Asbestos on Patrol Boats

Quick Summary

Patrol boats are some of the smallest ships in the Navy, but they still contained asbestos. It was used in every patrol boat class.

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Asbestos and Patrol Boats Explained

The U.S. Navy started using asbestos in its vessels in the 1930s. At the start of the Second World War, the production of Navy ships skyrocketed. The war effort required more ships and the Navy needed them fast. Each of these ships, including the Navy’s patrol boats, contained asbestos. Any patrol boats built before the 1980s contained asbestos.

Click here for a FREE Navy Ships Guide containing a list of ships with asbestos.

Asbestos is a cheap, abundant mineral. It’s also fire resistant and a remarkable insulator. These facts made asbestos the obvious choice for the production of all Navy ships.

Even ships as small as Navy patrol boats need excellent insulation to reduce the risk of onboard fire because elements like engines and guns generate a lot of heat in confined spaces.

Exposure to asbestos can lead mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. When asbestos becomes airborne, seaman can inhale the substance.

It takes decades for mesothelioma to develop, so Navy veterans who served on patrol boats built before the 1980s are at risk. There is no safe amount of asbestos exposure, but those working in well-ventilated areas have a reduced risk of disease.

Thankfully, veterans with mesothelioma can pursue benefits and compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the makers of asbestos-based products.

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History of Patrol Boats

Patrol boats are built for coastal defense and the transport of men and supplies. They are light and fast, capable of skimming coastlines and waterways.

There are many different designs of patrol boats for different purposes. Some patrol boats were built to launch missiles while others were meant for troop transport. Overall, the duties of patrol boats are similar.

The historical purpose of patrol boats was to pursue and capture pirates in Dutch coastal territories. The practicality of these type of ships are still recognized today. In fact, patrol boats still serve an anti-piracy role, as well as an anti-smuggling and rescue operation role.

Some patrol boat vessels that were among the last built using asbestos:

  • USS Pegasus (PHM-1)
  • USS Grand Rapids (PGM-98)
  • USS Tucumcari (PGH-2)

However, the list of U.S. patrol boats used since World War II is huge. There were hundreds of these vessels. There are currently just over a dozen patrol boats still in active duty.

A U.S. patrol boat on the water

Patrol boats are unique in their size and usually offensive combative role. The first large portion of patrol boats were produced for World War I. The largest proportion of patrol boats were used in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Major classes of Navy patrol boats include:

  • Patrol craft
  • Missile hydrofoil
  • Gunboat hydrofoil
  • Submarine chaser
  • Escort
  • Gunboat
  • Motor gunboat
  • River gunboat
  • Rescue escort
  • Sweeper
  • Patrol frigate
  • Patrol yacht
  • Torpedo boat
  • Coastal yacht

Some of the most notable patrol boat classes of the 20th century are the Eagle-class patrol crafts, Patrol Craft Fast class and the Cyclone class.

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Eagle-class Patrol Crafts

The first patrol boats mass produced for the United States Navy were the Eagle-class patrol boats of the early 20th century. These vessels were produced as a solution to German U-boats in World War I.

Before the Eagle-class were built, the Navy used submarine chasers that weren’t fast or maneuverable enough. The Eagle-class patrol boats were almost 2 times faster and equipped with 50 caliber machine guns.

President Wilson called on Henry Ford to take up the task of building 100 new patrol boats. Ford used his famous assembly line for the first vessels, but the patrol boats required a more thorough assembly method.

Eventually, the war came to a halt and 60 Eagle-class crafts were built. Many of these original vessels survived to be used in World War II.

Luckily, asbestos wasn’t widely used when the Eagle-class crafts were built, so exposure risks are lower than other Navy vessels built after the 1930s.

Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) Class

The Vietnam War was fought differently than other wars. Marines and soldiers had to battle not only the enemy but also the jungle and other elements. Small boats were some of the best vehicles to deal with the Vietnamese landscape.

The PCF class was perfect for speedily transporting crack troops via rivers. These vessels were also called Swift Boats.

Swift Boats were only 50 feet long and predominantly for transporting Navy SEALS. They were light, quiet and equipped for offense. This made them perfect for stealth missions too.

Swift Boats are one of the smallest classes of patrol boats used by the Navy, but the size of these ships do not mitigate the risk of asbestos exposure. Nearly 200 of these vessels were built during the Vietnam War.

As these patrol boats were built at the height of asbestos use, PCF class vessels are likely to contain a lot of asbestos.

Cyclone Class

In the 1990s, the Navy built a new class of patrol boats. There are far fewer patrol boats in use compared to other points in history.

These vessels were built after the risks of asbestos were made widely known. Cyclone class patrol boats present little to no risk of asbestos exposure. This is both because the Navy has limited the use of asbestos and takes precautionary measures to keep seaman safe.

Who Was at Risk of Asbestos Exposure on Navy Patrol Boats?

Seaman with the highest risk of asbestos exposure are usually those working on larger vessels like destroyers. Typically boilermen and pipefitters had the highest risk because they worked directly with asbestos-containing products like broken gaskets and valves.

Navy patrol boats are small with no berthing space, so most men worked on deck where there is plenty of ventilation. Usually, those in poorly ventilated spaces are those with the highest risk of inhaling airborne asbestos fibers. That being said, patrol boats built between the 1930s and 1970s certainly contained asbestos.

Places where you could find asbestos on patrol boats include:

  • Engines
  • Pumps
  • Pipes
  • Gaskets
  • Deck covering material

Due to the location of asbestos on patrol boats, seaman responsible for actual repairs on these crafts had the highest risk of exposure.

Mesothelioma Veterans Guide
A Free Veterans Packet can help with

  • Treatment Options
  • Financial Assistance
  • VA Benefits

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Get information on:

  • Treatment Options
  • Mesothelioma Specialists
  • Veterans Benefits

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Treatment and Benefits for Veterans

Navy veterans with mesothelioma make up 33% of all cases of this cancer today. No branch of the military has more cases of mesothelioma than the Navy.

The extensive use of asbestos on Navy ships up to the 1980s made it virtually impossible for seaman to not experience some kind of asbestos exposure. That’s why the VA offers 100% disability for veterans whose mesothelioma is connected to their military service.

Key points to remember:

  • Though small, many patrol boats still posed a real asbestos risk.
  • Veterans with mesothelioma may be eligible for VA benefits.
  • Veterans with VA Health Care can get treatment from top mesothelioma doctors.

If you served in the U.S. military and have mesothelioma, our VA-accredited representative can explain the benefits you’re eligible for as well as your treatment options. See if you can file for VA benefits today.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View 3 Sources
  1. Safety Training Gouge. “Afloat Asbestos Control.” U.S. Navy. 2012. Accessed on December 29th, 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.public.navy.mil/NAVSAFECEN/Documents/safety-gouge/SafetyGouge7.pdf
  2. United States Navy. Accessed on January 2nd, 2018. Retrieved from: http://www.navy.mil/
  3. Patrol boat image retrieved from Naval History and Heritage Command at https://www.history.navy.mil/
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