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U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker

The Story of the Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker

Rediscovering the Robert J. Walker

Diving Deeper podcast: Finding the Robert J. Walker

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Finding the Robert J. Walker

August 29, 2013

Video: Rediscovering Robert J. Walker — Download: Large (165 MB) | Small (23 MB)

NOAA and partners confirmed that this wreck is the lost 19th century U.S. Coast Survey steamer, Robert J. Walker. More videos


Diving Deeper

Audio Podcast: In June 2013, a team of government and university maritime archaeologists identified the wreck of the U.S. Coast Survey steamer, Robert J. Walker. Join the Office of Coast Survey's Vitad Pradith and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' James Delgado in this episode of Diving Deeper as they describe their journey to find the Walker.

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More than 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea, NOAA and partners have identified the wreck of the ship Robert J. Walker, a steamer that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA. The Walker served a vital role as a survey ship, charting the Gulf Coast in the decade before the Civil War.

Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of
the Walker wreck

Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck.

The Walker wreck site initially was discovered in the 1970s by a commercial fisherman. Resting 85 feet underwater, the vessel’s identity was confirmed in June 2013, as part of a private-public collaboration that included research provided by New Jersey wreck divers; Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archaeology student at East Carolina University; and retired NOAA Corps Capt. Albert Theberge.

While in the area to conduct hydrographic surveys after Hurricane Sandy for navigation safety, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson sailed to the wreck site and deployed its multibeam and sidescan sonar systems to search for the Walker. Using the data from these hydrographic surveys, a NOAA Maritime Heritage dive team, on a separate Hurricane Sandy-related mission in the area, was able to positively identify the Walker. Key clues were the size and layout of the iron-hulled wreck, and its unique engines, rectangular portholes, and the location of the ship, which was found still pointing toward the Absecon lighthouse, the final destination of a desperate crew on a sinking vessel.

U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker (Courtesy: The Mariner’s Museum)

U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker (Courtesy: The Mariner’s Museum)

Now with the remains of the Walker positively identified, NOAA’s intent is not to make this wreck a sanctuary or to limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand it and the stories it can tell.

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Twenty sailors died when the Walker sank in rough seas in the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, ten miles off Absecon Inlet on the New Jersey coast. The crew had finished its latest surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and was sailing to New York when the Walker was hit by a commercial schooner off New Jersey. The side-wheel steamer, carrying 66 crewmembers, sank within 30 minutes. The sinking was the largest loss of life in the history of the Coast Survey and its successor agency, NOAA.

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