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May 19, 2013


Ship Wrecks of the Great Lakes

by Jason Dutton-Smith
SS Cyprus - Photo credit: The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

Today’s guest post is from Rutger Thole at Book Your Dive.
If you love scuba diving and enjoy visiting intriguing wrecks around the world, consider travelling to the Great Lakes region of North America. Those who are unfamiliar with the Great Lakes may not realise it, but these massive lakes are home to some incredible wreck dives.

It’s unknown exactly how many ships have sunk in the Great Lakes since the time recorded lake navigation began in the 17th century, however, estimates vary widely between 6,000 and 25,000. In Lake Superior alone, there are an estimated 500 wrecks, many of which lie undiscovered.

Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast is a dangerous but fascinating area with approximately 200 known wrecks. This area can be a challenge even for experienced divers and it’s important when diving to not go beyond your diving capabilities or experience level. When planning wreck diving you need to take proper wreck dive training.

Below is more information about just a few of the many noteworthy wrecks in the Great Lakes, particularly those found in Lake Superior, which borders the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, with Lake Michigan bordering Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

Edmund Fitzgerald

The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is just one of many found beneath the waves of Lake Superior. The ship sank in 1975 and the entire crew was lost. The exact point of the wreck is located about 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point in the state of Michigan. In September 1980 Jacques Cousteau and his crew organised an expedition to dive the wreck. During this expedition the crew found that the ship had actually broken in half. This revelation added important insight as to how the ship may have sunk.


Only one person survived the sinking of the Cyprus in 1907. This wreck is one of many that are found along the Shipwreck Coast of Lake Superior. The ship lies at a depth of 140 meters of water and was only found in August 2007 by the crew of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. As the ship lies so deep it can not be explored by recreation scuba divers.

SS Cyprus - Photo credit: The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

SS Cyprus – Photo credit: The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society


The Madeira sank in Lake Superior in 1905 after running into Gold Rock, situated north of Split Rock Lighthouse, during a storm. This is the most famous wreck dive in the state of Minnesota. The bow of the wreck lies in 50ft of water and therefore can be explored by recreational scuba divers. In 1955 a local dive club made the first dives and they found no real treasures or valuables on board the ship.

Steamer Vienna

The dive site of the Steamer Vienna in Lake Superior is one of the most dangerous dive sites, and beginner and intermediate divers should not attempt it. This wreck is only suitable for highly experienced divers. In fact, divers have lost their lives in attempting to see it up close, due to the extreme depth and cold waters.

The Bullhead Point Wrecks

Lake Michigan is home to the wreck site of three vessels called the Oak Leaf, the Ida Corning, and the Empire State. They are located at Bullhead Point in Sturgeon Bay. These 3 wrecks lie only in 10ft of water and are therefore perfectly suitable to explore by divers and snorkelers alike. You might want to bring a wetsuit as the water is usually no warmer than 60F (approximately 16 degrees Celsius)


The Niagara sank due to a terrible fire in 1856. Its wreck can be found in Lake Michigan, but its remains are scattered on the bottom of the lake at a depth of 52 feet. Because of its accessibility it is a popular dive site.

This guest blog post is from Rutger Thole. An avid scuba diver who loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip off the beaten track.

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