Let us take you shipwreck diving...
Are you ready for a trip back in time? Then get ready to embark on one of the
greatest adventures of all: shipwreck diving in the Great Lakes. Lake Michigan
is home to around 3000 shipwrecks, with many dating back to the 1800s. The
Milwaukee area is home to some of the most famous of these shipwrecks. Here is a
brief list of our favorites.
The SS Appomattox was one of the largest wooden ships ever built for
the Great Lakes. Constructed in 1896 by James Davidson of West Bay City,
Michigan, the Appomattox was 319 feet long with a 42 foot beam.
Appomattox generally cared iron ore on her eastward voyages and coal on her
westward voyages. She could care as much as 3000 tons of cargo. In 1905,
Appomattox ran aground off of Shorewood, Wisconsin. Despite two weeks of
effort, she eventually broke up and the crew was forced to abandon her.
Divers can expect to see lake perch, large mouth bass, brown trout, and even
the occasional lake sturgeon on the wreck. The wreck itself is spread over a
large area. Divers can locate the wreck by taking a straight easterly heading
from the north side of the northern most jetty off the park.
Visibility can range from 0 to 30+ feet. Wave action of any kind can drop
visibility quickly, and it is difficult to judge visibility from the surface as
conditions on the bottom can vary considerably from that on the surface.
Maximum depth: 30 feet
Average depth: 15 feet
Special considerations: Divers can access the Appomattox from a
boat or from shore off from Atwater Beach in Shorewood. Shore entries are
definitely reserved for divers who are in excellent shape, as the five story
trek up and down the stairway from the park to the beach is extremely physically
demanding. A path has been recently constructed to allow carts to be used to get
to and from the beach, but the trek to the beach remains difficult. In addition, the wreck lies approximately 300 yards from shore,
making the swim to the wreck challenging as well.
Regardless of how you get to the wreck, divers are always advised to check on
water conditions as most wave action can reduce visibility at this site. A calm
period of 2 or more days is often required for visibility to improve once the
bottom is disturbed.
The Dredge is a large crane barge that capsized
during heavy winds on May 23, 1956, off from Milwaukee. Nine members of her crew drowned in
the accident, and some of the bodies are rumored to still be aboard.
Originally known as the 906 Dredge, a misreading of "No." in a handwritten
Dredge now sits upside-down with equipment and debris scattered around her.
The scoop from her crane is one of the most interesting remains, but
being able to swim under the main wreckage is what excites most divers. Depth is 30
to 40 feet to the hull and 75 feet to the sand, making
this a suitable dive for intermediate level divers.
Maximum depth: 75 feet
Distance from surface: 30 feet
Moorings: One mooring buoy attached just off the wreck
The Lumberman was an old wooden schooner used to haul lumber
between Southern Wisconsin and Chicago. On April 7, 1893, while on its
way north from Chicago, a gale force wind capsized the Lumberman
off from Oak Creek and sent her slowly to the bottom. As she sank, the
righted itself and the masts were left protruding out of the water.
Because of the hazard they presented to navigation, the masts were
Lumberman was rediscovered in 1983. Due to its distance from
Milwaukee, the wreck is rarely visited and many of its artifacts remain
Maximum Depth: 70 feet
Distance to deck: 55 feet
Mahoning, is a wooden vessel build in 1847. The ill-fated Mahoning
succumbed to the waters of Lake Michigan, not once, but twice in the Fall of
1864. On November 4, the Mahoning was caught in a storm while sailing
from Chicago to Green Bay. The captain attempted to make it to the Sheboygan
harbor, but strong winds ended up driving the ship aground four miles south of
the harbor. A salvage crew spent then few weeks repairing the vessel. On
December 1, they set out for Chicago with Mahoning in tow. As fate would
have it, another storm struck, capsizing the vessel with the captain and first
mate trapped below deck. Both perished crew members perished.
Today, Mahoning lies south of Niagara
between Port Washington and Sheboygan in about 55 feet of water. Because
Mahoning is more intact
than Niagara, many divers prefer this wreck. The modest depth and good
visibility make it an idea dive for those new to Great Lakes diving.
Maximum depth: 55 feet
Distance to deck: 52 feet
The Milwaukee Car Ferry is a 325 foot car ferry that sank off from
Whitefish Bay on October 22, 1929. Gale force winds rocked the ship,
causing the railroad cars she was carrying to leave their tracks and
roll into the seagate. The seagate was bent, which allowed water to
enter the vessel and sink her. All 52 crew members lost their lives in
the accident. The
Milwaukee is the second largest ship ever lost on Lake Michigan.
The railroad cars she was carrying are still aboard, and a small hole
cut by divers permits penetration of her engine room. However, deep silt
and poor visibility make penetration extremely dangerous. This dive
should be attempted only by experienced technical divers equipped with
wreck reels and redundant air supplies.
Maximum Depth: 116 feet
Distance to deck: 90 feet
The Niagara is a 245 foot luxury, wooden steamer that sank on
September 24,1856, following a fire that engulfed the center portion of
the ship. More than 60 people lost their lives in this disaster, making
the sinking of the Niagara one of the worst transportation
accidents in Wisconsin state history. Today the Niagara lies in
about 50 feet of water 8 miles north northeast of Port Washington, and
almost directly east of Harrington Beach State Park. A mooring buoy
installed by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin marks the
location of the wreck.
For divers, the 90 foot section of the ship's hull, along with the
boilers, are keep points of interest.
Maximum Depth: 52 feet
Distance to deck: 40 feet
The Northerner is a small two-masked wooden schooner with a
wooden figurehead. On November 29, 1868 the Northerner sprung a
leak from damage believed to have been caused while the ship was being
loaded. While in tow to Milwaukee, she capsized off the shore of Port
Washington. The ship now lies in about 140 feet of water and has
remained incredibly well-preserved. Visibility on this wreck is often
greater than 80 feet, making it ideal for photography and videography.
Maximum Depth: 140 feet
Distance to deck: 125 feet
Special considerations: Due to its depth, the Norherner
is considered an advanced dive. Inexperienced divers have lost their
lives diving the Northerner. Proper technical dive training and
equipment are recommended for anyone planning more than a short stay on the
The Prins Willem V, sometimes called
"The Willey," is a 258 foot Dutch freighter that sank on October 13,
1954, when it ran into the tow cable of a tug boat pulling a barge. The
cable left a laceration in the hull that caused the ship to sink. Today
the Willey sits on the bottom about 3 miles off of Milwaukee in 60 feet
of water. Due to the muddy bottom, the ship continues to sink slowly
into the bottom and is now partially hidden. When the Prins Willem
sank, the ship rolled toward her starboard side and sits at a 45-degree
angle to the bottom. Given her depth and the fact that she is still
intact, the Prins Willem V is one of the most popular wreck dives
in all of Lake Michigan.
Maximum depth: 90-95 feet
Distance to deck: 45-50 feet
Moorings: Wheelhouse. Because the wreck is in the shipping lanes, mooring
are often cut off by cargo ships.
Special considerations: At least five divers have lost their
lives diving the Prins Willem. Proper technical training and
equipment are required to safely penetrate this wreck. Recreational
divers can safely explore the outer portion of the wreck, but are
strongly advised against making penetrations beyond the light zone.
Barge Transfer is a wooden barge scuttled off Milwaukee in 1923. She
lies about 2 miles due East of the Prins Willem V.
All equipment was removed prior to her sinking. However, Barge Transfer can
be an interesting dive particularly toward dusk as the wreck becomes home to an
abundance of Burbots (freshwater cod) that often can be seen sleeping among the
debris. Barge Transfer is not intact, and debris is scattered over a rather large area. If
a mooring is not present, it can be somewhat difficult to locate this wreck.
Maximum depth: 110-120 feet
Distance to deck: 105 feet
Moorings: Unreliable at best. Because the wreck is in the shipping lanes, mooring
are often cut off by cargo ships. It is common not to have a mooring at this
Special considerations: Because of the depth and potential lack of a
mooring line, this wreck should be viewed as an advanced dive. Great Lakes wreck
diving experience is mandatory. Navigation when visibility is limited can be
difficult as the wreck is spread out over a significant area and feature
references are far poorer than most of the other wrecks off Milwaukee.
SS. Wisconsin was originally launched in 1881. At the time, she was
one of the most lavish and technologically advanced steamers of her day. She was
one of the first iron-hulled vessels on the Great Lakes and marked a turning
pointing in ship construction. SS Wisconsin underwent several name
changes and overhauls during her service. Her original name had been returned to
her prior to her sinking on October 27, 1929, the night before the 1929 Wall
Street crash. SS Wisconsin sunk off from Kenosha, Wisconsin, while making
a run to Milwaukee. She was was caught in a heavy gale that resulted in her
taking on water. All but nine of her crew were able to abandon ship before she
sunk. Her captain was retrieved from the water alive but died a short time later
SS Wisconsin now lies fully upright in 130 of water off Kenosha. Her
deck rises about 30 feet off the lake bottom, and she is fully intact. Typically
visibility is good on this wreck, making it a favorite for advanced recreational
Great Lakes divers.
Maximum depth: 130 feet
Distance to deck: 100 feet
Moorings: Wisconsin historical society buoy should be attached during the
local dive season. Buoy is normally attached to the bow.
Special considerations: Because of the depth an Advanced Open Water
certification is required and Deep Specialty is recommended. Great Lakes diving
experience is mandatory. This dive site is often selected for technical dive