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Diving in the Great Lakes
Shawn Parkin
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  • States:
    Michigan

To help you plan your trip, we’ve rounded up a few of the Great Lakes’ most fascinating shipwrecks to explore.

For one of the greatest scuba diving adventures in the United States, look inland to the largest group of freshwater lakes on the planet, the Great Lakes. Hundreds of well-preserved shipwrecks entice scuba divers to suit up and explore these waters. Everything from 19th-century wooden schooners and modern steel freighters to tugboats and barges are frozen in time in the green-hued waters.

“You’re not going to see a lot of marine life; it’s all about the shipwrecks,” said underwater photographer Andy Morrison. “There are plenty of shallow wrecks that are good for beginners.”

Lakes Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie and Ontario stretch across much of the USA’s northern border from the Midwest to the Northeast. But that doesn’t mean you need to travel far and wide to experience what lies beneath the Great Lakes’ surfaces. Outfitters along the shores of Michigan rent scuba gear, offer tours and help certify new divers.

To help you plan your trip, we’ve rounded up a few of the Great Lakes’ most fascinating shipwrecks to explore.

The Bermuda

Alger Underwater Preserve, Lake Superior: Master scuba diver Erica Blake, who has been diving the Great Lakes since 2002, points to the shallow wreck of a wooden schooner, approximately 40 meters long, as a great dive for beginners. The Bermuda sank in 1870 when a strong gale overtook it. The schooner now lies less than 4 meters under Lake Superior’s water in the Alger Underwater Preserve off the northern coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, about 470 kilometers northeast of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Shipwreck Tours offers diving trips to the Bermuda, but you must rent gear separately.

The Bermuda, a 40-meter-long wooden schooner, lies on the floor of Lake Superior.

The Bermuda, a 40-meter-long wooden schooner, lies on the floor of Lake Superior.
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The Sport

Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, Lake Huron: One of Morrison’s favorite wrecks, the steel-hulled Sport was a tugboat built in 1873. “It's one of the nation's first steel-hulled vessels, and is the first shipwreck to receive a state of Michigan underwater historical marker,” Morrison said. After a long career as the first steel tug on the Great Lakes, the Sport was brought down by a strong gale in 1920. It now lies in about 10 meters of water in the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, with many artifacts from its final voyage strewn around it on the floor of Lake Huron. Morrison suggests diving with Rec & Tec Dive Charters, a tour company based about 150 kilometers northeast of Detroit in eastern Michigan’s Port Sanilac Harbor.

The steel-hulled Sport sank in the waters of Lake Huron in 1873.

The steel-hulled Sport sank in the waters of Lake Huron in 1873.
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Andy Morrison

The Nordmeer

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Lake Huron: The fate of the German-built Nordmeer was sealed when it ran aground on Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay Island shoals in 1966. There’s lots of twisted metal to explore along the roughly 145-meter-long ship, and because the wreck is submerged in just 12 meters of water, it’s accessible to divers of all skill levels. MN-Blackdog Diving in Presque Isle, Michigan, (about 430 kilometers north of Detroit) runs charter trips to the dive site in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, but you’ll need to rent equipment separately.

The 145-meter Nordmeer has rested beneath the surface of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary since 1966.

The 145-meter Nordmeer has rested beneath the surface of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary since 1966.
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Andy Morrison

Eber Ward

Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, Straits of Mackinac: Linking Lakes Michigan and Huron, the 8-kilometer-wide Straits of Mackinac is a veritable shipwreck graveyard. The Eber Ward, a wooden steamer, sank in what is now the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve in 1909, finding its final resting place under 45 meters of water. “It would take a dozen dives or more to see everything on this wreck,” said Morrison, pointing to the anchors on the bow as just one of the highlights. Straits Scuba Center in St. Ignace (on the southern coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) offers charters exclusively in the straits.

The Eber Ward couldn’t make it through the narrow Straits of Mackinac. It sank in 1909.

The Eber Ward couldn’t make it through the narrow Straits of Mackinac. It sank in 1909.
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Andy Morrison

Before You Go

Be sure to book a charter or a tour well in advance if you want to dive the Great Lakes, says Morrison. “It’s not like Key Largo, [Florida], where you can just show up and be out on a boat an hour later,” he said.

And Blake has one final word of advice when it comes to diving the Great Lakes. “Be sure to go with a good attitude,” she says. “The weather on the Great Lakes can change quickly, so don't be disappointed if your captain makes the decision not to go out. They know what they're doing and will make the best decision for their divers.”