Abstract The through-the-thickness variations of mechanical properties in SA508 Gr.3 pressure vessel steels were measured using the automated ball indentation (ABI) test technique. Key mechanical properties, such as the yield strength, ultimate strength, flow curve and hardness, were evaluated from indentation load-depth curves. The mechanical properties measured were location-dependent and the steepest gradients in the distributions of the mechanical properties appeared in the near-surface regions. The maximum through-the-thickness variations of the mechanical properties were in the range of 5–20% and they depended on the manufacturing process as well as the original wall thickness. It was concluded that the through-the-thickness variations in the mechanical properties were mainly caused by the location-dependent cooling rate during water quenching in the quality heat treatment which consisted of water quenching and tempering.