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GTPulse: Local Diver Recovers Sunken Motorboat Out Grand Traverse Bay

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Once a boat sinks, it’s likely that it’ll stay immersed in its watery grave for the rest of its life. Boat recovery is a complex, difficult, and even dangerous process that involves a lot of time and logistics. Ask Dusty Klifman, he’s a local diver who just recovered his first boat out of the depths of Lake Michigan on Traverse Bay.

“This is a hobby of mine, however, it is my passion. So it’s not my job but it’s something that I’ve pretty much dedicated my life to over the past few years.”

You would never be able to tell by the time, care, and money he’s put into diving, that he doesn’t do so professionally. He got his diving certification at the age of 13, but he didn’t start diving the Great Lakes until he moved to Muskegon eight years ago. He began exploring shipwrecks, but the obsession didn’t truly ignite until he met an older man who had spent much of his life diving.

“I believe he’s 74 this year. He became my mentor for all things diving and shipwreck related. What I do nowadays is 100% because of him. The boat I bought is because I have his blessing. The shipwrecks that I go after or dive on are because of him. You don’t meet people like him very often.”

At 36, Dusty has found that he doesn’t have many peers who are interested in diving and shipwrecks. It’s an all-consuming hobby with a heavy reliance on expensive equipment. One of those pieces of equipment is called an ROV, which stands for Remotely Operated Vehicle. ROVs allow the controller to see what’s going on underwater without having to dive. Dusty’s ROV is how he found a sunken motorboat in Lake Michigan.

“I’m in a very specialized position because I have an ROV of my own, which very few people do. The state police have one, I have one, very few people have their own.”

The boat sank roughly 250 feet deep into the Grand Traverse Bay back in June. Not many divers can get down that deep into the water, but when Rusty heard about the sinking, he got to thinking.

“Once I saw it on the news I started thinking I’m going to go up there and find it. I have the sonar and a couple of different boats, so I went up early one morning and I just kind of matched up photos that were shared online of the helicopter rescue, and I got a good idea of the area. I searched for a few hours until I found it.”

Photo by: Dusty Klifman

He dove that day to grab photos of the pristine motorboat resting at the bottom of the water. Photographing it was one thing, rescuing it would be another animal completely. At the time, he wasn’t thinking about recovering the boat. On his normal dives, he explores shipwrecks from times past, not motorboats. But when he shared the photos of the modern-looking boat underwater, the inquiries started flooding in.

“These photos had been viewed over 400,000 times off of my Facebook page. Then people started asking, ‘Are you going to pull it out of the water?’ That’s not really what I do. However, an acquaintance of mine got contacted to do the recovery and he asked if I would be in on it because I have a certain set of skills and a lot of equipment that would assist the recovery.”

Last week, he and a team of three others headed out into the dark, cold waters of an early morning Lake Michigan to pull the boat out. Dusty was one of the main divers on the job, and with rigs and lift bags, the team pulled the boat from the lake’s floor to the shore. Dusty had completed a mission that started three months ago.

“It was really neat because it started with me finding it and filming it, and it ended with me bringing it up. It was great.”

When what you love can be used to help others, or the planet, it takes on new meaning. Diving might be a hobby for Dusty, but he’s not opposed to helping with other boat recoveries to help keep the Great Lakes clean.

“I absolutely would. I think the state wants us to help out with future things like this because we did such a good job. They have expressed interest in having us because we’re already a team. We work very well together. We’ve proven that we can make a pretty difficult recovery of a sunken vessel. It’s something I really enjoy and I love being able to clean up the Great Lakes as well.”

Follow Dusty’s underwater adventures on his


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