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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Ship History: Presidential Protection

There was a time when presidents of the United States, in order to get away from Washington, would get underway on "presidential yachts" and cruise the Potomac River.

While the story of those yachts is for another Sunday, one of the interesting aspects of having a president heading out on a yacht is providing some form of mobile protection for the presidential yacht - something akin to the escort vehicles that flank the presidential limousine but on the water.

There was a time (and more about this will appear here soon) when the U.S. Navy had high speed torpedo boats which were used to engage enemies at sea or in littoral waters and for other missions (see here). Most of the WWII PT boats were wooden hulled. Following WWII, the Navy decided to experiment with aluminum hulls and built 4 PT boats for experimental purposes.

One of these new metal hulled boats played a role in presidential protection. PT-809 vitals:
98' Aluminum Motor Torpedo Boat:
  • Laid down 27 June 1949 by the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT
  • Launched 7 August 1950
  • Completed 9 February 1951
  • Assigned to the Potomac River Naval Command 1 November 1959 as a civil defense boat and escort for the Presidential Yacht Barbara Ann, later Honey Fitz
  • After the Presidential yachts were deposed, the Guardian was released from Presidential service and transferred to Fleet Composite Squadron SIX (VC-6), 16 December 1974. She was modified at Cambridge, MD for use in retrieving target drones in various ranges along the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina coast. The Soviets were quite adept at recovering the drones and all of their electronic technology. It was felt that something fast like a PT boat might aid in the recovery of the drones. The Guardian was based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base and renamed DR-1 aka Retriever. Later she was assigned to the special boat unit in support of the Navy SEALs.She was the longest serving PT-boat.
  • Placed out of service in 1988
  • Scrapped in 1990.


  • Displacement 47 t.
  • Length 98'
  • Beam 26' 6"
  • Draft 5' 6"
  • Speed 40+ kts.
  • Armament: Two 40mm mounts, two 20mm mounts, one 81mm mortar and one smoke generator
  • Propulsion: Four 2,500hp Packard diesel engines, four shafts (Converted in 1959 to eight 250hp General Motors diesel engines).
  • The PT Boat served an additional function, too:
    The Guardian carried 2 16 ft fiberglass water jet boats. These boats were used to transport secret service agents and was used for water skiing by Mrs Kennedy and other guests.
    When not in use by the president the yacht and the escort PT moored at the Washington Navy Yard.
    Red arrow points to PT-809. Photo caption:
    Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia

    View looking northwards from over the Anacostia River, March 1970.
    The Presidential Yacht Sequoia and her Secret Service protective craft, Guardian (formerly USS PT-809), are alongside the finger pier in the center. The bathyscaphe's Trieste is on display in the parking lot immediately above and between those two vessels.
    Photographed by PHC Tommy Cobb.

    Official U.S. Navy Photograph.
    PT-809 served her country well and long. Give a little salute to the men who helped protect presidents - recover drones and deliver SEALS. Not too shabby for an "experiment."

    1 comment:

    1. Anonymous1:26 PM

      Nice little piece. Several things; The boat was brought into presidential service by Capt Edward Beach, naval aide to Eisenhower. They needed something to get the president to the doomsday cruiser off Norfolk (the choppers of the day didn't have the legs). After suitable helicopters were available, the boats Packards were replaced by diesels at the Trumpy Yard in Annapolis. I'm really glad you didn't bring up the boat's supposed service with the CIA (she didn't, just sat at the Washington Navy Yard until President Carter disbanded the presidential yachts). The.809 picked up her name Guardian for a very interesting trip to the Med for the Kennedy administration. After her service as a drone retriever, she was transferred to the Special Boat Squadrons. She sat because they had no use for her and she was a mess. Later she was sold but the buyer did not come thru, so she was scrapped. Thanks, Chip Marshall, Silver Spring, Maryland.