< fireboat.org - Historic Fireboat John J. Harvey - Life Saver, National Treasure


This condition survey was conducted on 23 March 1997, by the undersigned, aboard the fireboat John J. Harvey while the vessel lay afloat, light condition, at her berth in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The vessel is currently in reserve.

Vessel Description

The John J. Harvey is a diesel-electric, twin screw, steel fireboat. She was built by Todd Shipyard, Brooklyn, for the City of New York in 1931. Originally powered with gasoline engines, she was converted to diesel power in 1957. In the late 1970's her electrical wiring was replaced; this included re-winding her generators and propulsion motors. The John J. Harvey stood ready until 1991, when she was placed in reserve.

Her basic dimensions are: Length-130', Beam-28', Depth-9'. Present freeboard amidships is 7'4".

General Structure

The hull is a transversely framed, riveted steel structure. There are 73 frames numbered from aft to forward. Frame spacing is 21" on centers reduced to 15" on centers forward of frame 60. Heavy web frames are introduced every 5th or 6th frame in way of the engine room. A full length bar keel is provided and heavy engine girders run fore and aft. At frames 9, 49, and 70, complete watertight bulkheads extend from the top to the bottom of the hull with the bulkhead at frame 49 fitted with a watertight door. Watertight flats, aft of frame 9 and forward of frame 49, are further subdivided. No double bottom is fitted. Shell plating is arranged in seven strakes and is generally 3/8" thick. Garboard strake "A" and waterline strake "E" are heavier, being 7/16" and 1/2" respectively. Plating at the large sea intakes is increased to 5/8". Above the main deck, bulwark plating is 1/4". Shell plating rivets are mostly 3/4" diameter. The main deck is supported by angle deck beams riveted to the hull frames through brackets. The main deck appears to have been plated over and total thickness is about 5/8". The deckhouse is constructed with 1/4" plate riveted to angle frames.


Power is supplied by five 600 h.p. Fairbanks-Morse, opposed piston, diesel engines. These engines, driving six Westinghouse marine generators, provide electrical power for the two 1,065 h.p. electric propulsion motors. Each motor turns its own propellor. Four diesels drive the four LeCourtney centrifugal fire pumps through air clutches. Cross connections in the piping system allow any combination of pumps to provide water to the eight Morse "Invincible" deck monitors. Total output is 16,000 gallons per minute at 150 ppi. Auxiliary equipment includes diesel generator sets, air compressors and motor-generator units. A massive switchboard aft controls exciter and generator current while a smaller switchboard amidships distributes auxiliary and domestic power. The vessel is engine room controlled with orders sent from the wheel house via telegraphs. Steering is electro-mechanical with a manual back up. All engines are presently drained and winterized. Exhaust pipe lagging appears to have been recently renewed and is in very good condition. An oil fired furnace supplies steam heat.

Underwater Hull Inspection

Inspection of the underwater portion of the hull, by an experienced diver, showed old bottom paint, in poor condition, remaining on the forward tow thirds of the hull. The after third had no visible coatings and suffers from corrosion. No zinc anodes are on the hull. There is extensive marine growth on the hull and the sea inlets are clogged with mussels. Propellors have minor dents but are otherwise in good condition. No active electrolysis was seen.

Forepeak & Chain Locker

All coatings (a bitumastic tar coats the bilges throughout the boat) have been removed from this space. About one ton of lead ingots is stowed between frame 73 and the stem. The after side of the stem is not visible due to the lead. Bulkhead framing, shell frames and rivets show heavy scale and waste. Hull plating has substantial surface rust but seems sound. The chain locker, aft of the forepeak, has old rusted chain and heavy scale on all surfaces. Small amounts of fresh water are in both spaces.

FO'C'SLE & Fuel Space (under)

The paint is in good to poor condition. On the portside, along waterline strake "E", the plate, rivets and buttstrap are badly rusted at frames 53 & 54. At frames 55 & 56 strake "F" is torn and the frames badly twisted. The hole is filled with cement and is well above the waterline. The compartment under the fo'c'sle holds two fuel tanks with a total capacity of 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel. All the steel appears well coated and shows minor corrosion. Several inches of fresh water are present.

Engine Room

The engine room paint is in good condition. The bitumastic coating in the bilges also appeared in good shape, where visible. There is a considerable quantity of diesel, lube oil and water in the bilges. Local scaling is moderate to heavy by pumps, manifolds and sea strainers. Plating thickness, gauged with a Check-Line TI-14 ultrasonic machine, has 80% to 100% of original thickness along the waterline. Strake "D", by the large portside sea inlets, has extensive scale. Frame 30 is totally wasted with no rivet connections below the waterline. Frames 28, 29, 31 & 32 are rusted in a similar, though less severe, way. Rivets are corroded under the after portside sea inlet and the sea chest shows heavy pitting. Further aft, by the drive motors at frames 14 & 15, strake "E" shows heavy scale. This plate and buttstrap are too badly rusted to gauge at this time. Rivet heads are severely wasted. Access to the bilge plating is not possible due to the extensive piping. Some sections of pipe are corroded. Starboard side intakes and plating are in good shape with some moderate corrosion under sea chests. A large doubler is welded on the outside of strake "E", starboard side, between frames 26 to 39. The purpose of the doubler is not known as the inner plate is intact; it may have been for chafing reasons as the vessel was always docked starboard side to at her Fire Department pier.

Stern Fuel & Stern Tube (void under) Compartments

The bitumastic coating is cracked and allowing moisture to reach the plate resulting in heavy surface corrosion. Hull frames are wasted in the forward end of this space. Bulkhead stiffeners show similar damage. Rivet waste is widespread in this area. The fuel tank, which holds 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel, has heavy rust on top and all bracket connections to the hull are corroded. Pipes, for bilge suctions, are destroyed with rust. The fuel shut-off valve at the tank is frozen and its reach rod, to the deck, is gone. Below, in the stern tube space, less rust was seen. Moderate surface rust on frames and floors is present. About 10" of fresh water is in this compartment.

Steering Compartment

About 25% of the bitumastic coating is gone in this area. The transom floor and portside cant frames, in the stern, are wasted with poor connections to the hull plating. On the portside, between frames 1 and 2, a buttstrap is very rusted. Bulkhead stiffeners are rotted at their lower ends. The steering quadrant, sheaves, steering cable and rudder stock gland are in good condition. A wooden plug is kept handy to stop any leak as a result of a departing rivet. Several inches of fresh water are in the bilge.

Deck House & Wheel House Interiors

There is rust along the deck house plating at the deck connections. Sheet metal patches have been put in to stop leaks. About six square feet of the deck is buckled and the cement covering broken. The overhead (pilot house deck) is severely rusted with much loose and cracked paint. The pilot house is paneled in painted plywood. the paint is peeling with visible corrosion at the window sills. The two steering wheels (one power and one manual, coupled to the same shaft) are flanked by the engine telegraphs and the fire pump telegraph. Old electronic equipment is fitted and there is loose wiring on the overhead.


All the exterior paint is old, chalky and loose. Paint on the deck house is broken down allowing the elements to attack the surface. There is scale along the waterline running up the plumb stem. The sturdy steel guards, along the hull, show local waste. Bulwark plating is in good condition but more than half of the stanchions need replacing. The present channel section caprail (the original bulb angle rail was replaced) connections are rusted and, in some spots, separated from the bulwark. The main deck is in very good shape. Deck structures, like hose reels and monitor towers, need much work. The pilot house roof and boat deck are heavily scaled and would need welded inserts to repair them. A small crane on the boat deck was badly rusted. All three stacks are in reasonably good condition.

Shore Power Requirements

The John J. Harvey is wired for Direct Current. A motor-generator unit converts A.C. shore power (input 71 amps at 220 volts) to D.C. (output 135 amps at 125 volts). The motor-generator operates continuously to provide light and heat. Shore power is delivered by a cable that is grounded back to the dock.


The John J. Harvey will need immediate drydocking, sand-blasting and painting. While in dock the remainder of the hull should be gauged for thickness. Local doubling and extensive rivet repair would be needed. Zinc anodes would be secured to the hull. Access to many interior spaces is impossible because of framing and piping systems. These areas would be difficult to properly maintain. The power plant on the John J. Harvey is essentially an electric generating installation. It is a complex system requiring thorough knowledge to operate it. The John J. Harvey is a major undertaking in restoration, logistics and maintenance.