USS Kittiwake

The USS Kittiwake is a great scuba diving site that has now been on the reef for over eight years. .  The following is an overview of the dive along with some history and information regarding the ship. Furthermore, I will review what you can expect to find on the wreck.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

USS Kittiwake Logo, Grand Cayman

                 Rest Well

Rest well your work is finally done

No more the ocean to roam

No more to fight the storm and sea

Rest well beneath the waves

View complete photo gallery or click on a photo to go to the gallery.

Rating: 3.56 out of 5

  • Visibility – Moderate although sometimes can be very good
  • Access – Easy, 15 to 20 minutes on a boat from west side Seven Mile Beach hotels
  • Current – Good; though can be strong at times
  • Depth to 60 ft / 18 m
  • Reef health Hard / Soft Corals – Moderate
  • Sponges / Plants – Moderate
  • Marine species variety – Moderate
  • Pelagics / Mammals / Turtles / Rays – minimal typically 1 to 3 sightings on a dive
  • Wreck – Very Good – highly navigable and in great condition

The Dive:

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Rays of Light, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

I would recommend heading to the stern before entry into the ship to get photographs around the “Kittiwake” logo and also get photographs by the screw (propeller) and rudder.   For Scuba Divers that plan on penetrating the wreck, you can then make your way to the top of the ship and enter via the main funnel which is located on the Bridge Deck.  If you do not plan on penetrating the wreck you can start your exploration on the main deck just above the Screw (propeller).

The main funnel makes an excellent photograph and I would suggest taking the photo looking up from the bottom of the funnel to the top of the funnel.  I would suggest silhouetting one of your dive buddies diving down into the wreck.  You can exit the shaft on the first platform or in the hold.  Note the hold deck does not have any exterior exit points and is not recommended for divers that do not have an advanced certification and prior wreck diving experience.  When you exit to the first platform you will be able to see the Engineering logo in the Motor Room area/engineering section.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Descent – Main Funnel, USS Kittiwake

This area is easily accessible and makes for a very good underwater photograph near the “Engineering Mural”.  The silt can be heavy here so you need to move slowly to prevent clouding up the water.  For advanced divers/wreck divers, you can also check out shaft alley and the forward hold areas of the ship.  For others you can explore the various compartments on the first platform and then begin making your way up deck by deck finally arriving at the Bridge (Pilot House) where you can do you safety stop as it is at about 5 to 6 meters or 15 to 18 feet.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman


USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

1950s photo of USS Kittiwake, ASR-13

The USS Kittiwake is a Chanticleer Class Submarine Rescue Ship. Its keel was laid down, January 5, 1945, at the Savannah Machinery and Foundry, Company shipyard in Savannah, GA. It was launched on July 10, 1945 and commissioned as the USS Kittiwake (ASR-013). She was decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register on September 30, 1994 . She was initially transferred to MARAD for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet and then withdrawn from the fleet February 18, 2010 and prepared for reefing in the Cayman Islands.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

USS Kittiwake, Preparing for Reefing, Grand Cayman

The Chanticleer Class ships were designated specifically for submarine rescue. Each ship in this class was equipped with powerful pumps, heavy air compressors, and special mooring equipment. The Chanticleer Class ASRs support air and helium-oxygen diving operations to a depth of 300 feet of sea water (fsw) and use the McCann Rescue Chamber for submarine personnel rescue operations. The ASR design provided a large deck working area.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

The USS Kittiwake finished a distinguished service career spanning almost 50 years when she was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 1994. Following her retirement, the ship became part of America’s National Defense Reserve Fleet under the control of MARAD, or the Maritime Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The ship ended her career as the first MARAD ship sold to a foreign government for artificial reefing.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Into the Distance, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

That a patch of sand off the north end of Seven Mile Beach has become the USS Kittiwake’s final “port-of-call” is the result of a long and determined effort by a partnership consisting of the Cayman Islands government and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). Negotiations had to be conducted and funds raised to purchase the ship from the U.S. government and prepare it for sinking as a dive site, including removing hazardous contaminants and cutting openings in the hull and bulkheads to give divers greater access to the vessel’s interior.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Engineering Logo, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

After years of delays and concerns that the plan might never come to fruition, the USS Kittiwake began the first stage of its last voyage in February 2010, when it was towed from its Reserve Fleet mooring at Newport News, Virginia, to the facilities of private contractor Dominion Marine. There, all the final preparations for the sinking were completed. The ship was sunk January 5, 2011 off the north end of Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Bridge, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

There are 5 decks on the 47 foot tall USS Kittiwake. Externally, the crow’s nest, mast and large stern a-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters. The upper decks accommodate the 2 bridges (both an external and internal bridge to allow operations in heavy seas) along with the radio and navigation room. The sonar has been removed. The Captain and XO’s quarters are also on the upper decks.

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Propeller Shaft, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

On the main deck, from bow to stern, internally you will find the rec room, mess hall, ironing room, small tool workshop and re-compression chambers. You will note the large a-frame structure on the stern that supported submarines and hard hat divers, as well as the diving bell where divers would enter to return to the ship from the ocean and then be placed in the chambers for decompression.

Below the main deck, 2 decks exist that include the crews quarter, medic/hospital station, engine and propulsion rooms, air bank storage and compressors, as well as the steering gear, shaft, gyro, ammunition lockers, cold storage and barber shop to name a few areas. While the USS Kittiwake has been opened up with large access holes both vertically and horizontally, every space on the ship was used while in service.

The pool is open…..

Commanding Officers:

USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman (Steven W Smeltzer)

Interior Stairwell, USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

LT L. H. COLLIER 1946 – 1948
LTT. C. HURST 1948- 1950
LT W. K. WILSON 1950 – 1952
LTP. P. ROGERS 1952- 1954
LT T. E. COLBURNE 1954 – 1954
LCDRW.D.BUCKEE 1954-1956
LCDRW.H.HIBBS 1956- 1958
LCDR W. M. SCOTT 1958 – 1960
LCDR P.O. POWELL 1960 – 1962
LCDR R. E. KUTZLEB 1962 – 1964
LCDR G. R. LANGFORD 1964 – 1966
LCDR H. H. SCRANTON 1966 – 1968
LCDR R. F. JAMES 1968 – 1970
LCDR W. J. MULLALY 1970 – 1971
LCDR S. MCNEASE 1971 – 1974
CDR F. K. DUFFY 1974 – 1977
CDR F. M. SCHERY 1977 – 1979
CDRP. F. FAWCETT 1979- 1981
CDRT.J.MARTIN 1981-1983
CDR R. J. NORRIS 1983 – 1985
CDRT.J.ERWIN 1985-1988
CDR J. S. TROTTER 1988 – 1991
CDRW.J.STEWART 1991-1993
CDR S. N. ZEHNER 1993 – 1994


Displacement 1,780 t.(lt) 2,040 t.(fl)
Length 251′ 4″
Beam 42′
Draft 16′
Speed 14.5 kts.
Officers 6
Enlisted 96
Largest Boom Capacity 11 t.
two single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
two single 40mm AA gun mounts
eight single 20mm AA gun mounts
four depth charge tracks
Fuel Capacity
Diesel 1,785 Bbls
four G.M. 12-278A Diesel-electric engines
single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V/240V D.C.
one Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C.
single propeller, 3,000hp

Content Protection by