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The Land Tortoise Underwater Preserve Site

Located in Lake George, New York

History of the Land Tortoise

The autumn of 1758 saw Britain and France locked in a struggle for empire. Following the loss of Fort William Henry in 1757, the allied British, Iroquois and American provincials suffered a devastating defeat in their assault on Fort Carillon (later named Fort Ticonderoga) in July 1758. Undeterred, the British and their allies constructed new fortifications and warships, including two radeaux to serve as floating gun batteries to dislodge the French from Lake George and Lake Champlain. One of these was the Land Tortoise.

bow of the Land Tortoise
The bow of the Land Tortoise
Radeau (Russell Bellico/Bateaux Below)

The Land Tortoise appears to be the sole survivor of a class of military vessels unique to Lake George and Lake Champlain in the eighteenth century. Constructed in 1758 by provincial troops under the supervision of Captain Samuel Cobb, the radeau (French for raft) was just over 50 feet long and 16 to 18 feet wide. The flat-bottomed vessel was propelled by 26 oars. The Land Tortoise has seven cannon ports in her sides and her angular lines and sloping bulwarks protected her crew from enemy fire. Never fully rigged out, the radeau lacks masts, artillery and other hardware.

The construction of the Land Tortoise and its deliberate sinking to store it underwater are described in soldiers' journals. The soldiers worked hard into the night of October 22, 1758 to sink the Land Tortoise. It settled in much deeper water than intended and was not recovered the following spring. Another radeau, the Invincible, had to be built by the British for the 1759 campaign.

Picture of underwater diving guidelines.
Guidelines help divers along the
underwater trail.
(Bob Benway/Bateaux Below, Inc.)

The fate of the Land Tortoise was unknown until 1990, when its peculiar seven-sided shape appeared during a side-scan sonar survey of the lake by members of a group that later became known as Bateaux Below, Inc. Archaeological and historical research identified the vessel as an eighteenth century radeau. From 1991 to 1994, the Land Tortoise was studied by a team of volunteer divers under the direction of a professional archaeologist. In 1995, the Land Tortoise shipwreck was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, the Land Tortoise was listed as a National Historic Landmark, only the sixth shipwreck in the nation with that designation. It also has been designated by the Smithsonian Institution as "the oldest intact war vessel in North America."

Location of the Land Tortoise

This site is located in the south basin, nearly two miles north of Lake George Beach.

Special Diving Conditions and Guidelines for the Land Tortoise Preserve

Depth of Water - 105 to 107 feet
Experience Level - Advanced

  • Review the Diving Conditions and Guidelines for Lake George
  • You must sign in and be assigned a time slot to dive the radeau.
  • The Land Tortoise Preserve is open from the second Saturday of June through Labor Day.
  • Each member of the dive team must register and present their dive certification card. Registration is at the DEC office at Lake George Beach. (518-668-3352) A maximum of eight divers in a single party is permitted on site at any one time.
  • There is a two-hour time slot allowed per dive followed by a one-hour site rest. This allows bottom silt to settle.
  • Time slots available for diving:
    • 9:00-11:00 AM - Access to Site
    • 11:00-12:00 noon - Site Closed
    • 12:00-2:00 PM - Access to Site
    • 2:00-3:00 PM - Site closed
    • 3:00-5:00 PM - Access to Site
    • 5:00 PM - Site Closed
  • WARNING: This is a deep, cold-water dive. A safety/decompression stop is recommended. The nearest recompression chamber is more than 50 miles away. Keep this in mind!
  • Be sure all the members of your party understand the dangers of such a dive and have the skills and gear necessary to undertake it safely.
  • Water temperature at the radeau ranges from 35 to 45 degrees F.
  • Carry a dive light and a timepiece.
  • Fly the red-and-white dive flag. Divers are required to surface within 100 feet of the dive flag.
  • Maintain proper buoyancy control.
  • Monitor your air supply and bottom time carefully.
  • Do not attempt to enter the Land Tortoise.
  • Do not touch any part of the vessel or dig or remove sediment or rocks inside it. Removing sediment exposes wood and increases the deterioration rate of the vessel. Do not touch the mooring rings.
  • Removing artifacts or other objects or damaging the radeau is forbidden by law.

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