10 Famous Great Lakes Shipwrecks

With the Fathom One’s being almost ready to start shipping, we thought it would be helpful to give some potential spots to reach with the Fathom One or even scuba dive if you’re inclined.

The Great Lakes are famous for a lot of different reasons, but one of those reasons are the famous Great Lakes shipwrecks. There are plenty of shipwrecks in Michigan to check out, but here are 10 famous Great Lakes Shipwrecks.

Cover Photo Credit: Greatlakesdrive.com


  1. S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald

edmund fitzgerald shipwrecks

Photo Credit: http://www.ssedmundfitzgerald.org/

Most likely the most famous shipwreck in Michigan, the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was first planned on February 1st, 1957. On September 24th, 1957, the Edmund Fitzgerald started its first voyage and became the largest vessel on the Great Lakes at the time. Most of its career, it carried taconite iron core from Duluth, Minnesota to Detroit or Toledo normally. Before its demise, it did cause damage to the Soo Locks at times by hitting the Soo Locks’ walls or actually running aground one time.

On November 10th, the Edmund Fitzgerald set sail for another normal commute from Duluth to Detroit. However, a significant storm rolled in and is believed to be a significant reason why the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. There’s never been an exact reason why it sank, but there are plenty of theories.

For more in-depth information, Sarah Cweick at Michigan Radio did a great piece on it.

For those looking to scuba dive the Edmund Fitzgerald, it’s actually illegal to do so and is a deep dive too at 530 feet below sea level.

  1. S.S. Appomattox

Located close to the Wisconsin coast, the S.S. Appomattox was built in 1896. It’s one of the largest wooden bulk steamers ever built and was a first class steamer, especially with the equipment it had on board. It mainly carried iron ore and coal depending on the direction it was going.

On November 2nd, 1905, the S.S. Appomattox was traveling into Milwaukee, but due to smoke and dense fog, the ship lost its sight of direction and ran aground with two other ships - the Santiago and the Iowa. The Santiago and Iowa were able to be taken out, but the Appomattox had suffered a significant amount of damage to its hull. Crews tried to move the Appomattox for 2 weeks, but eventually had to abandon the ship.

Since it did run aground, the Appomattox is quite close to shore and is one of the most popular dive sites for shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. It lies in about 15-20 feet of water which is great for Fathom One owners.

For more in-depth information, check out wisconsinshipwrecks.org.

  1. Niagara

Unlike the previous shipwrecks, the Niagara was a passenger ship, not a cargo ship. It was built in 1845 and carried around 300 passengers at a time. It was a side-wheeled steamboat, and sank due to a fire on-board. The Niagara is also one of the deadliest accidents on the Great Lakes with over 60 people losing their lives.

The YouTube video above from Rick diving on the site gives a good glimpse into how the Niagara looks today. The Niagara lies in about 50 feet of water making it another great dive site to check out.

  1. Ironsides

On the other side of Lake Michigan, the Ironsides lies close to Grand Haven, Michigan. The Ironsides was built in 1864 in Cleveland, Ohio and was a passenger ship, similar to the Niagara.

On September 14th, 1873, the Ironsides left Milwaukee to arrive in Grand Haven. The Ironsides made it to the Grand Haven coast, but was not able to get into port after 2 desperate attempts. This was due to huge waves from the storm that night. The captain of the ship, Harry Sweetman, attempted to ride out the storm after the 2nd attempt to get into port, however, the Ironsides had taken on a lot of damage already.

It’s recorded that 20 lives were lost that day and the Ironsides sank 3 miles off the coast of Grand Haven, Michigan.

For more experienced divers, this can be a fascinating dive. It is 120 feet deep, and visibility can be difficult at times.

For a more in-depth story, check out the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association’s website.

  1. Lady Elgin

Another shipwreck with a connection to Milwaukee, the Lady Elgin was leaving from the port of Milwaukee to arrive in Chicago. The Lady Elgin is also the deadliest of the Great Lakes Shipwrecks with almost 300 casualties.

The Lady Elgin was built in 1851 and was a sidewheel steamer for carrying passengers. At maximum capacity, the Lady Elgin could carry around 400 passengers from Milwaukee to Chicago.

On September 6th, 1860, the Lady Elgin was on its way to Chicago and collided with the Augusta, a schooner that carried lumber. There was low visibility due to the storm and because they were both traveling at nighttime.

The Lady Elgin ended up breaking apart around 2:30 am and all of the 398 passengers were forced to abandon ship. On the other hand, the Augusta was able to make it to Chicago and deliver its lumber.

The Lady Elgin is famously known as the “Titanic of the Great Lakes”.

For a more in-depth story of the Lady Elgin and the Augusta, check out the post by Lake Effect Living.

  1. Le Griffon

le griffon great lakes shipwreck

Le Griffon might have the most history out of any ship that has been in the Great Lakes due to it leading the start of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes.

Le Griffon was built in 1679 and was a key part of the French fur trade in the Great Lakes. It was the first significant ship on the Great Lakes as at the time, only canoes were traveling along the coasts.

The exact dimensions of Le Griffon aren’t known since there are contradictory reports, however, it’s believed to be a single-sailed ship with 30 to 40 feet long sails.

How Le Griffon sank isn’t known either. There are accounts that it was lost due a violent storm, or that it boarded by the Ottawas and Pottawatomies and then burned. In addition, Le Griffon still hasn’t been discovered.

The best evidence of where it could be is by Albert Cullis, a lighthouse keeper in northern Lake Huron, in 1898.

There have been multiple times where adventurers have thought they have discovered Le Griffon, but each time it has been debunked.

For a mini-documentary on Le Griffon, check out David J. Ruck’s website.

  1. Defiance

Out of all of the shipwrecks to scuba dive at, Defiance might be the coolest shipwrecks to scuba dive in the Great Lakes.

The Defiance was built in 1848 in Perrysburg, Ohio. It was a two-masted schooner and normally carried corn and wheat around the Great Lakes.

On October 20th, 1854, the Defiance was on its way to Chicago from Detroit and at 1 am, it collided with the JJ Audubon. The JJ Audubon was a newer vessel and was meant to transport goods quickly as that gave traders greater profits.

Both the Defiance and JJ Audubon sank within a few miles of each other with the Defiance not taking a lot of damage to the hull. As a result, the Defiance looks like it could just float right back up to the surface and begin sailing. It’s “frozen in time” as many have mentioned and has been preserved quite well.

The Defiance is part of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, so there is the ability to dive down to it. It’s about 185 feet below the surface.

For more information on the Defiance and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in general, check out their website!

  1. The Bermuda

Another ship frozen in time, the Bermuda was built in 1860 and sank in 1870. The Bermuda spent its early years transporting grains on Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan, and then shifted to transporting iron ore from Marquette in its later years.

After just leaving Marquette on September 21st, 1870, the Bermuda began taking on water due to strong winds and waves. The story says that the captain beached the Bermuda near the Anna River. More and more water came into the hull of the Bermuda though and eventually the weight was too much and the Bermuda sank like a rock to the bottom of Lake Superior.

It sank so quickly that 3 crew members were unfortunately not able to get out and lost of their lives due to the force of the water coming into the hull.

13 years after the wreck, a group attempted to move the Bermuda into Murray Bay. The Bermuda made it into Murray Bay, but it fell off the chains too soon. The Bermuda has stayed there ever since.

Due to being in a bay and the cold waters of Lake Superior, The Bermuda has turned into a great scuba diving location as it’s only in 15-20 feet of water. It can even be seen on glass-bottom boat tours.


  1. The Regina

The Regina was built in 1907 in Scotland and was a 250-feet steel freighter. It was transfered from Scotland to the Great Lakes when it was purchased by the Canadian Lake Transportation company in 1911.

The Regina sank due to the Great Lakes Storm of 1913. This storm ended up sinking a dozen of ships in the Great Lakes.

The Regina wasn’t found in Lake Huron until 1986 and is actually upside down. The theory is that the large waves of the storm capsized the Regina and sank it. According to scubadiving,com, this is one of the best dive sites in Lake Huron. A lot of scuba divers comment that there are so many artifacts to see all around the shipwreck.

The hull of the Regina can be reached at 25 feet and the top of the Regina can be reached at 80 feet below.

  1. Colonel A.B. Williams

colonel ab williams great lakes shipwreck

Photo Credit: Andy Morrison - Scuba Diving.com

The Colonel A.B. Williams was built in 1856 and was a a pre-civil war era two-masted schooner. It’s located not far from the Regina, as they are both part of the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve.

The Colonel A.B. Williams was able to transport all sorts of items, but when it sank, it was carrying coal. It sank on June 5th, 1864 after colliding with another ship and sank soon afterwards.

Other than the stern being missing, the hull of the ship is mostly intact and many scuba divers mention that it’s completely worth going to see even with the cold water of Lake Huron. It’s in about 70-80 feet of water, and might be one of the most photogenic shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.

For even more shipwrecks, we highly recommend finding them using the Great Lakes Shipwreck Association’s website. It’ll show you even more places to dive or even use your Fathom One!