U.S. Crash Boats Emblem
U.S. Crash Boats

The Five Basic Groups of Rescue Boats

Overview of the Boats
Our nation developed broadly five types of "Crash Boats" based on range and speed.  The largest crash boats were called the "104s" meaning they were one-hundred and four-feet long and frequently referred to "Class I" boats.  The 104s had the greatest range but were, relative to enemy small boats, slow.
The next crash boat was known as the "ASR-85s" standing for Air Sea Rescue and the length of the boat, which was eighty-five feet.  These boats are often referenced as "Class II" boats in reports. The ASR 85s enjoyed both range and speed and therefore considered by many to be the most effective crash coat design. It's range allowed it to rescue flyers downed several hundred miles off shore.
For near coastal and an intermediate offshore range there was the “AVR-63” or "Class III".  The Auxiliary Vessel, Rescue was sixty-three feet long and possessed great speed with intermediate range. This boat was originally designed on speculation by Miami Shipbuilding Corp. for the Navy, for their resale to the Union of South Africa.
The last two vessel types were limited to near shore and inland waterways.  They were recreational boat designs drafted for war time use. The 42 ft. boat was twin screw, designed  by Owens Yachts as Design 221 and built by both Owens and Chris Craft, although Chris Craft primarily built Higgins boats - LCVPs. The last type consisted of other assorted vessels thirty-five feet and under.
Occasionally you will see mention of 83 ft. boats. There were two different designs and most were built for the Coast Guard. A different design was built for the USAAF but only a few were built as they were too slow for rescue work. The 83 footer story began in 1940 when the first of 230 cutters was built for the USCG. The wooden cutters were used for convoy duty in the Gulf of Mexico and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) patrol off the east coast of the U.S.  Sixty cutters participated in the Normandy invasion as RESFLO 1 where they rescued 1,437 men and one woman (a nurse).  They were also known as the Matchbox Fleet.  Fifty-four cutters were sent to the South Pacific for various duties and as rescue craft for the invasion of Japan. There were also 72 ft. boats orderred in 1940 with 600hp engines, but again, most of the 195 were assigned to the USCG. For more detail on the two designs, see the 83 ft. album in Photos & Missions.
At the time that the five basic types were determined, it was anticipated that they were to be used at air bases on all three coasts of the continental US, the Great Lakes, several other inland lakes, especially near air crew training bases, and at overseas bases in Alaska, Hawaii, and locations in the Caribbean. The Southwest Pacific area was not considered. The boats were not adequately designed for the severe cold that their crews encountered in Alaska, and later in Korea. It was expected that crews would be primarily quartered and messed ashore at the base where they were stationed; so on board facilities were designed for cruises of less than a week. This made life especially difficult on the 85s in Korea where they were at sea almost continuously.
Design & Construction
Both the 63  ft.and 85 ft. boats used the same construction methods as the designer, Dair Long basically scaled up a 63 footer to 85 ft. The Navy had the hull number (C-***) carved into several frame members such as the keelson and stem, in addition to painting it on each vessel.  For some reason (probably inexperience) the Army didn’t carve the number into the hull. They only painted the hull number on their boats, making tracking them years later much more difficult. In addition, all US Army and Navy small craft had an ID plaque or plate about 4”X6” located in or near the pilot house which gave the vessel type or model, hull number, year launched, design  number, manufacturer, and for which branch of service the boat was built. The Army also added a Bakelite (an early plastic) plate in the engine room. Plate designs varied from one manufacturer to another and even within a manufacturer.
The stem, keel and chines were made of Honduras mahogany double-rabbeted to receive the inner and outer planking individually. The stem, knee, forefoot and two keel sections were scarfed and bolted. The chines were made up in three pieces and scarfs were located between the keel scarfs. The structural watertight bulkheads were hollow, being built up of two layers of 1/4-inch fir plywood separated by 1-3/8-inch spruce stiffeners. The bulkheads were attached to the keel and chines with metal angle clips. The transom stiffeners and boundary framing were made of Honduras mahogany.
After the keel, bulkheads, molds between the bulkheads and transom were set up, spruce stringers, spaced one foot apart, were fastened into notches provided in the bottom and sides of the bulkheads and clamped to the temporary molds. These stringers were effectively the “ribbands” of a normal building form except that they became a permanent part of the boat. Steam-bent white oak transverse frames, 1-1/8-inch X 1-3/8-inch were placed inside and outside of the stringers. Intercostal tiller blocks of spruce were fitted and screwed in place through the oak frames making each frame an “I-section.” The intersections of frames and stringers were then through bolted. A shelf and clamp of spruce were then fitted and fastened at the sheer. Knees and gussets of 3/8-inch fir plywood were fitted and screw fastened to both sides of the frames at the sheer and chine. Before the boat was planked, the engine beds, which were prefabricated built-up box girders with oak runners, plywood sides and internal vertical and diagonal spruce bracing, were slipped into place through the transom framing and bolted though each frame. Together with the keel and chines, the engine beds formed the main strength members of the bottom of the boat.
The boat was double planked and had eight-ounce cotton duck laid in marine/aviation glue between the two layers of planking. The inner planking, which was cedar, 1/2-inch thick on the bottom and 7/16-inch on the sides, ran at 45 degrees diagonally. The shipwrights screwed the inner planking to the keel, chines, and sheer clamp, then fastened it to the frames by means of copper nails. The outer planking of Honduras mahogany, was ¾-inch thick on the bottom and 9/16-inch thick on the sides, and ran longitudinally. The outer planking fastened through the inner planking into the frames with bronze wood screws. The inner planking fastened to the outer planking with wood screws between the frames from the inside. They nailed the 3/4-inch fir plywood decking with Monel anchor-fast nails to the 1-3/8-inch spruce deck beams, and screw fastened it to the shelf and clamp. The seams and butts were bolted on seam straps and butt blocks. The plywood was then covered with 12-once canvas, laid in white lead paste-paint. The deckhouse structure was made of 3/4-inch fir plywood with mahogany trim.
The electrical system was a 24 volt DC system that ran off the four, six volt batteries supplied for each engine. The system could be supplied with 110 volt AC shore power  from a receptacle on the port side of the bridge and fed through a rectifier before charging the batteries. The lighting system used standard marine fixtures with gasketed glass enclosures with additional wire mesh guards in the engine room.
For much more layout and construction detail, as well as photos, see the book Crash Boats, by Dave Linley & Terry Holtham, as well as the Manuals & Publications section of this site.
85' & 63' Crash Boat Specifications
Description 85 Ft. Model 379 63 ft.  Model 168 63 ft.  Model 314 63 ft.  Model 416
Production Run 140 16 352 79***
Length Overall 85' 0" 63' 63' 63'
Length At Waterline 78' 10" 58' 10" 58' 10" 58' 10"
Max (Over Guards)Beam 20' 3" 15' 6" 15' 4" 15' 4"
Beam At Waterline 18' 8" 13' 10" 13' 10" 13' 10"
Depth Amidships 11' 2" 8' 9" 8' 9" 8' 9"
Draft (Propeller tips) 4' 8" 3' 10" 4' 0" 4' 0"
Displacement, Light 70,500 lbs 37,000 lbs 38,000 lbs 38,000 lbs
Displacment, Full Load 103,712 lbs.  50,500 lbs 51,500 lbs 51,500 lbs
Fuel Capacity 3840 gal. / 4 tanks 2000 gal / 3 tanks 1580 gal / 2 tanks 1580 gal / 2 tanks
Octane Rating 87-100* 87-91* 87-91* 87-91*
Lube Oil 70gal. / 2 tanks 50 gal / 2 tanks 50 gal / 2 tanks 50 gal / 2 tanks
Fresh Water 500 gal. 150 gal 150 gal 150 gal
Complement (Officers / Petty Officers / Crew 2,2,9 2, 2, 4 2, 2, 4 2, 2, 4
Max Speed @ Full Load 34.75k / 40 mph 48k / 55 mph 31.5k / 36.2 mph 31.5k / 36.2 mph
Max Cont. Speed @ Full Load 24.3k / 28mph 40k/46mph 25k/29mph 25k/29mph
Fuel Consumption, Max Cont. Speed 140 gal/hr 140 gph (My guess) 90 gph 90 gph
Range Statute Miles (85ft Main/Cruise) 644 /6035 550 (my guess) 475/530 475/530
Engines 2 Packard 2 Packard 2 Hall-Scott 2 Hall-Scott
Engine Model, all are V-12  4M-2500 4M-2500 Defender Defender
C.I.D. Each 2500 2500 1996 1996
Total BHP 2500-3600 2500-3000 1300-1400** 1300-1400**
Propeller Diameter (3 blades) 32**** 23 23.75 23.75
Propeller Pitch (2" Monel prop shaft) 34**** 23.25 23.75 23.75
Armament (all types of boat) 2 × twin .50 cal. M2 Browning machine guns  
* Ratings range 87-130        
** Some sources rate the supercharged Hall-Scott "Defender" engines @ 950hp each, 1900 total hp.  
*** An additional 60 of the Model 314 boats were transferred to the AAF    
**** the June, 1944 issue of Pacific Motor Boat describes the shafts as 2.5" diameter, spinning 31 X32  two bladed props custom designed by Dair Long, but that did not become the standard propeller.
Comparison to PT Boats
Rescue boats are often confused with PT boats, about the only folks that can tell the difference are those who served on the boats. While the two types of boats appear to be very similar, they are fundamentally different. The two most common PT boats were either 77 ft or 80 ft. long, between the two most common rescue boat lengths which were the 63 and 85 feet. 
The mission and armament of the PT boat is fundamentally offensive, the mission of the rescue boats, defensive.  Think of it as the difference between a very small firetruck and an ambulance; the purpose of the firetruck is to attack the fire; the ambulance is to save the lives of the fire’s victims. While both types were similar in profile, the PT boats, at least early in the war, were “squattier” to better sneak in close to the enemy before firing their troublesome torpedoes. The rescue boats were a bit taller, with a more substantial mast to aid is finding the survivors. As a result of this difference in mission the rescue boats were comparatively lightly armed, primarily to defend themselves against an enemy that found them.  The PT boats’ mission was to take the fight to the enemy, so the most obvious difference was their large torpedo tubes. Even when the tubes were replaced with racks, when armed with torpedoes, the difference was obvious.
Up until 1944 our torpedoes were junk. They ran 10-15 feet deeper than they were set to run, if the impact trigger hit its target straight on, the trigger assembly frequently broke before setting off the main charge, and the magnetic triggers were also unreliable. There were other problems with our torpedoes, extensively documented in several books but as a result, PT boats had a change in mission that resulted in their being heavily armed with additional machine guns, cannons, and mortars which more readily differentiated them visually from rescue boats. Instead of their primary targets being large naval vessels, their new primary objective became the barges that were resupplying Japanese troops, many of whom were, or were in danger of, being stranded on the islands of the Pacific.
Both PT boats and rescue boats participated in many clandestine missions, supplying and moving coast watchers, providing medical supplies and assistance to the islanders, delivering high priority parts and supplies and both PTs and rescue boats also performed rescue missions. Unfortunately for the AAF rescue boats, their log books only were retained for a year, so their patrols are largely lost to history, whereas the navy log books were retained permanently. Thus, the record of the PT boats is well preserved while that of the rescue boats is largely lost.
This is a Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. photo, taken 25 July 1944 at their Walker's Cove facility in Bristol, RI. It appears that the second boat may be having it's engines installed, with one on the crane and one on the truck at the exreme right. About two boats a week came out of their big shed from the fall of 1944 into 1945. Here several are shown as they progress to launch. It appears that considerable work remained to be done after launching. The 450 foot long shed known as the Yacht-Drome had been turned into a boat factory for the war effort. But it all ended in early 1945. As the last of the government contracts ended, these boats were among the last built by the original Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.  More information about this legendary designer and builder at www.herreshoff.org  One hundred vessels, of which the 63' rescue boats were the smallest, had been built in a about three years.
John Trumpy & Sons, a.k.a. Mathis Yachts,  of Gloucester,  New Jersey was another east coast crash boat builder, although  much of their production was 110' sub chasers, and  all of the thirty rescue boats built for the US Navy in 1943 and 1944 were sent to Russia designated as PTC37 through PTC66. One usually reliable source lists these boats as 77' boats and may have been based on a PT boat design.  Another usually reliable source states that these were 63' MSC designs. I believe that the majority of the evidence supports the 63 ft. conclusion. After the war, John Trumpy & Sons relocated to Annapolis, Maryland.
Dooley’s Basin & Drydock - Pretty much everyone familiar with the rescue boats of WWII is familiar with Miami Shipbuilding Corp., much less so their neighbor, Dooley’s Basin and Drydock in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  S. Paul Dooley established Dooley’s Marina on the New River in Ft. Lauderdale, FL in 1936. Shortly after establishing the marina he started expanding the operation, eventually having a 500-ton railway, a 50-ton liftway and a 40-ton crane. Before the end of WWII there was a railroad spur going directly to their crane so the smaller boats could be quickly loaded on flatbed rail cars.

In October 1941, the Army contracted with Dooley’s to build four 104’ rescue boats. On Labor Day, 1942 the final two were launched, along with a Navy subchaser. The ceremony was limited to five minutes so as not to interfere with war production. During WWII, Dooley’s was Broward County’s largest private employer.  During the war years they produced twenty of the 104s, twenty-eight of the 85’ ASR boats, twenty-two 38’ J-boats and twenty-five 27’ J-boats for the USAAF. From available records it appears that they only built a few subchasers or minesweepers for the Navy.

In 1948 Dooley rented, then sold the business to Frank A. Denison, who renamed the business Broward Marine, which continued to be the largest private employer in Broward. After the war they built prefab housing for export to England to replace housing destroyed during WWII. They also produced minesweepers for the Navy, securing a contract for eleven in 1953 at $1,000,000 each. Later they built over 200 custom yachts that are still considered to be among the finest in the world.

Frank’s son Chris “Kit” Denison established Denison Yachts in 1983, the evolution from Broward is not clear, which was an active builder through 2009. Their yachts were all aluminum hulls, all fast, and in the 100 to 130 ft range, although after 1987 they almost exclusively built mega-yachts, a few over 200 ft. in length. Each one appears to have been unique. Today Denison continues as a yacht brokerage business. About 2000 the construction portion of the business was sold and became Broward Shipyard and is a mega-yacht repair facility in Dania Beach, just south of Fort Lauderdale. It has been reorganized twice since then and is not related to Denison Yacht Brokers.
Stephens Brothers in Stockton, California was another major yacht builder who produced boats for the war effort, supplying both the Army and the Navy. They were in business from 1902 through 1987 and during that period produced approximately 1,200 boats. They built many 104' rescue boats for the Army, in addition to 72' tugs, and 63' rescue boats for both the Army and the Navy. When I started researching in order to add US Navy boats to my database I located the Navy hull numbers for these boats.The  hull numbers are listed with the boats in the database under Boats, Builders, & Dates
Harbor Boat Builders of Terminal Island, California built primarily for the Navy during World War II. They built a variety of boats including sub chasers, PT boats, and air sea rescue boats.  Founded in 1919 as Harbor Boatbuilders, after the war they moved to Wharf St. in Wilmington, CA and did business as Harco. Later they were bought by LTV during the conglomerate craze prior to going out of business about 1975.
Fellows and Stewart Inc. of San Pedro, California was established in 1917 and was sold in 1967 to Harbor Boatbuilding. During WW II they were a major west coast builder of sub chasers and crash boats, both for the U.S. Army and Navy.
Many of the boats built on the west coast went to one of two outfitters for the addition of galley equipment, bedding, lifejackets, etc. The outfitters were Barbee Marine Yards of Renton and Olsen & Wing  Marine of Ballard, which was in the Seattle area.