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When scuba divers discuss good wreck diving locations, the U.S. Great Lakes are often overlooked. There’s good reason for this. The Lakes, which are located in northeastern part of America at the border of the United States and Canada, are a long way from the warm ocean dive sites that most divers visit.

Though they are called lakes, these 5 distinct bodies of water (Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Superior, and Lake Erie) are actually very large inland seas. Together they account for the largest collection of freshwater in the world, and have supported major freight and passenger transportation for centuries.

The Great Lakes actually have some of the best shipwreck diving locations in the United States for two primary reasons. The wrecks found here generally maintain their structural integrity longer than salt water ocean wrecks.

The fresh, cold waters of the lakes are an ideal environment for preserving shipwrecks because they lack the high corrosion rates and destructive biological activity of salt water environments. There are also plenty of wrecks to explore. The large volume of ship traffic and notoriously unpredictable and harsh weather have led to an untold number of lost ships.

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Wreck of an unidentified vessel in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Photo credit.

Wreck diving in Thunder Bay

While great wreck diving sites are found throughout these areas, Thunder Bay in Lake Huron stands outs for having an unusually large and diverse collection of well preserved shipwrecks. Thunder Bay is located near the City of Alpena, Michigan on the northeast coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula and is about a four hour drive north from Detroit.

Thunder Bay borders one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the entire Great Lakes system due to its shallow rocky shoals, unpredictable weather and congested shipping lanes. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary spans 448 square miles and protects one of best-preserved collections of shipwrecks in the United States.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is jointly managed by NOAA and the state of Michigan and was put in place to protect the area’s historic shipwrecks for future generations through research, regulation, and education. Over 200 shipwrecks have been discovered in and around Thunder Bay and they include schooners (sailing vessels of at least two masts), side-wheel steamers, and freighters as long as 450 feet.

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Wreck of the steamer GRECIAN in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Photo credit.

Dive conditions

The wrecks of Thunder Bay offer diving opportunities for all scuba skill levels. They range from shallow shipwrecks appropriate for recreational scuba divers to deep technical dives. Even in the summer, this is cold water diving. Water temperatures are generally in the 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit range, so a 7-mil wetsuit or drysuit is recommended.

The diving season generally spans May through October, though conditions are best during the early summer months when visibility can reach 100 ft. Dive lights are also beneficial, both for looking into dark areas of shipwrecks and to increase visibility in general.

Here’s a sample of some popular Thunder Bay wreck dives.

  • Monohansett A wooden steam barge that sank after burning to water level in November 1907. This shallow water wreck lies in only 18 feet of water and stretches 160 feet. The ship has some hull features remaining in the stern and its massive propeller and shaft still lie in place.

  • E. B. Allen This two masted wooden schooner sank in heavy fog after being struck on its port side by another vessel in November 1871. The Allen rests in 100 ft of water on an even keel. Though her masts are broken and her decking is mostly gone, her impressive hull is still largely intact.

  • Grecian This 296 ft (2348 gross tonnage) steel freighter sank in June 1906 and lies at a depth of 100 ft. Though its midsection has collapsed, its bow and stern are largely intact and its boiler, engine and some deck machinery are all still in place.

What is your favorite wreck dive? Let us know in the comments below

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About the Author: Mike Ketcham is the General Manager of Dive Lights Direct, a leading internet retailer of LED diving lights for recreational, photo/video and technical scuba divers.

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