kankakee, a 75-foot river tender built by Avondale Industries Small Boat Division of New Orleans, was commissioned in 1990.  She and her sister, Greenbrier, were specifically designed and built to work in tandem with a construction/work barge.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Kankakee [WLR-75500]; :During a routine patrol on the Mississippi River the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Kankakee began its day with something very unusual for the Memphis, Tenn. area. . .huge chunks of ice banging into their hull."; Photo No. 010103-C-0000A-500 (FR); 3 January 2001; photographer unknown.

Note the buoys and other ATON equipment on the barge.  See gallery above for more information on Kankakee.

A photo of a Coast Guard river or inland tender

USCGC Gasconade [WLR-75401]; "Coast Guard Cutter Gasconade."; Photo No. 781026-O-8888A-001 (FR); 26 October 1978; photographer unknown. 

Gasconade, a 75-foot river tender commissioned in 1964, was stationed in St. Louis for six months after she first entered service.  She then shifted homeport to Florence, Nebraska, for two months before transferring to her permanent station in Omaha.  Note her construction barge.


Last Modified 11/17/2014