If you search for “SWCC Boats” online, there’s a good chance you’re going to come across a bunch of cool pictures of high-speed boats zipping around with some dudes decked out in full gear, accompanied by an array of small arms and heavy weapons. They are probably wearing cool-guy sunglasses or cutting-edge night vision. They may even have a dip of Copenhagen in the side of their mouth. But, there is a price to pay and long hours spent in order to make one of these “cool” pictures happen.

The Story Behind the Picture

The first thing to understand is that boats are an absolute disaster, especially ones that are used in saltwater. They are constantly breaking and require an exorbitant amount of time, money, and labor to keep them maintained. On the civilian side of things, they’re one of the worst investments you can make — granted, that’s never stopped me.

A SWCC boat — SWCC Stands for Special Warfare Combatant Craft — is a multi-million dollar machine, incorporating many high-tech/complicated systems, including navigation, communication, and of course, high-performance engines, hidden within the hull. With so many complicated systems exposed to one of the toughest environments on Earth, there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong. And trust me, they almost always do.

SWCC conduct a patrol
United States Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman from Naval Special Warfare conduct a patrol on June 20, 2019, on the Black Sea in coordination with Trojan Footprint 2019. Trojan Footprint is an annual U.S. Special Operations Command Europe-led exercise that incorporates Allied and partner special operations forces. (Photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jayme Pastoric/U.S. Navy)

Just to get a boat underway, SWCCs must go through a detailed checklist, verifying that all systems are operating properly. The process is similar to what an aircrew does before taking off. Once the boat is in the water and running, more checklist items must be verified.

In the meantime, the “Comms Guy” is busy plugging in all of the radios, loading crypto, and making comms checks with the Tactical Operations Center (TOC), other boats, and assets that may be involved in a specific operation or training exercise. The Navigator is verifying routes and checkpoints on the Nav screens, and the weapons guy may be loading up more ammo and mounting weapons, making sure they’re secured properly, to prevent an M 240 or MK 19 grenade launcher from taking a swim.

SWCC Boats Are Beasts on the War

This is usually about the time Murphy’s Law starts rearing its little head. It may come in the form of an engine overheating, or two boats sitting right next to each other, completely failing at being able to communicate over the radio. Or maybe the Comms Guy forgot to get the right crypto or the GPS unit may not be providing an accurate location. You never know.

You get the idea. Almost always something comes up. So at that point, drop-dead time to shove off the pier is closing in fast, SWCCs are running around and calling to get electrical or mechanical specialists on the boat to help address the issues. Sometimes it’s an easy fix; sometimes it can be a show-stopper. Typically, duct tape and a positive mental attitude will be enough of a bandaid to get the boats off the dock and on-target.

Gulf Cooperation Council and Naval Special Warfare special operation teams.
Special operation teams from the Gulf Cooperation Council and U.S. Naval Special Warfare and rigid-hull inflatable boat teams simulated an air and sea-borne rapid insertion, search, and seizure of the occupied tanker and its hijackers, and the safe release of the tanker crewmen. (U.S. Navy)

The reality is, getting to target on-time can impose quite a beating on the boat and its crew. The ocean can be a cold, mean place, showing no mercy. When SWCC boats are underway, operators are responsible for monitoring systems, making comms checks, and serving as a set of eyes, looking for anything that isn’t right. Unfortunately, things have a tendency to break at 01:00, 20 miles offshore, in six-foot seas. It is not uncommon for an SWCC to be hanging upside down in an engine compartment, changing out a water pump, or reconnecting radio antennas and cables because all of a sudden no one can hear anything over SATCOM.

After returning to base, there is another full checklist of procedures for shutting the boat down and removing all sensitive equipment and weapons. If the boats are involved in a multi-day event, they’re going to stay in the water, with all weapons and communication gear staying on the boat, requiring a 24/7 watchstander. If a boat is broken and is expected to be used the following night, SWCCs and support personnel are going to stay and work on it, until the issue is resolved.

All in all, for a typical 12-14 hour SWCC operation, it can be expected that a minimum of six to eight hours is spent in physical preparation beforehand, and another two-three hours upon return — that’s if nothing goes wrong.

It’s a lot of hard work and long hours, but ultimately rewarding when everything falls into place.


This article was originally published in August 2020. It has been edited for republication.