Diver in the deep blue ocean swimming over a shipwreck covered in colorful marine life
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Duane lies upright on a sandy bottom in 120 feet of water 1 mile south of Molasses Reef off Key Largo. Photo: Matt Lawrence/NOAA

After being decommissioned on August 1, 1985 as the oldest active U.S. military vessel, Duane was donated to the Keys Association of Dive Operators for use as an artificial reef. On November 27, 1987, it was towed offshore of Molasses Reef and anchored. Those scuttling the cutter then opened its hatches and seacocks causing its hull to flood. The vessel settled to the seafloor on an even keel. USCGC Duane is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Color image of a large white metal U.S. military ship on a blue sea
Aerial image of Duane being towed to the site where it will rest as an artificial reef. Photo Credit: Stephen Frink


Built in 1936 at the U.S. Naval Yard in Philadelphia, Duane was one of seven 327-foot long Treasury Class cutters and named for William J. Duane, Secretary of the Treasury under Andrew Jackson. Before World War II, the cutter had various life-saving assignments before being sent to the Atlantic in 1941, to serve with the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Duane's service included an impressive wartime and peacetime record.

Black and white side view photo of a large U.S Coast Guard cutter in rough seas
USCGC Duane underway at sea during World War II. Photo: USCG

On April 17, 1943, Duane and its sister ship, the Spencer, sank the German U-boat U-77. During its career, Duane participated in four rescues at sea, picking up a total of 346 survivors. In 1980, Duane escorted vessels carrying thousands of Cuban refugees crossing from that island to the United States. Duane's last assignments included search and rescue work and drug enforcement. Here in the Florida Keys, visitors can experience three of the seven ships. Duane and Bibb serve as underwater museums and artificial reefs at rest off Molasses Reef, while the Ingham is a museum ship moored in Key West harbor as a National Historic Landmark.


When the water is clear, the outline of Duane's intact hull can be seen from the water's surface. The mast and crow's nest, protruding high above the hull, are only 60 feet deep. At 70 feet, just forward of amidships, is the navigating bridge. The superstructure deck is at 90 feet and the main deck lies at l00 feet. The nearly intact warship, completely with the original rudders, propellers, railings, ladders, and ports makes an impressive display.

Diver in deep blue water looking at colorful marine life on a shipwreck.
Diver enjoying the sealife on the upper structure of the shipwreck. Photo: Matt Lawrence/NOAA

Site Map

Archaeological drawing of the shipwreck
U.S. Coast Guard cutter Duane Site Map. Credit: Indiana University