RING!Michigan ©


Michigan's Underwater Preserve System

Michigan's nine underwater preserves include nearly 1,900 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland, an area nearly the size of the state of Delaware.

The underwater preserves protect some of the region's most sensitive underwater resources. Shipwrecks, artifacts, and natural features attract skin and scuba divers from across the United States. They come to explore these shipwrecks and observe how the cold, fresh water of the Great Lakes preserves history.

The underwater preserve system was created in 1980 through legislation supported and largely drafted by Michigan sport divers. Since then, divers have ensured that their sport will remain a high-quality activity with stiffening of penalties in 1988.

It is a felony to remove or disturb artifacts in the Great Lakes. Those caught removing portholes, anchors, anchor chain, or other "souvenirs" will have their boat, car, and equipment confiscated immediately and will face up to two years imprisonment and stiff fines.

The result of these laws is the finest sport diving in the Midwest. Many sport divers are surprised to find shipwrecks in such well-preserved condition. Small items, such as ceramic cups, tools, silverware, ornaments, and other artifacts often remain where they were discovered by the first divers many years before.

Visitors will find communities near underwater preserves friendly and accommodating. Lodging is convenient and comfortable, restaurants offer a variety of tasty cuisine, campgrounds are nestled in scenic surroundigs, and there are many attractions for the entire family.

Well-stocked dive shops, knowledgeable sales staff, experienced instruction, and friendly service are the standard in Michigan. Most dive shops, whether they are located near underwater preserves or not, can provide expert advice on preserves and diving in the state. Regardless of origin, divers and their families will feel welcome in Michigan.

Dive charter operators can be found in all the underwater preserves. If divers bring their own boats, they will find convenient boat launches, marinas, and other facilities. Most of the popular dive sites are buoyed in the summer by members of the Michigan Underwater Preserve Council, Inc., a private, non-profit organization dedicated to development of the preserves.

A word of caution is in order whenever venturing out on the Great Lakes. These massive bodies of water are as unpredictable as they are beautiful. Storms and heavy seas can arise suddenly and with little warning. Do not head out onto the Great Lakes unless you have proper equipment, an appropriate vessel, and experience.

If trouble arises, the U.S. Coast Guard monitors vhf channel 16 and search and rescue service is available. But it is best to avoid such situations.

Be prepared for cool water temperatures. Although surface water temperatures may reach 65 degrees or more in midsummer, temperatures below 40 feet may be substantially less. Most Great Lakes divers use full wetsuits.

After diving in any of Michigan's underwater preserves, you may find yourself wanting to try them all! Each offers a unique experience.

So, come back again and tell your friends and family. Michigan is good to sport divers and great to their families seeking a fun vacation sure to create fond memories for many years.

Although each underwater preserve offers a variety of diving attractions, it is possible to describe only some of the most popular dive sites. Please contact the information sources listed at the end of each section to obtain more information about diving in that underwater preserve.


The Alger Underwater Preserve offers two main diving attractions: sea "caves" and shipwrecks.

The sea caves are really portions of underwater sandstone cliffs where the softer sandstone has been eroded away by waves. Although the caves are shallow, usually only about 20 feet deep, they offer spectacular, shallow water diving.

Sea caves are found along the Lake Superior coast which is part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The caves themselves are found in water 20 feet deep or less. Divers enjoy exploring these unusual natural features and photographing others underwater.

Divers of any level will find shipwrecks in excellent condition awaiting them at the Alger Underwater Preserve. Visibility is usually excellent, 25 feet is the minimum and it is often twice that.

For beginners and advanced divers, the wreck of the BERMUDA is one of the most popular. Although this wreck rests in only 30 feet of water, it lies in Murray Bay, which protects the site from ice and wave damage. The result is an intact shipwreck, sitting upright and waiting for visitors.

Divers will also find many fish associated with this shipwreck. Schools of rock bass, northern pike and other colorful gamefish call this wreck home and careful divers can expect close encounters with these inhabitants while visitng the BERMUDA.

The BERMUDA was a schooner that sank in Murray Bay in 1870. Evidence of a cargo of iron ore can still be found in the hull.

Divers with intermediate to advanced skills enjoy the wreck of the SMITH MOORE. This steamer, which was also equipped with sails, sank after it collided with another ship in 1889.

The SMITH MOORE is mostly intact and lies upright in 100 feet of water. Divers have easy access to the interior of the ship through the open hatches. The deck is at 80 feet and divers will find the remains of machinery and winches.

Schools of whitefish are often seen at this site and offer divers an extra attraction.

Other shipwrecks, both steamers and schooners, are found in this region. Most were the victims of sudden storms that pressed them against sheer cliffs where they broke up in shallow water.

Beside shipwrecks, the Munising Harbor offers shore diving opportunities. Old pilings break the water's surface to mark the sites of decades of shipping activity. Divers will find clear water and the chance to discover artifacts from the era when lumber and iron ore were the primary cargoes of magnificent sailing vessels.

The Alger Underwater Preserve consists of 113 square miles of Lake Superior bottomlands. There are nine shipwrecks often explored by divers in addition to the sea caves. Many other ships have been lost in the area and have yet to be discovered.

Besides diving, there are miles of scenic trails to hike in the Pictured Rocks Nationl Lakeshore, beautiful campground and wildlife of all kinds.

When visiting the Alger Underwater Preserve, the chances of seeing bald eagles are great. This is an area where wilderness stretches to the shores and offers family vacation fun.

For information: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, P.O. Box 40, Munising, MI 49862. 906-387-3700

Click for Map.


The Keweenaw Peninsula juts out into Lake Superior and has often been a "catcher's mitt" for wayward ships. As a result, the 103 square mile preserve is host to a variety of shipwrecks, including one recent addition.

In the fall of 1989, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter MESQUITE ran aground off the Keweenaw Peninsula. During the winter, storms pounded the ship against the rocks and damaged it beyond repair. Eventually, the ship was intentionally sunk in about 120 feet of water off the peninsula.

The result is one of Michigan's premier dive sites. Divers will find the MESQUITE in excellent condition with virtually all of her equipment on deck. A portion of the pilot house was removed during the sinking process and lies near the main section of the ship.

Divers enjoy exploring the interior of the MESQUITE, but interior exploration should be reserved for very experienced divers.

Other shipwrecks are concentrated at Eagle River, Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor. These wrecks are both steamers and schooners, primarily of the 1800s and very early 1900s. Because they wrecked in relatively shallow water, most have been broken up by waves and ice. This process permits divers to see how ships were constructed. Boilers, machinery and broken hulls are found on reefs and there is little "penetration" diving at these sites. That makes these sites especially attractive for beginning and intermediate divers and underwater photographers.

The most popular dive sites include the TIOGA, a steel package freighter that grounded on Sawtooth Reef in 1919, and the CITY OF ST. JOSEPH, which ran aground north of Eagle Harbor in 1942. The remains of these ships lie in 40 feet of water or less. Divers will find large sections of hull, machinery and other artifacts that make for excellent exploration backdrops and for excellent underwater photography.

In addition to shipwrecks, the Keweenaw is a popular area for exploring underwater geologic formations. Large deposits of copper and sometimes silver can be found in this region.

Visibility is generally excellent and usually exceeds 35 feet.

Visitors will find many fascinating historical sites, nature trails and beautiful countryside to enjoy on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

For information: Keweenaw Tourism Council, P.O. Box 336, Houghton, MI 49931. 906-482-2388 or 800-338-7982 (outside MI)

Click for MAP.


The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve offers divers a variety of Lake Michigan attractions, from historic dock ruins to fascinating shipwrecks of two centuries.

The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve's most popular dive site is the wreck of the FRANCISCO MORAZAN, a package freighter that ran aground during a December 1960 snowstorm. The wreck is a few hundred yards offshore from the south end of South Manitou Island.

The FRANCISCO MORAZAN is easily accessible and lies in only 15 feet of water. Those factors make it a great dive for those just learning about Great Lakes shipwreck diving. Divers enjoy exploring the hull of the 246 foot ship. Some machinery remains in the engine room.

Although much of the FRANCISCO MORAZAN is not submerged, divers should not attempt to explore the superstructure. This is a nesting area for cormorants and gulls.

A few hundred yards south of the FRANCISCO MORAZAN is the wreck of the WALTER L. FROST, a wooden steamer that ran aground in 1905. The WALTER L. FROST is broken up because the FRANCISCO MORAZAN literally landed on top of the wreck during the disaster of 1960.

Divers enjoy the WALTER L. FROST because so much of the vessel remains. Large sections of the hull, machinery, boilers and related artifacts offer exploration opportunities for divers of all skill levels. The WALTER L. FROST lies in about 12 feet of water.

In addition to these shipwrecks, divers enjoy dock ruins that can be found throughout the region. Massive pilings were driven into the sandy bottom to create docks and wharves for loading lumber, fruit, grain and other products onto schooners and steamers that transported such goods on Lake Michigan.

These dock ruins attract schools of fish and many artifacts, including anchors and pieces of shipwrecks, can be found among the pilings.

Visibility in the 282 square mile preserve ranges from 12 to 25 feet.

The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve is a great place for family attractions because it is adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Dune climbs, scenic overlooks, two islands, historical museums, acres of public beaches, miles of trails and hundreds of scenic campsites are enjoyed by divers and non-divers alike.

The preserve is also near Traverse City, a nationally known resort area. Wineries, water sports, shopping and special events make this a popular family vacation destination. When visiting this area, don't forget your camera, there is plenty of remarkable scenery to capture on film!

For information: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, P.O. Box 277, Empire, MI 49630. 616-326-5134

Click for MAP.


The Marquette Underwater Preserve in Lake Superior contains eight major, known shipwrecks in two areas, the Huron Islands and Marquette.

The SOUTHWEST is the most popular dive site of the Huron Islands Unit. This 137 foot steamer ran aground 1.5 miles southeast of the largest of the Huron Islands. The ship was running in a heavy fog in the autumn of 1898 when the disaster occurred.

Today, divers will find the remains of the SOUTHWEST scattered in 100 feet of water. Many small artifacts remain making this an especially appealing dive site.

The Marquette Unit has special historical significance because the city is the Upper Peninsula's largest city. Besides being a busy port, it was also a trans-shipment center, a place where large ships unloaded their cargoes onto smaller vessels for transport to remote areas of the region.

The CHARLES J. KERSHAW is one of the most popular dive sites of the Marquette Unit. This 223 foot steamer was nearly in the Marquette Harbor when its boiler exploded in 1895. It struck a reef and sank in about 35 feet of water.

The remains of the ship are widely scattered as the result of a failed iron salvage attempt. But many small artifacts are associated with this site, which offers the opportunity for new discoveries with each dive. Large pieces of the hull can be explored as well as the ill-fated boiler.

Off Presque Isle Park, just north of the city of Marquette, divers will find Gold Mine Pinnacle, an unusual underwater rock formation. This formation attracts schools of gamefish and tangles of lost tackle from fishermen attempting to catch those fish. This dive site, which ranges in depth from 50 to 130 feet, must be accessed by boat.

Black Rocks, another site featuring interesting geologic formations, is accessible from shore at the northern boundary of Presque Isle Park. The depths range from 10 to 50 feet and this is a popular night diving site.

Visibility in the 144 square mile Marquette Underwater Preserve is often greater than 30 feet.

Besides water sports, Marquette offers many attractions for visitors, including a maritime museum.

For information: Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association, P.O. Box 400, Iron Mountain, MI 906-774-5480 or 800-562-7134

Click for MAP.


Some of Michigan's most recent underwater discoveries are located in the 163 square mile Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve in Lake Huron.

These recent discoveries include the REGINA, a 250 foot, steel package freighter that sank in a fierce gale in 1913. The vessel was discovered in 1986 and has been extensively documented.

The REGINA rests upside down in 80 feet of water with the structure of the ship rising 25 feet from the bottom. Some cargo lies scattered on the bottom adjacent to the wreck. Visibility is variable and ranges from between five and 25 feet.

The REGINA has become one of the most popular dive sites in the Sanilac Shore Underwater Preserve because it is intact with many artifacts to observe. This dive site is suitable for intermediate to advanced divers.

Another popular site is that of the SPORT, a 57 foot, steel-hulled tug that sank in a gale in December 1920. The vessel lies mostly upright with a starboard list in about 50 feet of water. The structure of the SPORT rises about 20 feet from the bottom.

Many artifacts can be found on the deck of the SPORT or lying very near the wreck on the bottom. Except for the cabin, the ship is intact and can be explored on a single tank. Visibility generally ranges from five to 25 feet. This site is suitable for basic to intermediate divers.

Two shipwrecks, the newest discovered in the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, should visited only advanced divers. These are the sites of the CHECOTAH and NEW YORK.

These vessels lie within a few hundred yards of each other in about 100 feet of water. The CHECOTAH was a schooner that sank while being towed in 1906. Although the stern of the ship is broken and scattered, this wreck offers excellent diving.

The NEW YORK was a steamer that foundered in heavy seas in 1876. The vessel is especially interesting because of its oscillating steam engines.

Because obstructions could entangle divers or cause them to become disoriented, the NEW YORK should be reserved for more experienced divers.

Visibility at both sites ranges from five to 25 feet.

In addition to excellent shipwrecks, the Sanilac Shores area offers family fun. Historic attractions such as the Port Sanilac Lighthouse, Sanilac Petroglyphs and museums delight visitors of all ages.

For information: Greater Port Sanilac Business Association, P.O. Box 402, Port Sanilac, MI 48469 or Sanilac Economic Growth Corporation, 800-802-2683

Click for MAP.


The 148 square miles of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve host a variety of underwater attractions. Not the least of which is an excellent shore dive in St. Ignace Harbor.

The St. Ignace Harbor served the third-oldest city in the U.S. As a result, artifacts from man's earliest presence may be found in this area.

The best area of the harbor to dive is the northernmost portion, away from the busy ferry traffic that transports visitors to Mackinac Island. There is a boat launch at the end of the harbor and divers can swim about two hundred yards to an old breakwall.

In this area, divers will find an unidentified shipwreck, piles of slabwood, tools, crockery, dinnerware and a variety of other household items that tell the story of this region's maritime heritage. The advantage of diving in this area is that it is protected so that heavy seas rarely interrupt a dive, and because the depth is only 15 feet or less, visibility is excellent and the water is often warmer than in other portions of Lake Huron.

Visibility in the harbor is usually greater than ten feet but rarely exceeds 30 feet. Although this is a great dive for beginners, divers of all skill levels will find it a fascinating exploration into the past.

The Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve also has its share of shipwrecks. Among them is the CEDARVILLE, which was a 588 foot, self-unloading freighter that sank with a load of limestone in 1965. The CEDARVILLE was heading west and approaching the Straits of Mackinac in a light fog when it was struck by another ship.

The CEDARVILLE capsized in about 110 feet of water, with the hull of the ship within 35 feet of the surface. The ship's superstructure and cabins lie at 75 feet and provide exciting exploration opportunities.

This dive is suitable for divers of intermediate to advanced levels. Visibility ranges from two to 20 feet, depending upon currents that are sometimes found in this area.

Another popular dive site in this preserve is the wreck of the SANDUSKY. This 110 foot sailing vessel had two masts and a square stern. It sank in a gale in September 1856.

The cool, fresh water of the Great Lakes has preserved this vessel well. It sits upright in about 90 feet of water. Although the masts have been broken off, most main features remain, including a kedge anchor, pin rail, wheel and tiller.

Divers will also find a figurehead at the bow of the SANDUSKY. The original ram's head was nearly stolen by vandals who had loosened it. Sport divers arranged to have the artifact removed and conserved; it was replaced by a replica soon after the rescue effort.

This dive site is suitable for intermediate to advanced divers. Visibility ranges from two to 15 feet.

The Straits of Mackinac area is an extremely popular tourist destination. In addition to shopping and historical attractions in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island offers plenty of family fun. The island features carriage rides (the use of motorized vehicles is prohibited), many historical attractions, excellent scenery, hiking and biking trails and unusual gift shops.

For information: St. Ignace Area Chamber of Commerce, 11 S. State Street, St. Ignace, MI 49781. 906-643-8717 or 800-338-6660

Click for MAP.


There are ten major shipwrecks within the 276 square miles of the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve in Lake Huron. Although there were never any major communities in this region, it was once a busy thoroughfare where vessels ran into trouble during violent storms.

Among the ships that are found in the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve are the PHILADELPHIA and ALBANY. These two vessels collided in a 1893 disaster.

The PHILADELPHIA rests upright on the bottom in 130 feet of water. This 236 foot steamer is mostly intact and divers may be surprised to find a cook stove still resting on the deck.

The ALBANY is southeast of the PHILADELPHIA. The 267 foot steel steamer was under tow after the collision when it sank in about 150 feet of water.

Both vessels offer excellent diving, but because of the depth, divers should have adequate experience before visiting these sites. Visibility ranges from five to 15 feet.

A popular dive site for divers of lesser experience is the CHICKAMAUGA, which foundered in 1919. This 322 foot, double deck schooner rests about a half mile east of Harbor Beach in 35 feet of water. This area is relatively protected so heavy seas rarely interfere with dive plans.

The Thumb Area Underwater Preserve has been the focus of remote sensing projects, which have led to new discoveries. Information about these recent finds will soon be available so divers can enjoy "fresh" shipwrecks.

Besides shipwrecks, divers visiting this area will enjoy caves created by eroded limestone. The caves are located near the edge of the reef near Port Austin Lighthouse.

Grindstones, which were used in manufacturing, can be found off Grindstone City where they were once manufactured. Discarded grindstones can be found off the Grindstone City pier and often attract schools of colorful gamefish.

Visitors to this area will enjoy the Lighthouse County Park Interpretive Center housed in the Pte. Aux Barque Lighthouse near Grindstone City. The center focuses on maritime history.

For information: Greater Port Austin Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 274, Port Austin, MI 48467. 517-738-7600

Click for MAP.


The Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve in Lake Huron was the first of Michigan's underwater preserves. There is little wonder about that considering the area's underwater resources.

The 288 square mile preserve hosts a variety of attractive shipwrecks in a relatively small, protected area. Great underwater visibility makes underwater photography especially popular in this preserve.

The NORDMEER is one of the most popular dive sites of the Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve. This German steel steamer stranded on the rock of Thunder Bay Shoal in November 1966. Because the depth is only 40 feet, parts of the vessel remain above the water. But the hull of the ship is intact and visibility of 20 to 40 feet and large hatches make this a great wreck dive for beginners.

Next to the wreck of the NORDMEER is a wooden barge that also provides exploration opportunities.

The LUCINDA VAN VALKENBURG, often referred to as "Lucy," is another popular dive site of this preserve. This 128 foot schooner sank after a collision with another ship in 1887. Although the stern of the ship has collapsed, divers enjoy exploring the remains of the ship, including the cargo holds.

"Lucy" rests in 70 feet of water and is suitable for beginning to intermediate divers.

The MONTANA was a 235 foot sidewheel steamer that burned and sank in 1914. The wreck lies in 70 feet of water and rises 30 feet from the bottom.

Some of the hull of the MONTANA remains and divers enjoy inspecting many of the artifacts that are associated with this wreck, including the machinery. This site usually hosts many fish and it is a good place for underwater photography.

Divers with basic skills can view the engine at 40 feet. Intermediate divers will enjoy exploring other portions of the wreck.

The Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve also features a diver memorial. The site is dedicated to Great Lakes sport diving and contains artifacts, including anchors, from local shipwrecks.

Two areas in the Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve provide interesting diving along limestone walls and reefs. The Thunder Bay Island area, including nearby islands, offer divers a variety of terrain. South of the islands are reefs that support large schools of fish.

On the southeast side of Thunder Bay Island and on the north side of South Point are limestone walls that provide divers with an interesting all diving experience. A limestone wall can be found off Middle Island. That wall descends to 70 feet and empties into a large bowl and is a popular area for exploration.

Many services, shopping centers and historical attractions are located in Alpena, which is the center of the preserve activity. The entire will enjoy the nautical flavor of this community.

For information: Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 65, Alpena, MI 49707. 517-354-4181 or 800-582-1906

Click for MAP.


The Whitefish Point Underwater Preseve offers deep-diving experiences in Lake Superior on a variety of shipwrecks in its 376 square mile area.

Good visibility is a hallmark of this preserve. Divers can expect 25 to 30 feet of visibility at 100 feet, and greater visibility at shallower depths. July and August are the best months to visit this preserve beacuse weather patterns are most stable.

The PANTHER is a popular dive site of the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve. The PANTHER was a 249 foot steamer that collided with another vessel in a fog in 1916.

The PANTHER was heavily damaged in the collision and sank rapidly in about 100 feet of water. Divers enjoy exploring this site to observe artifacts scattered among the debris. This site is suitable for intermediate divers.

Another popular dive site is the wreck of the SAMUEL MATHER. This 246 foot steamer was loaded with wheat bound for Buffalo, NY when it was struck in a fog by another vessel in 1891. The SAMUEL MATHER sank in 180 feet of water about 15 miles southeast of Whitefish Point. The vessel is one of the most intact wrecks in Whitefish Point. Because of the depth, only advanced divers should explore this site.

Divers and non-divers alike will enjoy a visit to this area because of the wilderness scenery, expansive beaches and Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which features the largest falls east of the Mississippi River.

For information: Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association, P.O. Box 400, Iron Mountain, MI 49801. 906-774-5480

Click for MAP.

For Advertising Info

Return Icon Return to Tours and Sights Index
Return to Michigan Outdoor Sports Index

RING! Trademark ©