Patrol Boat, River

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Patrol Boat Rigid MarkII.jpg
Class overview
Name: PBR (Patrol Boat Riverine)

 United States Navy

 United States Army
Cost: $75,000[1]
Completed: 718[2]
Preserved: 1 operational
General characteristics
Type: riverine patrol boat
Displacement: 8.9 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)
Draft: 2 ft (0.61 m)
Propulsion: 2 × 180 hp (115 kW) Detroit Diesel 6V53N engines each driving a Jacuzzi Brothers 14YJ water pump-jet with thrust buckets for reverse thrust.
Speed: 28.5 knots (53 km/h 32 mph).
Complement: 4 enlisted
Armor: Ceramic armor shields fitted to guns, bridge. Also crew-applied ballistic blankets to protect the coxswain in the control cockpit.
PBR Mark II forward .50 caliber M2 machine guns

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 the end of 1971. 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 Seatigers. The PBR was replaced by the Special Operations Craft – Riverine (SOC-R)[3][4][5]


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 two feet 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 foot length and 10 foot, 7 inch beam. The Mark II version 32 feet (9.8 m) long and one foot wider beam had improved drives to reduce fouling and aluminum gunwales to resist wear.


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 job 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 hp (115 kW) Detroit Diesel 6V53N engines with Jacuzzi Brothers pump-jet drives. The boats reached top speeds of 28.5 knots (53 km/h 32 mph).


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 7.62 mm light machine guns mounted on the port and starboard sides, and a Mk 19 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; 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.[6]

What the boats possessed in heavy firepower they lacked in armor or shielding. Although the .50 cal machine guns had some ceramic armor shielding and the Coxswain's flat had some quarter inch thick steel armor plate, the boats were designed to rely on rapid acceleration, maneuverability, and speed to get out of tight situations.

U.S. operations[edit]

From 1966 to 1972 PBRs were operated by the Regular Navy as the principle component of Task Force 116. PBRs were operating 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 Inshore (PCF) 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.

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 can 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 two PBRs (105 and one other) and two saipans[clarification needed] escalated into a three hour running battle involving more than 50 enemy vessels, numerous VC ground troops, and US 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 US Navy history. The US Navy posthumously named a guided missile destroyer, USS James E. Williams, after him.

Patrick Osborne Ford was a United States Navy sailor serving on a PBR patrol boat who was killed in Vietnam after he saved the lives of two of his shipmates. The US 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 by the code name of Street Gang.

See also[edit]

  • Fast Patrol Craft: An all-aluminum, 50-foot-long (15 m), riverine boat commonly referred to as the Swift Boat by the U.S. Navy's Brown Water Navy during the Vietnam War.
  • Hurricane Aircat: An airboat used as a riverine patrol boat by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War
  • Small unit riverine craft: Small armed and/or armored river craft used to maintain control of rivers and inland waterways.


  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. ^ Special Operations Craft-Riverine (SOC-R)
  6. ^ Rottman, Gordon L. (2012). Vietnam Riverine Craft 1962-75. Osprey Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 9781782000600.

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]