You would think something called “Joe’s Tug” would actually be a tugboat. However, it is a 75-foot, steel-hulled shrimp boat, and one of the most well-known novice scuba diving wrecksites in the Lower Keys, located just 7 miles southeast of Key West.
According to tales shared among Florida Keys dive operators, in 1986 Joe’s Tug sank in Stock Island’s Safe Harbor alongside a marina pier. Reportedly the wreck was destined for Miami as an artificial reef, but a group of local “pirates” commandeered the boat and it sank during an unsuccessful getaway attempt.
It was then refloated, brought back on land to be cleaned and prepared to be scuttled as an artificial reef, fully intact. Its sink date was Jan. 21, 1989, and ever since it has rested on the sandy sea bottom in 65 feet of water.
In summer 1998, Hurricane Georges ripped off the vessel’s wheelhouse, which has largely disintegrated into smaller unrecognizable bits. And in 1999, strong surge from Hurricane Irene broke the shipwreck down the middle.
Reinforced metal that had been used to strengthen the ship’s “bones” before its intentional sinking has helped to keep Joe’s Tug upright. Today it remains an excellent wreck diving site for novice, intermediate and even advanced divers.
The bow and stern are separated by approximately 30 feet, while the hull and aft deck are fully accessible for divers to easily explore the site in its entirety during a single dive.
The wreck is home to some enormous and curiously friendly moray eels and barracuda, along with an oft-seen goliath grouper affectionately named Elvis. Its entire structure is covered in abundant marine life, enveloped in soft and hard coral growth, invertebrates, large sponges and resident schools of grunts and sergeant majors.
Night diving reveals an even more vibrant marine community. Small crabs and lobsters are often seen walking along the decks of the wreck searching for dinner.
With its plentiful marine life and good visibility, regularly near 50 feet, Joe’s Tug offers great underwater photographic opportunities for unforgettable pictures.
Explore Joe’s Tug and other shipwrecks on the Keys’ YouTube channel, FloridaKeysTV
Reinforced metal that had been used to strengthen the ship’s “bones” before its intentional sinking has helped to hold Joe’s Tug together. Image: Stephen Frink