What are Swift Boats?

Mary McMahon

Swift boats are boats which were developed by the United States Navy for use in Vietnam. These boats are more formally known by the title of “Patrol Craft Fast” (PCF). The introduction of Swift boats to Vietnam in 1965 helped the Navy secure territory and fight insurgency. As one might imagine, working on these boats was also quite dangerous, as they often patrolled in perilous waters.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The original PCF concept was introduced in 1965, when the Navy was experiencing growing frustrations with the small, lightweight, stealthy boats used by enemy forces to ferry people and supplies. These boats brought weapons, medicine, food, and other necessary tools to enemy troops in Vietnam, and the Navy was essentially powerless to stop them, since it lacked the necessary fast moving attack boats. In a conference in February, 1965, Naval officials created a list of ideal traits for a patrol craft, and started shopping around.

The ideal design proved to be floating in the Gulf of Mexico. A company called Sewart Seacraft was already producing lightweight boats with a shallow draft and excellent maneuverability for the purpose of servicing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. With a few modifications, these boats were used as PCFs. The most crucial modification was probably the introduction of a machine gun and mortar on the boat, making it functional as an attack craft. The Swift boats were also modified to create sleeping space and an area for food storage and preparation.

From 1965 to 1973, Swift boats patrolled the coastlines of Vietnam, looking for enemy supply boats. A smaller version with a fiberglass hull was developed for river patrolling; it is imaginatively known as a “Patrol Boat River.” Both of these ships proved to be vital tactical tools for the United States military in Vietnam, by creating a highly mobile strike force of sailors trained to perform various counterinsurgency tasks.

Veterans who served on Swift boats during the Vietnam War can join various veterans associations, including the Swift Boat Sailors Association. These organizations hold periodic reunions and other events which give veterans a chance to interact with each other, and they also hold memorials for sailors killed in action and veterans who have passed away. One such organization, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attracted a great deal of attention during the 2004 election, when they criticized Presidential candidate John Kerry, arguing that he was unfit to serve on the basis of his conduct in Vietnam.

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