Patrol Boat, River

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Preserved PBR 829 in Kenner, Louisiana.
Class overview
NamePBR (Patrol Boat Riverine)
OperatorsSee Operators
Preserved1 operational
General characteristics
TypeRiverine patrol boat
Displacement8.9 ton for Mk II
  • 31 ft (9.4 m) (Mk I)
  • 32 ft (9.8 m) (Mk II)
  • 10.5 ft (3.2 m) (MK I)
  • 11.5 ft (3.5 m) (MK II)
Draft2 ft (0.61 m)
Propulsion2 × 180 hp (130 kW) Detroit Diesel 6V53N engines each driving a Jacuzzi Brothers 14YJ water pump-jet with thrust buckets for reverse thrust.
Speed28.5 knots (52.8 km/h; 32.8 mph).
Complement4 enlisted
ArmorCeramic armor shields fitted to guns, bridge. Also crew-applied ballistic blankets to protect the coxswain in the control cockpit.

Patrol Boat, Riverine, or PBR, is the United States Navy designation for a small rigid-hulled patrol boat used in the Vietnam War from March 1966 until 1975. They were deployed in a force that grew to 250 boats, the most common craft in the River Patrol Force, Task Force 116, and were used to stop and search river traffic in areas such as the Mekong Delta, the Rung Sat Special Zone, the Saigon River and in I Corps, in the area assigned to Task Force Clearwater, in an attempt to disrupt weapons shipments. In this role, they frequently became involved in firefights with enemy soldiers on boats and on the shore, were used to insert and extract Navy SEAL teams, and were employed by the United States Army's 458th Transportation Company, known as the 458th Sea Tigers.

The PBR was replaced by the Special Operations Craft – Riverine (SOC-R)[3][4]



The PBR was a versatile boat with a fiberglass hull and water jet drive which enabled it to operate in shallow, weed-choked rivers. It drew only 2 feet (0.61 m) of water fully loaded. The drives could be pivoted to reverse direction, turn the boat in its own length, or come to a stop from full speed in a few boat lengths.

The PBR was manufactured in two versions, the first with 31 feet (9.4 m) length and 10-foot, 7-inch beam. The Mark II version was 32 feet (9.8 m) long, and had a 1-foot (0.30 m) wider beam than the Mark I. It also had improved drives to reduce fouling and aluminum gunwales to resist wear.

The PBR was designed by Willis Slane and Jack Hargrave of Hatteras Yachts, located in High Point, NC at the time, and its hull was based on an existing Hatteras Yacht hull. Just seven days after a meeting with US Navy officials, Slane and Hargrave had a prototype ready.[5][6]

The 11 PBRs delivered in March 1966 and the approximately 300 delivered over the next few years to the U.S. and South Vietnamese military were based on a pleasure boat design constructed by Uniflite, a boatyard in Bellingham, Washington, on the northern end of Puget Sound near the Canadian border.

In October 1965, the Navy awarded a contract to the company for construction of 140 PBRs. The first craft off the assembly line, called the Mark I, was 31 feet long with a hull constructed entirely of fiberglass, a technology developed in the early 1950s.[6]


The PBR was usually manned by a four-man crew. Typically, a First Class Petty Officer served as boat captain, with a gunner's mate, an engineman and a seaman on board. Each crewman was cross-trained in each other's jobs in the event one became unable to carry out his duties. Generally, PBRs operated in pairs under the command of a patrol officer who rode on one of the boats.


The boats were powered by dual 180 horsepower (130 kilowatts) Detroit Diesel 6V53N engines with Jacuzzi Brothers 14YJ water-jet drives. The boats reached top speeds of 28.5 knots (52.8 km/h; 32.8 mph).[citation needed]


PBR Mark II forward .50 caliber twin M2 machine guns

The boats had a comparatively heavy firepower for their size. Typical armament configuration included twin M2HB .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns forward in a rotating, shielded tub, a single rear M2HB, one or two M60 7.62 mm light machine guns mounted on the port and starboard sides, and a Mk 18 grenade launcher. There was also a full complement of M16 rifles, shotguns, .45 ACP handguns and hand grenades. Some had a "piggyback" arrangement, a .50 cal machine gun on top of an 81mm mortar;[7][8] others had a bow-mounted Mk16 Mod 4 Colt 20 mm automatic cannon, derived from the AN/M3 version of the Hispano-Suiza HS.404 and also found on the LCMs and PBRs.[9]

The boats are not well protected, aside from some ceramic armor shielding for the machine gun pit, and some quarter-inch thick steel armor plate for the coxswain's flat.

They were designed to rely on rapid acceleration, maneuverability, and speed to get out of dangerous situations.

Operational career[edit]

From 1966 to 1972, PBRs were operated by the Navy as the principal component of Task Force 116. PBRs operated with the U.S. Naval Reserve up until 1995 at Mare Island, California, prior to the base's closure due to BRAC action that year. During the Vietnam War, Mare Island was home to the U.S. Navy's Repair Facilities, Mothballing Operations, Submarine Operations, and Riverine Training Operations for both Patrol Craft Fast (PCF—more commonly known as Swift Boats), PBRs, and the River Assault Boats of the Mobile Riverine Force.

The training areas for the PBRs and Swift Boats still exist today within the Napa Sonoma Marsh state wildlife area. Sloughs such as Dutchman Slough, China Slough, Napa Slough, Devil's Slough, Suisun marshland and the Napa River all run through the former training area.

Since the Navy was busy patrolling the rivers, the U.S. Army had to secure the waters around its military ports. So, it converted the 458th Transportation Company (LARC) into a PBR company in early 1968 under the 18th Military Police Brigade. With the company headquarters at Cat Lai, the company assigned pairs of PBRs to each of the Army ports. The crews consisted of two army mariners, coxswain and engineman, and two military police as gunners.[10]

In the late 1990s, what remained of the U.S. Navy's PBR force was solely in the Naval Reserve (Swift Boats had been retired from the active duty U.S. Navy immediately following the Vietnam War during the early 1970s), and was moved further inland towards Sacramento, California, the state capital, which is also intertwined with rivers. From Sacramento, PBRs could still transit directly to and through San Francisco Bay and into the Pacific Ocean, if need be. The waters of the State Wildlife Area, next to the former U.S. Navy (Riverine) training base at Mare Island, are still available for U.S. Navy PBR usage.



James "Willie" Williams was a United States Navy sailor commanding PBR 105. During a patrol operation on 31 October 1966, an engagement between the two PBRs (105 and one other) and two Viet Cong (VC) sampans escalated into a three-hour running battle involving more than 50 enemy vessels, numerous VC ground troops, and U.S. Navy attack helicopter support. For his role in this battle, Williams received the Medal of Honor. According to the citation, "the patrol accounted for the destruction or loss of 65 enemy boats and inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy personnel." Williams is considered the most heavily decorated enlisted sailor in U.S. Navy history. The U.S. Navy posthumously named a guided missile destroyer, USS James E. Williams, after him.

On March 6,1967, United States Navy Seaman David George Ouellet was the forward machine gunner on PBR 124. After observing a grenade hurtled in the his boats direction, Seaman Ouellet left the protection of his position and ran to the rear of his boat warning his shipmates to take cover. He then pushed the boat's captain down to safety and placed himself between the grenade and his shipmates. His actions saved the other men, but tragically Seaman David Ouellet was mortally wounded when the grenade detonated. For his actions that day Seaman David Ouellet was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Patrick Osborne Ford was a United States Navy sailor serving on a PBR patrol boat who was killed in South Vietnam after he saved the lives of two of his shipmates. The U.S. Navy posthumously awarded him the Navy Cross and later named a frigate, USS Ford (FFG-54), after him.

In popular culture[edit]

A major part of the action in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now takes place on a fictional United States Navy PBR that used the radio call-sign PBR Street Gang.

An unarmed PBR Mk. II replica called "Boat Machine" or "Du Ma" was used in the "Seamen" special of the television show The Grand Tour by Jeremy Clarkson, who erroneously claimed that, as there were no surviving PBRs, the replica had to be built completely from scratch and so cost £100,000.[11] Du Ma was as authentic as possible, using the same Jacuzzi drive jets as the original design, but powered by two 350 horsepower V8 gasoline engines of unspecified make.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sherwood, John (31 January 2018). "Defending the Mekong Delta: Tet and the Legacy of the Brown-Water Navy". War on the Rocks. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  2. ^ Follansbee, Joe (2 January 2019). "Arsenal: The river patrol boat was the backbone of the Brown Water Navy". Vietnam Magazine – via HistoryNet. The 11 PBRs delivered in March 1966 and the approximately 300 delivered over the next few years to the U.S. and South Vietnamese military...In 1967 the Mark II version of the PBR appeared, with an aluminum gunwale to protect its sides when junks and sampans came alongside. A transom lengthened the boat by about 6 inches. Most of the 418 Mark II PBRs constructed by Uniflite
  3. ^ 458th Sea Tigers. Accessed on 13 August 2009.
  4. ^ Sofge, Erik (1 October 2009). "Behind the Scenes With a Special Ops Gunboat Crew". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  5. ^ "The iconic PBR was based on a recreational boat and powered by Jacuzzi jets". 21 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b Magazine, Joe Follansbee, Vietnam (20 December 2019). "Arsenal: The river patrol boat was the backbone of the Brown Water Navy". Navy Times. Retrieved 21 January 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Wells II, William R. (August 1997). "The United States Coast Guard's Piggyback 81mm Mortar/.50 cal. machine gun". Vietnam Magazine. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  8. ^ Bob Stoner. "Notes on Mk 2 Mod 0 and Mod 1 .50 Caliber MG/81mm Mortar".
  9. ^ Rottman, Gordon L. (2012). Vietnam Riverine Craft 1962–75. Osprey Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 9781782000600.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "458th Transportation Company" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 April 2021. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  11. ^ "The Boats Behind The Grand Tour Presents: Seamen". Grand Tour Nation. 12 December 2019. Retrieved 22 December 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Friedman, Norman. U.S. Small Combatants, Including PT-Boats, Subchasers, and the Brown-Water Navy: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1987. ISBN 0-87021-713-5.

External links[edit]