Scuba Diving

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A diver exploring the shipwreck Emperor.
Isle Royale is home to the National Park Service's most intact collection of shipwrecks.

NPS Photo

Isle Royale's ten major shipwrecks span seventy years and showcase the evolution of Great Lakes maritime transportation - from wooden side-paddle steamers to massive steel freighters. Protected by the National Park Service, these vessels can be explored by experienced divers.

Diving Conditions

Lake Superior is cold. At the surface, water temperature rarely exceeds 55 degrees Fahrenheit; below 50 feet, 34-37 degrees. Full wetsuit is necessary; a drysuit is recommended.

Dive conservatively. Cold water increases the possibility of decompression problems.

Sunlight may not penetrate to the deeper depths depending on conditions (visibility, angle of sun, and fog or clouds).

Diving is remote, emergency care is not immediately available. Stay within your limits and training.

Portions of some wrecks are at depths of less than 60 feet; many are far deeper. Deep dives require specific equipment and experience.
 

Safety

Weather: Lake Superior's changeable weather is well-known. Follow marine forecasts and keep at least one person aboard your boat whenever divers are in the water.

Diving-related illnesses, especially those requiring a recompression chamber, pose a severe threat to life. The closest recompression chambers are in Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Know CPR and emergency procedures for accidents. Carry an adequate first-aid kit including an oxygen delivery system and know how to use them.

Emergencies: At the first indication of a diving illness, contact park rangers or US Coast Guard on marine radio (channel 16), or the park's emergency dispatch at (440) 546-5945.
 
A diver in full scuba gear sits on the side of a boat, preparing for a dive.
Descend from the surface, and enter another century.

Susanna Pershern

Regulations

  • Leave What You Find: Federal law prohibits the removal or disturbance of shipwreck sites and associated artifacts.
  • Prevent the Spread of Invasive Species: Wash all dive gear in warm chlorinated tap water; and dry all dive gear and wetsuit for seven days prior to diving in the park.
  • Dive Permits: Each diver must register at the Rock Harbor, Windigo, or Houghton Visitor Center before diving, and return completed permit after the trip.
  • Dive Flags: Dive sites or boats must be marked with the standard diver down flag whenever divers are in the water. When at the surface, divers must be within 100 feet of the flag. When dives take place between sunset and sunrise, the flag must be illuminated.
  • Closures: All interior lakes and the Passage Island small boat cove are closed to diving to preserve fragile resources.
    • America is closed to diving between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. eastern time, to allow ferry passengers to view the wreck.
  • Air/Gas Fills: There are no facilities for filling dive cylinders at Isle Royale. Personal compressor use is limited to designated times and locations as indicated on your dive permit.
For additional regulations, consult your dive permit.
 
Diver poses with bathtub from the shipwreck Monarch.
Use extreme caution if penetrating shipwrecks.

NPS Photo

Exploring Shipwrecks

Preserve the stories of Isle Royale's shipwrecks by leaving them as you found them. If you discover any artifacts, leave them in place.

Some wrecks are broken up and scattered across the bottom, but some remain more intact. Divers penetrating wrecks can become lost in a maze of confined passages or entangled in debris, wire, or line. Darkness and silt can reduce visibility to zero.

Moorings

  • Most shipwreck sites are buoyed to provide safe mooring and protect wrecks from anchor and tie-off damage. Moorings are marked by a white buoy with a blue stripe.
  • Check current conditions to confirm which buoys are in place. See dive permit for mooring regulations.
  • America has a two-point mooring with a buoy on a sinker in 20 feet of water and a marker buoy on the bow at two feet. Vessels should tie off, bow and stern, using the line between the two buoys.
 

Shipwreck Buoys

A table showing Isle Royale dive sites and their buoy location information.
Dive SiteVessel TypeBuoy GPS CoordinatesBuoy On? (Y/N)Depth Min/Max in FeetBuoy Attachment
Download This Dataset
 

Shipwreck Profiles

 
SS Algoma docked with a man looking on, sitting on shore

SS Algoma

Passenger Steamer (1883-1885) Ship broke in half, and parts of the stern are all that remain.

SS America approaching dock in Tobin Harbor

SS America

Package Freighter (1898-1928) The midship and stern are intact, including engine room, galley, and numerous cabins.

artist's rendering of the SS Henry Chisholm navigating wavy seas

SS Henry Chisholm

Bulk Freighter (1880-1898) A large intact steam engine with drive shaft and prop dominate the wreck scene.

SS Chester A. Congdon sailing in open waters on a calm day

SS Chester A. Congdon

Bulk Freighter (1907-1918) Wreckage consists of intact pilot house and bow section on south side of reef and an intact stern on north side.

closeup bow view of the SS George M. Cox with a harbor evident in the background

SS George M. Cox

Passenger Steamer (1901-1933) Site features scattered wreckage, twisted steel plating, and exposed machinery and prop.

view of SS Cumberland docked with building behind it, large wheel bearing the Cumberland's name

SS Cumberland

Passenger Steamer (1871-1877) Large sections of wooden hull, side-wheel and boiler remain.

SS Emperor sailing across open waters

SS Emperor

Bulk Freigher (1910-1947) The wreck is basically intact, with the bow area showing most damage.

view of SS Glenlyon docked with crew posed on the bow for photo

SS Glenlyon

Bulk Freighter (1893-1924) The wreck is scattered over the reef with a few large sections still intact.

SS Kamloops navigating out of a harbor, smoke billowing

SS Kamloops

Package Freighter (1924-1927) At extreme depth, the wreck is intact and undisturbed.

SS Monarch with crew looking on from top deck

SS Monarch

Package Freighter (1890-1906) Large sections of wooden wreckage scattered on the bottom, the wreck is known for heavy construction.

Last updated: April 14, 2022

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800 East Lakeshore Drive
Houghton , MI 49931

Phone:

906 482-0984

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