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Burlington Bay Horse Ferry

The very fragile horse-powered ferry in Burlington Bay is the only known surviving example of a turntable "team-boat", a once common North American vessel type. Animal powered vessels were introduced into North America in 1814. They became a popular form of transportation for short-distance river and lake crossing, until the middle of the 19th century, when they were surpassed by the increasing use of steam power.

Lake Champlain's long, narrow shape created the need for many ferry crossings between Vermont and New York, crossings that were ideally suited to horse ferries. The use of horse ferries on the Lake appears to have peaked in the 1830's and 1840's.

The Burlington Bay Horse Ferry was discovered in the fall of 1983 during a side-scan sonar survey. The identity and date of construction have not yet been determined. Continued study of this unique vessel may provide more clues to her name and date of sinking.

A working 1/2-size model of this vessel’s horse-power system can be seen at our museum. More information about this wreck can be found in the 1998 publication When Horses Walked on Water: Horse-Powered Ferries in Nineteenth-Century America, by Kevin Crisman. Read more about this fascinating wreck, (follow the links from the Virtual Museum of Nautical Archaeology, to Lake Champlain Projects), from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology.

Horse Ferry Underwater Shipwreck

Features of Interest:

  • Size of wreck: 63' long, 23' wide
  • The horizontal flywheel and gear shaft are visible in the amidships.
  • The two paddle wheels are perhaps her most spectacular feature. The iron hubs and oak spokes are deteriorated but intact; the paddle blades are missing. The paddle wheels are easily damaged - please avoid touching them.

Diving Guidelines:

  • Experience level: Intermediate
  • Depth of water: 50'
  • This vessel is weak and easily damaged. Practice good buoyancy control and do not use any part of the vessel to support your weight.
  • Visibility can quickly become poor. The mooring chains on the buoys tend to sink into the soft silt bottom. Several small floating buoys have been attached to the chain to guide you to the anchor pad.