Friction stir processing (FSP) has proved to be a viable tool for enhancing the mechanical properties of materials, however, the major focus has been upon improving the bulk properties of light metals and their alloys. Hydroturbines are susceptible to damage owing to slurry and cavitation erosion. In this study, FSP of a commonly employed hydroturbine steel, 13Cr4Ni was undertaken. Microstructural characterization of the processed steel was conducted using optical microscopy (OM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) equipped with energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and electron back scatter diffraction (EBSD) techniques. Mechanical characterization of the steel was undertaken in terms of microhardness and resistance to cavitation erosion (CE). FSP resulted in the refinement of the microstructure with reduction in grain size by a factor of 10. EBSD results confirmed the existence of submicron and ultrafine grained microstructure. The microhardness of the steel was found to enhance by 2.6 times after processing. The processed steel also showed 2.4 times higher resistance against cavitation erosion in comparison to unprocessed steel. The primary erosion mechanism for both the steels was identical in nature, with plastic deformation responsible for the loss of material. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.