Diving in the Midwest isn’t as glamorous as diving in the tropics, but what the Great Lakes lack in coral reefs and colorful fish, they make up for in sunken ships.

WITH NOTHING TO break, rot, or eat away at wrecks, the Great Lakes are like a giant open-water history museum, preserving sunken ships just as they were when they went down. Many of the intact 19th-century wrecks still left in the world lie scattered around the lakes, in ship graveyards like Thunder Bay and the Straits of Mackinac. Often, they sit in shallow enough water for even novice divers to visit.

Conserving the wrecks continues to be a fight, against invasive wildlife and looters who strip ships of rigging and other artifacts. While no photo will ever be able to communicate how it feels to swim down the deck of a century-old ship, I think these pictures do a good job of conveying the ghost-ship beauty of wreck diving in the Great Lakes.

All photos except for 1, 2, and 3 © their authors. All rights reserved.


The FT Barney

A NOAA archeologist hovers next to the wheel of the FT Barney, sunk in Lake Huron in 1868. (Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA)


The FT Barney

The bow of the Barney. With no marine boring worms or currents to break it apart, the wreck has remained almost totally intact for a century and a half. (Photo: Tane Casserley/NOAA)


The Cornelia B. Windiate

The port bow and anchor of the schooner Cornelia B. Windiate in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Out of 12 NOAA-designated National Marine Sanctuaries, only Thunder Bay lies in freshwater. (Photo: Steve Sellers/NOAA)


The WL Wetmore

Looking over the deck of the WL Wetmore in Canada's Fathom Five National Marine Park. (Photo: Joanna Suan)


The Wolfe Islander II

The bow of the Wolfe Islander II, a car ferry scuttled in Lake Ontario. (Photo: Joanna Suan)


The Islander

Exploring a stairwell on the Islander. (Photo: Joanna Suan)


The Islander

Navigating deeper inside the wreck. (Photo: Tom Rutledge)


The City of Sheboygan

The wreck of the City of Sheboygan, a three-masted schooner that sank during a storm in 1915. (Photo: Tom Rutledge)



A diver floats above the deck of a sunken ferry in Lake Ontario. With no steady currents, diving conditions in the Great Lakes depend largely on local weather. (Photo: Tom Rutledge)


The Sandusky

Sitting in about 80 feet of water near the Straits of Mackinac, the Sandusky is one of the most-visited wrecks in the Great Lakes. A local scuba club recovered the ship's original figurehead and replaced it with a replica after discovering that thieves had tried to pry it off. (Photo: Michael Schout)


The Sandusky

Zebra mussels coat the railing of the Sandusky. The invasive bivalves are among the only fauna that degrade wrecks in the lakes. (Photo: Michael Schout)


The Finn McCool

Archeologist Paul Lothary of the Wisconsin Historical Society peeks through the deck of the Finn McCool. The wreck lies off of the Wisconsin coast in just 20 feet of water. (Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society)