Scuba Diving

With dozens of shipwrecks off its coast on Great Lake Ontario, and several more in Oneida Lake, Oswego County’s waters offer divers many opportunities to explore its depths. 

Ford Shoals, just west of the city of Oswego, is the site of at least five shipwrecks, including the state’s first diving preserve in the Great Lakes. The New York State David W. Mills Submerged Cultural Preserve and Dive Site features the freighter which sank at 5:30 a.m. on August 11, 1919.

The 202-foot steamship David W. Mills ran aground on the shoal during a thick fog which made visual navigation impossible. Efforts to free the 925-ton vessel failed and a violent storm tore her to pieces, ending her 45-year career of carrying lumber and coal throughout the Great Lakes.

Resting in only 12 to 25 feet of water, the site is a relaxing dive for all skill levels. Due to the shallow depth, boaters are asked to use extreme caution when approaching the site to avoid damaging their own vessels. They are also asked not to anchor into the wreck, which could cause further harm and accelerate its ruin.

The waters of Oswego County are also home to the Wreck of the Mary Kay and the Wreck of the Harborfest Houseboat.

The Mary Kay was a 55-foot, 35-ton tugboat that sank just west of Oswego Harbor on Sept. 21, 1988. After two 9-foot waves crashed over her stern and filled the engine room, she listed and sank quickly. The site is popular with newly certified divers and relaxing for those with more experience.

While the original name of the Harborfest Houseboat is lost to time, the wreck of the 32-foot houseboat remains. During the annual festival in July 1993, northwest winds kicked up 8-foot waves on Lake Ontario while the small, calm-water vessel was out. It foundered in 32 feet of water just west of Oswego harbor and slipped into the lake where it remains today.

Divers looking for unique things to do in Oswego, NY should bring their dive gear and explore these captivating sites. Those interested in birdwatching in Oswego might also catch a glimpse of a bald eagle nesting around the harbor as they load up the boat to head out for their dive.

Diving is possible from May through October, but late May/early June to late summer are the best times to dive. As with all shipwreck sites, visitors are asked to take nothing but photographs.

New York State and federal laws make historic shipwreck sites the shared cultural and historic legacy and property of the people of New York. These laws help preserve our maritime heritage so future generations can enjoy and learn from the sites.

These heritage sites are also part of the most recent endeavor to protect this corner of Lake Ontario.

In 2017, Wayne, Cayuga, Oswego and Jefferson counties and the city of Oswego joined forces to apply for designation of the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary based on the cultural and historic significance of its waters. Forty-three known shipwrecks and one known submerged aircraft are located within the 1,724-square mile boundary of the proposed sanctuary.

Two years later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its intent to consider the designation and published a draft environmental impact statement and a draft management plan in support of the proposed sanctuary. With the designation, NOAA will manage, research, interpret and improve public access to a nationally significant collection of maritime heritage resources including historic shipwrecks. 

The sanctuary celebrates the area’s unique marine history and provide a national stage for promoting tourism and recreation, spurring economic development and enriching the quality of life for citizens across the entire region.

Designated in 2024, the Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary is the third such sanctuary on the Great Lakes and the 16th overall in the United States.

Learn more at NOAA’s website.