BATH — A boat-building family best known for its high-end yachts has collaborated with a surfing rescue boat designer to produce vessels that could soon be used for search and rescue or special forces missions in even the roughest conditions.

Hodgdon Defense Composites, the Bath-based affiliate of Hodgdon Yachts, has received several military contracts to produce rescue boats small enough to be air-dropped from, say, a C-130 cargo plane but sturdy enough to stay upright in the most challenging surf.

“In breaking surf, it can do things that no other vessel can do,” said boat designer Peter Maguire, whose North Carolina-based company, Rapid Rescue Technology, is partnering with Hodgdon Defense Composites on the project.

Known as the Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft, or GARC, the rescue vessel is an example of the Maine boat-building industry’s embrace of new technologies as well as the diversity within the state’s defense contracting sector.

Resembling a conventional Jet Ski or other personal watercraft, the GARC measures roughly 12 feet and comes with a 143-horsepower, water jet-driven engine. However, the military-grade craft features a larger, deeper hull made of composite technology developed, in part, with assistance from researchers at University of Maine and other companies.

On Tuesday, Maguire and Hodgdon employees gathered at a Bath boat ramp to christen and formally launch a GARC that is being delivered to U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. Hodgdon Defense Composites has several more under construction and recently received an order for 16 more from the Air National Guard.

“This company proves that even in tough times, there is always a market for superior craftsmanship,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said just prior to christening the first boat. “Whenever I advocate for federal funding for Maine, I do so fully confident that Maine will deliver.”

After smashing a bottle of champagne across the bow, Collins donned a life vest and climbed on board the GARC behind Maguire for a demonstration. Maguire later handed the controls over to Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“That was so cool,” Collins said as the pair pulled into the dock, later adding that she wanted one for her camp.

The GARC is not the first military project handled by Hodgdon Defense Composites. In 2008, the company produced for the Navy an 83-foot-long patrol boat known as the MAKO. The boat, which has yet to go into production, is made with high-performance composites better able to absorb the shock waves by bouncing across the water at more than 50 knots.

Tim Hodgdon, president of Hodgdon Yachts, pointed out that his family’s company has a long history of military contracts, including building mine sweepers, troop transports and patrol boats during World War II and the Korean War.

Hodgdon founded Hodgdon Defense Composites in 2004 to diversify the company, which already was using composite materials in high-end yachts.

“So there is a history of defense (contracting) in the company,” Hodgdon said.

Hodgdon Defense Composites has received more than $3 million in defense contracts since 2008, according to several websites that track federal contracting. Exact figures for the GARC project were not available Tuesday afternoon.

While it was not mentioned during Tuesday’s ceremony, defense contractors in Maine and across the country are nervously watching Congress as time runs out on lawmakers to find alternatives to massive defense spending cuts scheduled to take effect next year.

Unless Congress acts this year, $1.2 trillion dollars in across-the-board cuts will be levied on federal programs. Defense programs would have to absorb roughly $500 billion of that figure, a prospect that top defense officials in the Obama administration have said could be devastating.

Asked about the so-called “sequestration” cuts after Tuesday’s event, Collins said she adamantly opposes across-the-board cuts. She said she recently asked Republican leadership to work aggressively on finding alternatives to sequestration this month, before Congress leaves for its August break.

Waiting until after the election, Collins said, would just increase uncertainty and force many defense contractors to send notices to employees warning them of potential layoffs. Maine’s defense contracting industry employs 8,500 workers with an average salary of more than $64,000.

Collins said she believes most members of Congress oppose the across-the-board cuts.

“But whether or not we can come together to draft an alternative is not clear,” she said.

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