Michigan’s Underwater Preserve System

Selvick Shipwreck [Photo by Chris Doyal]

In the early years of the United States, the Great Lakes were a natural highway to its interior. The vast inland waterway provided convenient but dangerous transportation. Sudden storms, fog, heavy traffic, and shipping companies demanding that schedules be kept regardless of weather, all resulted in the loss of thousands of schooners, steamers and barges. The bottomland of the Great Lakes is littered with these lost ships that are time capsules from another era. They have been preserved by the cold, freshwater of the Great Lakes.

The Michigan underwater preserve system was created in 1980 by legislation supported and largely drafted by Michigan sport divers. They took action to preserve Michigan’s shipwrecks for later generations. The legislation imposes stiff penalties for disturbing shipwrecks and their artifacts. It is a felony to remove or disturb artifacts in Michigan’s Great Lakes. Those caught removing portholes, anchors, chain, deadeyes, blocks or other “souvenirs” will have their boat, car and equipment confiscated and will face up to two years imprisonment and large fines. Divers who have information about the theft of artifacts can report violations to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at (800) 292-7800.

Since 1980, Michigan’s underwater preserve system has grown to occupy more than 2300 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland in thirteen distinct underwater preserves. They protect some of the region’s most sensitive and historic underwater resources.

Thanks to the strict legal regulations forbidding the removal of artifacts and the conscientious adherence by divers to the law, shipwreck diving in Michigan’s Great Lakes is some of the best in the world. Divers unfamiliar with Michigan’s underwater preserve system are surprised to find well-preserved, pristine shipwrecks. Even small items such as cups, silverware, tools, machinery ornaments and other relics remain where they were discovered by the first divers many years before.

Well-stocked dive shops, knowledgeable sales staff, experienced instructors and friendly service are the standard in Michigan. Most dive shops, whether they are located near an underwater preserve or not, can provide expert advice on preserves and diving in the state.

Dive charter operators can be found in most of the underwater preserves. If divers bring their own boat, they will find convenient boat launches, marinas and other facilities. Most of the popular dive sites are buoyed during the dive season by members and volunteers of the Michigan Underwater Preserve Council, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to development of the preserves. Many preserves also offer exceptional shore access diving.

A word of caution is in order whenever venturing out on the Great Lakes. These massive inland seas are as unpredictable as they are beautiful. Storms and heavy seas can arise suddenly with little warning. Do not head out onto the Great Lakes unless you have proper safety equipment, an appropriate vessel and experience. Never leave your dive boat unattended. 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 with proper preparation and the exercise of caution.

When you go diving, be ready for cool water temperatures. Although surface water temperatures may reach 65 degrees or more in midsummer, temperatures below 40 degrees are common at depth. Most Great Lakes divers use full wetsuits or drysuits. Diving in the Great Lakes may be colder, but it is worth the extra effort to see such perfectly preserved shipwrecks.

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

After diving in any of Michigan’s underwater preserves, you may find yourself wanting to try them all. Each offers a unique experience, both underwater and on land.

So, try diving in Michigan and tell your friends and family. Michigan is good to sport divers and is a great place for families seeking a fun vacation that is sure to create fond memories for many years.

For more information explore the Michigan.gov shipwreck resources!

About MUPC

The Michigan Underwater Preserve Council, Inc. (MUPC) is a private, 501(c)(3) non-profit, all-volunteer organization. It was incorporated in 1989 to preserve and protect the Great Lakes shipwrecks in Michigan waters, to educate divers and non-divers on their history and to aid in their preservation. Its membership is drawn from all of Michigan’s underwater preserves.

The MUPC actively encourages the establishment of safe mooring buoys on shipwrecks located in Michigan’s underwater preserves. Properly placed moorings make Michigan’s shipwrecks safely accessible to everyone. A priority for the future is the placement of permanent mooring sites off the shipwrecks to spare them from harm. This will free the wrecks from the hooks, lines and chains that are used when moorings are placed directly on them.

In addition to its mooring program, the MUPC is an active advocate of Michigan’s preserves and shipwrecks at tradeshows across the Midwest. MUPC promotes diver education, good diver ethics and low-impact diving, and sponsorship of underwater archeological training for divers.

Mission Statement

The Michigan Underwater Preserve Council, Inc. (MUPC) will support the collective mission of Michigan’s Underwater Preserves by speaking as their unified voice, offering collective communication, and promoting and advocating on their behalf to help maintain Michigan’s rich underwater history. MUPC will also encourage the responsible discovery, preservation, education and visitation of historic resources on Michigan’s bottomlands through SCUBA diving, snorkeling and other means.

     You can also make your own donation to MUPC to help us with our mission to promote shipwreck preservation and safe diving education.  Let us know if you’d like to designate your donation for a specific purpose or in memory of someone special.