Most of the blue and yellow vessels you’ll see on the canal today were built prior to 1940. Thanks to the diligence of generations of canal captains, engineers, and deck hands, these vessels are still at work, brass and paint still gleaming.
Tug Syracuse, launched 1933
Sailors have long been obliged to keep their quarters neat and secure, especially given tight space onboard ships and turbulence at sea—hence, the phrase ship shape came to mean neat, tidy, and in good condition. Today, keeping a fleet of historic vessels in ship shape is the task of every member of the NYS Canal Corporation’s crew.
Watch for the powerful tugs Gov. Roosevelt and Gov. Cleveland. Both were built in 1928 as icebreaking tugs. You may also see tugs Syracuse, Pittsford, Seneca, and Lockport, or one of the smaller, but still mighty Tender Tugs at work.
Tug Gov. Roosevelt
Launched in 1901, Tug Urger has been plying the waters of the canal since 1921. The Urger has been used to educate school children and adults about the importance of New York’s historic canal system and the role that inland waterways have played—and continue to play—in the lives of people who live along them.
From the 1920s into the 1960s, over 2,100 kerosene lanterns burned on buoys and channel markers along New York’s Canal System. Buoy Tenders used these steel-hulled boats to patrol a section of canal and refill lamps along the way. Today, these vessels are used for general errands, maintenance work, and to take channel soundings.
Dredges remove sediments from the bottom of the canal to maintain the navigation channel. Hydraulic dredges use rotary cutters at the end of long suction pipes to chew through gravel bars. The slurry of mud, stones, and water is sucked up by giant pumps on board and discharged through a long string of pipes on floats to settling lagoons onshore.
A flat-bottomed boat with square ends. Hopper scows haul dredged material. Deck scows carry construction machinery, materials, and dredge pipe. Self-propelled scows are used to set and retrieve buoys and for general clean-up tasks.
Canal maintenance work often happens a long way from any town. The big blue floating boxes with windows that you may see near dredging operations are Quarters Boats where crews sleep and eat.
Photo: Keith Boas