Australian Patrol Boats

Patrol boats are small vessels largely used for coastal defence and policing, being fast and maneuverable and lightly armed. During wartime the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) enrolled and commissioned many privately owned vessels. In World War II (WWII), some hundreds of vessels were enrolled by the Naval Auxiliary Patrol which was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in May 1942. The boats became auxiliary patrol boats.

This article includes patrol boats of the RAN, other federal government bodies and replacements of boats donated by Australia to Papua New Guinea and other Pacific island nations.

Patrol Boats became a regular part of the RAN in the 1960’s when the Attack Class Patrol Boat was introduced to replace the WWII Bathurst Class Minesweepers. The Department of Defence in November 1965 ordered 20 boats, 13 being built by Evans Deakin and Company, Brisbane, and 7 by Walkers Limited, Maryborough.

Five boats were based in Papua New Guinea and formed the RAN Papua New Guinea Division. These were decommissioned on 14 November 1974 and transferred to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force Maritime Division with the boats’ prefix becoming HPNGS. The other boats were located in Western Australia and at Darwin. One boat, HMAS Arrow, was destroyed in Cyclone Tracy on 25 December 1974.

Attack Class Patrol Boat

The characteristics of the Attack Class Patrol Boat are shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Tonnage – 100 Tons fully loaded 146 Tons
Length – 107.5 ft. (32.8 m)
Beam – 20 ft. (6.1 m)
Draught – 7.3 ft. (2.2 m) fully loaded
Speed – 24 knots
Machinery – 2 x 16 cylinder Paxman YJCM diesel engines driving 2 shafts
Armament – 1 x 40 mm Bofors gun, 2 x 50 mm machine guns
Crew – 3 officers and 16 ratings


Construction and service details of the boats are shown in Table 2.

Table 2
Launched – 6.7.1967 – 6.11.1968
Commissioned – 24.1.1968 – 22.2.1969
Decommissioned – 21.5.1974 – 6.1.1994

After decommissioning, 9 boats were transferred to the Indonesian Navy and 5 boats to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force Maritime Division. One boat, HMAS Advance, was donated to the National Maritime Museum as a museum ship and currently remains on display.

The Attack Class Patrol Boat was replaced by the Fremantle Class Patrol boat. This new boat was slightly larger than its predecessor and included several then new and modern features. In 1976, the Department of Defence contracted for 15 boats. The lead boat, HMAS Fremantle II, was built by Brooke Marine Limited, Lowestoft Suffolk England (1874-1992) who designed the class. The other 14 boats were built by North Queensland Engineering and Agents Pty Ltd Cairns (founded 1948, renamed NQEA Pty Ltd). Characteristics of the Fremantle Class Patrol boat are shown in Table 3.

Table 3
Tonnage – 220 tons
Length – 137.6 ft. (41.9 m.)
Beam – 25.25 ft. (7.70 m.)
Draught – 5.75 ft. (1.75 m.)
Speed – 30 knots
Machinery – 2 MTU series 538 diesel engines, 3200 shp (2400 KW) 2 shafts
Armament – 4/200 mm Bofors 2×12.7 mm 2×12.7mm machine guns, 81 mm mortar
Crew – 22

The lead ship, HMAS Fremantle II was laid down in England on 11 November 1977, launched on 15 February 1979 and arrived in Australia on 27 August 1980. The boat was commissioned on 17 March 1980 and decommissioned on 17 August 2006. Construction and service details of the fourteen boats built in Cairns are shown in Table 4.

Table 4
Laid Down – 30.9.1978 – 13.6.1983
Launched – 25.10.1980 – 3.11.1984
Commissioned – 14.3.1981 – 15.12.1984
Decommissioned – 29.11.2005 – 8.7.2006

Two boats were donated to local historical societies for preservation, namely HMAS Townsville and Gladstone.

Fremantle Class Patrol Boat

In 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provided a 200 nautical mile domestic zone. With many pacific island nations, the area of the domestic zone is much greater than the land area. In some cases, the nations did not have the capability to police these areas and appeals for assistance were made to the Australian and New Zealand governments. The Australian Government set up the Pacific Patrol Boat Program which subsequently provided 22 Patrol Boats to 12 pacific island nations including 4 to Papua New Guinea to replace their existing Attack Class Boats. Crews of local residents to operate the boats were trained at the Australian Maritime College.

A contract with Australian Shipbuilding Industries (1969-1990) for the design and construction of the boats was accepted on 9 May 1985 with construction commencing 5 months later. The characteristics of the Pacific Class Patrol Boats are shown in Table 5.

Table 5
Tonnage – 162 tonnes fully loaded
Length – 31.5 m. (103 ft.)
Beam – 8.1 m. (27 ft.)
Draught – 1.8 m. (5.9 ft.)
Speed – 20 knots
Machinery – 2 Caterpillar 3516TA diesel engines 2820 HP 2 shafts
Armament – Small arms depending on operating nation
Crew – 14-18

The boats were built in sequence, the first being handed over in May 1987 to Papua New Guinea and named HMPNGS Rabaul and the last being handed over in May 1997 to the Federated States of Micronesia and named TSS Independence.

Following a coup, Fiji was suspended from the Program in 2006 but was reinstated in 2015.

A replacement for the Pacific Class Patrol boat was long considered and a government report in 2000 recommended that the Pacific Forum Program be discontinued due to some islands having difficulties in finding crews to man the boats and shore staff for maintenance, resulting in very little sea time being achieved. Also Australia was paying some of the operating costs which were spiraling. Almost two decades later, in June 2014, the Australian Government announced the Pacific Class Patrol Boats would be replaced by a new class (Guardian Class). Five groups were involved in the tendering process and the Prime Minister Mr Malcolm Turnbull announced in April 2016 that Austal Limited (founded 1988)(1) were successful with their tender. In May 2016, a contract for 19 boats was signed and included provision for some maintenance for 7 years at their Cairns premises, construction being extensively in Western Australia. The order was increased by 2 in November 2017, with the boats to be donated to Timor Leste, which didn’t exist as a nation in 1982, when the Law of the Sea came into effect.


Guardian Class Patrol Boat

The characteristics of the Guardian Class Patrol Boat are shown in Table 6.

Table 6
Tonnage – Not specified
Length – 39.5 m.
Beam – 8 m.
Draught – 0.76 m.
Speed – 20 knots
Machinery – 2 x Caterpillar 3516C diesel engines 2 shafts
Armament – Capable of carrying a deck gun to 30 mm and 2 machine guns
Crew – 23

Of the boats, 5 have been received by the scheduled recipient nations and 3 more are planned for completion and handover during 2019. The additional boats for Timor Leste are planned for 2023. To date, the anticipated handover schedule has been maintained.

Details of some Guardian Class Patrol Boats are shown in Table 7.

Table 7
Recipient – Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Tonga,  Samoa, Solomon Islands, Palua, Fiji, Fiji, Kirbati, Timor Leste, Timor Leste
Boat Name – HMPNGS Ted Diro A, HMTSS Te Mataili 11, VOEA Ngahau Koula, Nafanua 11, RSIPV Gizo, PSS Remeliik 11, RFNS Savernaca, Not Stated, Not Stated, N/A, N/A
Replacing – HMPNGS Rabual, HMTSS Te Mataili 1, Not Stated, Nafanua, RSIPV Lata, PSS Remeliik, Not Stated, Not Stated, Not Stated, N/A, N/A
Delivered – 30.11.2018, 2019, 2019 C, 10.2019, 2019 E, Scheduled 2020, Scheduled 2020, Scheduled 2020, Scheduled 2020, Scheduled 2023, Scheduled 2023
Commissioned – 1.2.2019 B, 5.4.2019, 16.10.2019, NC, NC, NC, NC, NC, NC, NC, NC

A – Named after the First Commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, Brigadier General E.R. (Ted) Diro.
B – The boat suffered engine failure on 17 October 2019 and limped back to Australia for repair under warranty at Austal’s Cairns premises. During the voyage the boat was accompanied by the survey vessels HMAS Benella and HMAS Shepparton.
C – Presented to Tonga on 16 June 2019 (4).
D – Presented to Samoa in August 2019 (5).
E – Presented to Solomon Islands on 8 November 2019 (6).

The Fremantle Class Patrol Boat was replaced by the Armidale Class Patrol Boat which itself is currently in the process of being replaced. Fourteen boats were built by Austal at their Henderson shipyard Western Australia.

The Armidale Class Patrol Boat was longer, heavier, faster and with greater capacity than its predecessor. It was initiated in 1993 as a joint project with the Royal Malaysian Navy, which cancelled. Almost a decade later, the project was reactivated with construction taking place between 2004 and 2007.

The characteristics of the Armidale Class Patrol Boat are shown in Table 8.

Table 8
Tonnage – 300 tons with standard load
Length – 56.8 m
Beam – 9.7 m
Draught – 2.7 m
Speed – 25 knots
Machinery – 2 x MTU 4000 16V 6,225 HP diesel engines 2 shafts
Armament – 1 x Rafael Typhoon Stabilised Gun. 2 x 12.7 mm machine guns
Boats Carried – 2 x 7.2 m Zodiacs
Crew – 21-29

The boats (10) were based at HMAS Coonawarra (Darwin) with the remainder at HMAS Cairns (Cairns). HMAS Bundaberg based at Cairns was seriously damaged by fire while undergoing a refit in Brisbane on 11 August 2014 and was subsequently decommissioned on 18 December 2014. To achieve maximum sea time and enhanced flexibility, the boats were multi crewed.

Armidale Class Patrol Boat

Custom functions in Australia have changed dramatically over the last few decades with various changes of name. Bureau of Customs in 1975, the Australian Customs Service on 1 July 1985, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service on 22 May 2009 and from 1 July 2015 the function forms part of the newly formed Border Force. These changes were necessary due to an influx of illegal migrants and increased illegal foreign fishing.

Until 2013, when the Cape Class replacements started to begin service, 8 Bay Class Patrol Boats were used. In addition to Customs and Border Protection Duties the boats were used by the Australian Federal Police, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the RAN. The boats were built by Austal Limited over the period from February 1999 until September 2000 and the name of the boat was prefixed ACV.

Bay Class Patrol Boat

The characteristics of the Bay Class Patrol Boat are shown in Table 9.

Table 9
Tonnage – 134 tons
Length – 38.2 m
Beam – 7.2 m
Draught – 2.4 m
Speed – 20 knots
Machinery – 2 x MTU 16 V 2000 M70 diesel engines Vosper Thorncraft bow thruster 2 shafts
Armament – 1 x 7.62 mm machine gun
Boats Carried – 2 x Willtrading Pursuit 640 vessels (USLC-2C Survey)
Crew – 12

As the Cape Class replacement boats entered service 2 Bay Class boats were offered to the Sri Lankan Navy and 2 to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

Cape Class patrol Boat

An intention to tender was indicated in June 2010 and Austal Limited contracted on 12 August 2011 to build 8 Cape Class Patrol Boats. Construction commenced in February 2012, with the first boat ACV Cape St. George launched in January 2013 and named on 15 March 2013. The final boat ACV Cape York was delivered in August 2015. With formation of the Australian Border Force, the prefix ACV was changed to ABFC. Two boats were chartered by the RAN for over a year in 2015 and 2016 to supplement the Armidale Class Boat Fleet.

Two additional boats were ordered in by the National Bank of Australia in December 2015 for lease to the Department of Defence until 2020. The first vessel, ADV Cape Fourcry was delivered in May 2017. Like its sister ship, ADV Cape Incription, each has two crews.

The characteristics of the Cape Class Patrol Boat are shown in Table 10.

Table 10
Tonnage – Not specified
Length – 57.8 m
Beam – 10.3 m
Draught – 3.0 m
Speed – 25 knots
Machinery – 2 x Caterpillar 3516C 2, 525 KW diesel engines HRP 2001 TT bow thruster 2 shafts
Armament – 2 x 50 calibre machine guns
Boats Carried – 2 x 7.3 m Gemini RHIBs, 1 x small boat
Crew – 18

The Armidale Class Patrol Boat will eventually be replaced by the Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel, a much bigger and heavier vessel than previously used. However the extent of replacement will be evident over the next decade. Initially the 2009 Defence White Paper specified 20 vessels to replace the Armidale Class Patrol Boats, the Huon Class Minehunters, the Leeuwin Class Survey Vessel and the Paluma Class Survey Motor Launches. Subsequently the 2013 Defence White Paper accepted the proposal but was short term focused on replacement of the Armidale Class Patrol Boats and refits of the other vessels. This proposal reduced the requirement from 20 to 12. However as an election promise during 2019, 3 additional vessels were offered and may eventuate to replace the survey and mine clearance vessels.

The Prime Minister in April 2016 indicated that 3 European ship designers Damen (Gorinchem, The Netherlands), Fassmer (Berne, Germany) and Lurssen (Bremen, Germany) had been short listed as potential suppliers. It was announced on 24 November 2017 that the German designer Lurssen had been selected to build the vessels in Australia. The first 2 vessels to be built at the Government owned ASC premises at Osborne in South Australia and the remaining 10 at Henderson in Western Australia. Six vessels will be based at HMAS Coonawarra (Darwin), four at HMAS Cairns (Cairns) and two at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.

The characteristics of the Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel are shown in Table 11.

Table 11
Tonnage – 1,640 tonnes
Length – 80 m
Beam – 13 m
Draught- 4 m
Speed – 20 knots
Machinery 2 x MTU 16 V 1163 M74R 5,900 HP diesel engines 2 shafts
Armament – 1 x Leonardo Oto Martin 40 mm gun, 2 x 50 calibre machine guns
Aviation Facility – landing pontoon
Crew – 40

Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel

Construction commenced on 15 November 2018 (7) at which time the vessels were named as belonging to the Arafura Class, the lead ship being HMAS Arafura. A keel laying ceremony was held on 10 May 2019 (8), with completion and delivery expected in 2021.

The Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel is slightly smaller than the Protector Class Offshore Patrol vessel currently operated by the Royal New Zealand Navy. Two vessels were built by Tenix at Williamstown, the first (HMNZS Otago) being launched on 18 November 2006, the second (HMNZS Wellington) on 27 October 2007.

The characteristics of the Protector Class Offshore Patrol Vessel are shown in Table 12.

Table 12
Tonnage – 1,900 tonnes
Length – 85 m
Beam – 14 m
Draught – 3.6 m
Speed – 22 knots
Machinery – 2 x MAN B&W 12RK280 diesel engines (7200 HP) 600 HP bow thruster
Armament – 1 x remote controlled Rafael Typhoon 25 mm gun 2 x M2HB QCB 50 calibre Browning machine guns
Aviation Facilities – Hangar for helicopter
Boats – 2 x RHIB 6 x 45 man inflatable
Carried rafts – 2 x special forces RHIB
Crew – ship 35 aircraft 10 govt. officials 4

Other Patrol boats and patrol type vessels have been built by the Austal Group at their Henderson Western Australia premises for State bodies and foreign countries including Malta, Yemen and Oman.

By Dr JK Haken for MHSNSW Reconnaissance | Autumn 2020

Dr John K Haken is a founding member of the Military History Society of NSW and a respected veteran historian. He is a regular contributor to historical journals and to Reconnaissance, writing on a wide variety of subjects concerning Australian military history.

1. Anon, Naval Historical Review, 40 No. 1 3-6 (March 2019)
2. B. Packam, The Australian, 17.10.2019
3. B. Packam, The Australian, 10.12.2019
4. G. McHugh, Navy Daily, 24.6.2019
5. G. McHugh, Navy Daily, 16.8.2019
6. G. Dominguez, Janes Defence Weekly, 8.11.2019
7. R. Zerbe, Navy Daily, 15 November 2018
8. ABC News Release, 10 May 2019

Contact MHHV Friend about this article.

Subscribe to our FREE MHHV newsletter here

We are proud to have the support of the following organisations: