Mothballed Ship Fleets

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the ships that get decommissioned? Well, I know some are sent to scrap yards and torn apart to resmelter the steel, etc. But, not all of them go there. The US Maritime Administration maintains several fleets of ships in readiness for use in what is called the “National Defense Reserve Fleet”. One location in Suisun Bay, California has over 70 ships. Another fleet is located in the James River, Virginia.
These ships are not all destined for scrap. The Maritime Administration says a large number of their fleet were recalled to duty during the 1991 Gulf War to transport nearly one fourth of the equipment needed during that action. They continue to maintain these ships by oiling the engines, checking for leaks, keeping the interiors clean and watertight, etc.
You can see these mothballed fleets here and here in Google Earth. The picture above is just a small sample of the ships to be found.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. I’ve driven by the ships in Suisun Bay many times and wondered what fate would befall them. Thanks for answering that question. 🙂
    BTW, it’s “Suisun”, not “Susian”:

  2. Your welcome, and thanks, the mis-spelling is fixed.

  3. Mothballed Ship Fleets

    This is fantastic. GoogleEarth is a fantastic tool, and GEarthBlog has some very interesting ideas.

  4. One of the world’s most historic and charismatic ships, U.S.S. Iowa, sitting in the Mothball Fleet is now available for donation as a museum and memorial from the U.S. Navy to a California community. We invite your support to place this battleship at our nation’s first Pacific naval installation, Mare Island, Vallejo, California. Go to for infomation. Please send letters of endorsement to Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square, P. O. Box 361, Vallejo, CA 94590

  5. Is there any way to find out when they might move the U.S.S. Iowa to Mare Island? It would be a great photo opportunity going by Benicia.

  6. I would like to know why the Navy & the State of California doesn’t work out a deal to use these ships electrical plants & water desalting equipment to generate electricty & fresh water.
    The Midway, when operable, processed one million gallons of potable water per day, 365 million gallons per year. Why not use that capability to process water for Southern california? We the taxpayers have already paid for this equipment!Why Can’t we use it?

  7. Is there any truth that the remaining battleships could be returned to service if needed?

  8. ricardo says:

    I need some information about finding a retired
    Navy Cargo Ship (200-400ft).It would need to be used in active international sailing for a philanthropic cause.Rick(

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