The Sinking Of Coast Guard Boat 56022

Searching for something unusual

January 2021 Feature Adam O’Conner

When shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville discovered the sunken US Coast Guard Boat 56022 on Lake Ontario, they were surprised with what they found. The vessel had never fully come to rest on the lake bottom. Having significantly more weight concentrated in the rear caused the vessel to remain upright on its stern at 45 degrees.

On December 1, 1977, a violent storm sank the US Coast Guard boat while on route from Oswego to Niagara and it sank just east of Nine Mile Point and offshore of the town Ontario-on-the-Lake. The boat experienced 6-foot waves and winds of 50 mph as it approached Nine Mile Point on the day of its sinking.

The boat, a converted landing craft with an open deck, was taking massive amounts of water over the gunwale. The three-man crew worked desperately pumping out as much water as they could, but failed to keep up with the fast, oncoming waves. The crew got in contact with the Charlotte Coast Guard station and called a motor lifeboat to the scene. By the time it reached them, the 50-ton cable boat was leaning portside. The crew was rescued, and they took the boat in tow, but a wave parted the line, giving them no time to keep the boat from sinking.

Stern Landing

As mentioned, the Coast Guard vessel remained upright on its stern when it sank. Over the years, 12 feet of the boat slowly sank into the bottom. An 8-foot crater surrounding the vessel was created by Lake Ontario’s currents, causing it to lean over at an angle of 45 degrees. Today the boat is completely covered with zebra mussels, in some places over 2 inches thick, and large quantities of lake bass are reported to congregate around the shipwreck.

Let The Search Begin

Kennard and Scoville, who thrive on shipwrecks, began their search for the sunken cable boat by contacting friends Bob Bristol and Tom Mulhall, both of whom were involved the following day in the search effort for the sunken Coast Guard boat. Due to the lack of success in salvaging the boat, Kennard believed the reported salvage operation never happened. Bristol was living at Ontario-on-the-Lake in 1977 and could directly view the area where the boat went down. Utilizing this search information provided by his friends, Kennard and Scoville located the final position of the ship and found it soon after.

The shipwreck is located 1 1/8 mile north of Ontario-on-the-Lake and 2 3/4 miles northwest from the launch at Bear Creek, and the depth of water at the wreck site area is 70 feet. The shipwreck location on GPS is: Latitude:   43° 17’48.0012” N / Longitude:   -77° 19’32.8188” W.

Going Deep

“Our goal at this time was to find something different,” said Kennard. “We had already fished out the wrecks that were much more accessible to us, and now we are in much deeper water and much farther out on the lake. We didn’t want to just find another wreck, we wanted to find something that was more unusual and historically significant.”             

Kennard is well accomplished in his career exploring shipwrecks. He has found 200 shipwrecks over the past 30 years including the British warship Ontario that sank in 1780 and is the oldest ship to ever sink in the Great Lakes.

“I became a diver in 1970, and back then the goal of divers was to bring back anything they could find from shipwrecks, and most of it was not worth taking. I remember people showing me stuff I felt I could have found in my barn. I knew I wanted to start looking for shipwrecks, but my goal was to find something that nobody has ever found before.”

With his experience as an electronics engineer, he built the side scan sonar system used to locate many of the undiscovered ships. His discovery in 1983, with partner Scott Hill, of a unique horse-powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain was featured the October 1989 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Scoville is an experienced cave and technical diver. He utilizes custom gas mixtures of oxygen, helium and nitrogen to dive to depths of over 300 feet. Scoville is the owner of Rochester, N.Y.-based company Stealth Dive. The company specializes in the manufacture of underwater lighting and SCUBA diving accessories.

The history and the unknown at the bottom of the Great Lakes is what keep explorers like Kennard and Scoville going.

 

Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario – A Journey of Discovery

To learn more about the many wrecks on Lake Ontario, Kennard has authored the book Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario – A Journey of Discovery, a fascinating read that documents the many stories of sunken vessels in Lake Ontario. For more information or to purchase the book visit www.shipwreckworld.com.

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