NJ firefighter honored for using dream boat in rescue

By Charles Zusman
The Star-Ledger

RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Every boater has his dreamboat. For Scott Koen it's a 46-footer, with a hefty 180-hp diesel, plenty of room on deck, and amenities for staying aboard - four sleeping berths, a head with a shower, air-conditioning and galley facilities.

And docking is a cinch because the propeller can turn 360 degrees, Koen said, allowing him to make the Lt. Michael Murphy spin on a dime.

The type designation is BUSL. Translation — "boat utility stern loading," and it's a surplus Coast Guard buoy tender that Koen found on eBay.

It was a steal, at $15,000 in a bidding war. "It's really a nice boat," Koen said with passion.

Sometimes when a new boat comes into the family there are domestic ripples. "My wife was not a happy camper when I told her about it," Koen said. She came around, though, after Koen received multiple honors for helping rescue passengers and crew when a jetliner made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in January.

Koen, a firefighter in his hometown of Rutherford, sped to the scene of the emergency landing from his berth at Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club in Weehawken, after hearing calls for aid on the marine radio.

When purchased, the boat was up on blocks at the Viking Marina in Verplank, N.Y., on the Hudson River. It was forlorn looking, with its batteries dead and about 100 pounds of marine growth on its bottom. Along with his brother, Doug, he brought the boat back to life.

Working on the water comes naturally to Koen, who grew up in Parishville, N.Y., in the Adirondacks, near the Canadian border, where lakes were all around. Most recently he worked at the Intrepid, the World War 2 aircraft carrier serving now as an air and space museum in Manhattan.

The Lt. Michael Murphy, which Koen named for a Navy Seal killed in Afghanistan, is not his first surplus vessel. He owned a 30-foot Coast Guard surf rescue boat — the kind that can roll over and keep on going. With little deck space, it was too specialized, lacking the comforts of the buoy tender, Koen said.

The tender was designed to accommodate a crew of four for several days. The spacious deck, 16-by-25 feet, makes a relaxing platform for a leisurely river cruise, Koen said, while the six-cylinder Detroit Diesel ticks along burning about two gallons of fuel an hour.

Koen proudly gave a tour of the engine room, which offers room to actually walk around the power plant. You do have to crouch, however, but how many recreational boaters have an actual engine "room?"

Koen demonstrated tight turns on the river, the "Shoettel" drive permitting the boat to spin in its own length. The boat goes as well in reverse as forward, Koen said, as he switched positions at the steering station to look aft as he backed the boat in a straight line. That was followed by pinpoint docking and a demonstration of the gear for lifting buoys.

Koen said buyers of government surplus boats should make sure they can get parts. In the case of Coast Guard vessels, parts are commercially available, he said.

After its Coast Guard service, Koen's boat was owned by New York State, which put it for sale on eBay. A source for government surplus items is on the web at govliquidation.com and gsaauctions.gov.

As Koen said, "every boat has a story."

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