Scuba Diving in The Great Lakes

Straddling the border between Canada and the US, the five Great Lakes make up the largest expanse of fresh water on Earth. Conditions in the lakes can be demanding, but the reward is access to some of the best-preserved wrecks in the diving world. freshwater oasis The pine-flanked shores of Lake Michigan, where nine preserves protect sensitive underwater resources.

World-class wrecks
The Great Lakes cover an area of 95,000 sq miles (246,000 sq km), and offer a range of diving experiences and conditions. Many of the more densely populated regions around the lakes have always been significant industrial zones and have suffered through pollution and over exploitation. The water is cold, and visibility can be limited, although in the lower lakes it has improved through the accidental (and in all other respects unwanted) introduction of the zebra mussel—a voracious filter-feeder that has cleaned the lakes of algae. There are many wrecks on the various lake beds. The very low temperatures and the lack of salt in the water have kept metal hulls relatively free of rust, while wooden vessels and even rope can be found in a remarkably good state of preservation.

Preserving the past
In the early days of diving the lakes, numerous artifacts were plundered from otherwise pristine wreck sites. This malpractice was quickly stamped out through the establishment of a number of preserves. Lake Michigan alone has nine such special areas, covering 1,900 sq miles (4,920 sq km). Notable wrecks throughout the lakes include the Arabia, a sailing vessel sunk in 1884 and still perfectly intact; the Bermuda, sunk in 1870; and the more contemporary Mesquite, sunk in 1989. For more detailed information about this shipwrecks please visit

Essential information
Water Temperature: 32–64°F (0–18°C)
Ecosystem: Temperate
When to visit: Year-round, but northern dives may be under ice in winter.
Must be seen: Sea caves along Lake Superior coast; the Arabia and other
well-preserved wrecks.
To keep your Great Lakes shipwreck diving safe and enjoyable, please consider the following:

  • Lakes Superior and Michigan are famous for violent weather. Monitor weather conditions and marine weather forecasts.
  • Water temperatures vary with the season. Surface temperatures can reach 65°F in summer, but divers will find underwater temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Drysuits are recommended, but they require additional training.
  • Visibility normally ranges from 10 to 80 feet, but can be reduced to zero under certain weather conditions. Murky runoff after storms can cloud visibility near mainland sites.
  • Diving parties should know CPR and emergency procedures. Carry an adequate first-aid kit, including an oxygen delivery system.
  • For diving emergencies, call local emergency medical services first. Then call the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) at 1-919-684-8111.
  • Rangers (at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore) and the U.S. Coast Guard monitor marine channel 16.
  • All boaters should use up-to-date NOAA charts for navigational purposes.

CAUTION: Diving can be a hazardous sport, and participants dive at their own risk. The Wisconsin Historical Society and UW Sea Grant accept no responsibility for loss of any kind, including personal injury or property damage. This information is provided for the exclusive use of certified recreational scuba divers or persons under the supervision of a certified dive instructor. Misuse of this information could result in injury or death. Always follow safe diving procedures: Monitor changing site conditions and weather; use a “diver down” flag; do not dive alone. Wisconsin law prohibits unauthorized disturbance or removal of artifacts, structure, cargo and human remains. Please keep these sites intact for other divers to explore.

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