SS San Juan

At the time the oldest passenger ship still sailing on the west coast of North America, the 47 year old San Juan sank in 1929 in a fog collision killing 77 to 87 people.
by Matthew Anderson

Year Built


Year Sank



110 ft (33.5 m)

Difficulty Level


SS San Juan

Wreck Location

The wreck of San Juan lies a little over a mile offshore at Pigeon Point, California, south of the city of San Francisco. It also lies within the Monterrey Bay area of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The site of the sinking can be easily overlooked by anyone and is accessable via the Cabrillo Highway or as its better known, California State Route 1. Also in the area is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, already erected at the time of the disaster. One nearby wreck is the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon, wrecked on June 6, 1853 on her maiden voyage. San Juan lies within waters known to have strong currents and sharks. The depth of the wreck is 110 feet. Diving conditions depend on the weather. In good weather, it should be okay, but experience is recommended given the ocean's depth and the number of sharks around. One free diver was killed in an unprovoked great white shark attack on September 15, 1984 close to Pigeon Point.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   37° 10' 59.8008" N      Longitude:   -122° 25' 3.9108" W


The state of San Juan's wreck is unknown as no diving accounts or photographs exist online. Data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the exact co-ordinates of the San Juan. At some point, the wreck was documented by NOAA as it lies within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Whether photographs or sonar images were taken is unknown as of this time. As the wreck lies in a National Marine Sanctuary, it is likely protected meaning artifact recovery may be illegal. Artifact recovery is also not recommended as the wreck is a grave site to 77 to 87 passengers and crew. That includes anyone wishing to prospect off of a salvage of $200,000 USD worth of gold and silver rumored to be within the ship's cargo hold.


San Juan

The steamship San Juan was built for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company in 1882 by John Roach and Sons in Chester, Pennsylvania. She served along the coastal route between Central America and California. Newspapers from the late 19th and early 20th century show she wasn't a very popular ship with her original passengers, recieving a lot of criticism. San Juan eventually passed on to the White Flyer Line when Pacific Mail considered her too old in 1925. In 1927, she was sold to the Los Angeles and San Francisco Navigation Company, becoming a low cost passenger carrier between Los Angeles and San Francisco. On August 29, 1929, she was lost in a heavy fog caused collision with the oil tanker SCT Dodd, sinking in 3 minutes killing 77 to 87 people, most of whom were trapped below decks in the sudden sinking. She was the oldest passenger ship left on the west coast. Her sinking caused by old age and poor maintenance brought an end to coastal passenger steamships.


1 Comment & Rating

anonymous by CM on 10/28/2020

My great grandmother passed away in this tragedy. Thank you for your respectful account of the history of its sinking.

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