Tug Boats and Barge Wrecks in Oneida Lake


For many years SCUBA divers and fishermen have occasionally come upon some of the nearly century old sunken wrecks in Oneida Lake. The locations of these wrecks have been kept secret as they are great places for fishermen to find game fish and for divers to explore for themselves.

In August 2011, shipwreck enthusiasts, Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski travelled to Oneida Lake to capture images of these wrecks by utilizing a very high resolution DeepVision side scan sonar system.  The wreck locations were provided to them by several area divers.

Oneida Lake and the NYS Barge Canal System

Oneida Lake is the largest lake entirely within New York State and covers an area of approximately 80 square miles.  The lake is located northeast of Syracuse and near the Great Lakes. It serves as one of the links in the Erie Canal. It empties into the Oneida River which flows into the Oswego River which in turn flows into Lake Ontario.  Oneida Lake is about 21 miles long and 5 miles wide.  In the main channel depths reach to nearly 50 feet.  The average depth of the lake is 22 feet.

When the Erie Canal was enlarged for a final time and completed in 1918, the new route used natural rivers and lakes when possible to save money. Barges were driven by steam and diesel, rather than animals, which allowed them to cross open water and travel against a current. The new route entered the lake at Sylvan Beach,  where it straightened Fish Creek, and exited with the Oneida River in Brewerton. The towns along the shorelines of Oneida Lake thrived; terminal walls in Sylvan Beach, Cleveland, and Brewerton allowed boats to load and unload cargo and stay overnight.

It was not uncommon for some lake transportation companies to push the seasonal limits as much as they could and be caught in high winds or ice on the lake while towing a group of barges.   Thus, a few of these late season journeys ended up on the bottom of Oneida Lake.

Locating a wreck in Oneida Lake

The location information provided for each wreck, unless noted, is at the center of the tug or barge.  The direction the wreck lays is provided to make it easier to locate.  You will need a depth finder and a GPS to properly locate each wreck.  Here is a suggested procedure to mark the wreck.

1)   Use a GPS to locate the wreck and verify that there is an abrupt change in bottom with a depth finder.  Note: Make your pass over the wreck 90 degrees from how it is laying.  (Example:  If the wreck is lying north – south make your pass in an east - west direction.)

2) Pass over the wreck very slowly and drop a weighted line with an buoy attached with a diver’s flag within close proximity, but not on the wreck for divers to ascend/descend.

3) Anchor the boat away from the wreck and up wind from the divers flag buoy.

4) Let out enough scope on the anchor line to secure the boat from dragging and to bring the boat back within a close distance from the buoyed wreck.

Historic shipwrecks abandoned and embedded in New York State waters

Historic shipwrecks abandoned and embedded in New York State underwater lands belong to the People of the State of New York and are protected by state and federal law from unauthorized disturbance.

Wrecks located in Oneida Lake

Tug Thomas H:  One of the most popular wreck dives in Oneida Lake was discovered and documented 1987 by divers Jim Allen and Tim Caza.  On May 29th 1945 the tug Thomas H was towing six heavily loaded barges headed for Oswego.  The tug and its tow were caught in a gale with winds gusting up to 45 miles and per hour. The Thomas H battled the wind and waves for several hours before the hawsers broke and the six barges drifted off into the darkness of the night.   The tug was leaking badly and the pumps could not keep up with the incoming flow of water.  Twelve of the crew abandoned the tug just before it sank and boarded one of the barges which eventually grounded on a shallow area near mid channel.  They were rescued the next day.  One crew member on one of the other barges was lost.  Three of the six barges grounded near shore and the other three sank within a short distance from the tug Thomas H.  

See pics:  Tim Caza Gallery of Thomas H artifacts & sonar images

Location:  N43°  12.252’   W75°  51.163'   Tug is laying in a NNE-SSW     Depth 44 ft

Thomas H - Barge #1:  Approximately 100 ft. in length with 7 segmented compartments.  The barge is at a bearing of 293 ° (True) and 620 ft. west from location of the Thomas H.  Laying in N-S direction.

Location:  N43°  12.295’   W75°  51.288’        Depth 44 ft

Thomas H - Barge #2:  Approximately 100 ft. in length with 7 segmented compartments.  The barge is at a bearing of 255 ° (True) and 900 ft. west from location of the Thomas H.  Laying in N-S direction.

Location:  N43° 12.213’    W75°  51.355’          Depth 44 ft

 Apps #2: - Barge  Approximately 100 ft. in length with 7 segmented compartments.  The barge is at a bearing of 275 ° (True) and 1 2/3 miles (8830ft) west from location of the Thomas H.  Laying in N-S direction.

Location:  N43° 12.381’    W75°  53.152’

 Tug Elsie K:  The debris field of the remains of the tug boat Elsie K.  It appears that the engine and other useable items where salvaged from this vessel. The Elsie K was dynamited by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent it from being a hazard to navigation.  Found by Tim Downing some years ago with side scan sonar.  Tug Elsie K pics     Video: Tug Elsie K

Location:  N43° 12.711’    W75°  59.131’          Depth 30 ft

 Egan Sisters "Newspaper" Barge:  Known as the ‘newspaper barge’ as many newspapers were floating in the water after this barge sank.  Located between Dunham and Frenchmen islands.  The barge is about mid-way between buoy T2 and a shallow water marker several hundred feet to the west of T2.  Laying in NNE-SSW direction.

Location:  N43° 13.107’    W76°  02.594’           Depth 10 ft

Sand Barge:  Also known as the "Glass Barge" as it was carrying fine sand for the purpose of making glass.  Was on its way to Oswego.   Glass Barge pics.

Location:  N43° 13.788’    W76° 03.345’            Depth 18 feet

Shackelton Barge:  Called the Shackelton barge as it is located north of Shackelton Point.         

Location:  N43° 12.425’    W75° 55.533’           

Cleveland Barge:  Located south of Cleveland, NY and just after the bottom drops off from the weed growth in the shallow depths into slightly deeper water.   Popular fishing spot.

Location:  N43° 13.706’    W75° 53.693’            Depth 25 feet.

See all wreck locations on Oneida Lake by using the WRECK FINDER

 Oneida Lake shipwreck explorers

It is difficult to know who first made a particular shipwreck discovery as divers and fishermen sometimes prefer to keep these locations a secret from others. Over the past several years, diver and shipwreck explorers, Tim Raughley and Kevin Lauricella, have been searching many areas of Oneida Lake and have photo-documented many of the tugs and barges listed above.  The team of Tim Caza, Tim Downing, and Chris Martin have been exploring Oneida Lake for many years and have located over 20 wrecks which range from tug boats, barges, canal boats, double decker tour boat, and many other style vessels.

More wrecks to be listed

As we receive more verified wreck locations, images, and information this article will be added to, modified, and corrected to provide useful information for both divers and fishermen for use of in their respective sports.  We would like also like to include good images and short (2 minute) video dive tours of each of these wrecks.  Please send info to:  kennard@shipwreckworld.com

ATTENTION: Divers & Fisherman
Let us hear from you if this information has been useful.  Please provide your comments below.

Updated:   9/27/2011     10:20 PM




anonymous by Jerry on 10/5/2011
What are the circles all around some of the ships?
I believe they are where divers or fisherman have anchored their boats.
anonymous by 123 on 7/4/2013
the location of the thrid barge in tow of the Thomas-H is located 4/10 of a mile due north of chanel marker
113 !

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