How to Dive Lake Erie's Shipwrecks
A diver illuminates the wreck of the John J. Boland.
Lake Erie is the fourth largest of the Great Lakes, stretching 241 miles from end to end. It has coastline in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York, as well as the Canadian province of Ontario, and diving is accessible across a vast area. The east side of the lake, however, is deepest, and home to several well-preserved wooden wrecks near Buffalo, New York, home of Niagara Falls State Park and a starting point for your Lake Erie dive adventure. All dives are accessible by boat charter.
This cold-water features prominently in the region’s maritime trade history, which peaked during the height of merchant traffic following railroad construction in 1854. As with the other Great Lakes, inclement weather often contributed to shipwrecks on busy shipping routes before modern radar and weather forecasting were implemented.
The stern of the Dean Richmond.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, reaching a maximum depth of 210 feet. But most wrecks can be found at around 100 feet, which places them just within reach of recreational divers.
Five wrecks stand out. The Washington Irving, a two-masted schooner that sank mysteriously in 1860, lies in 120 feet of water about 40 miles southwest of Buffalo. Four other popular wrecks are clustered nearby. The John J. Boland, Betty Hedger, Indiana, and Dean Richmond are known for their structure, payload and histories.
The John J. Boland is an impressive steel bulk freighter with some opportunities for properly trained wreck divers to penetrate. The wreck itself is upside down, but the cabin and porthouse are easily accessible. This wreck is large enough that the bow and stern can be explored on separate dives. The Betty Hedger is a companion dive for this wreck due to proximity.
The Indiana and Dean Richmond also lie close to each another and can both be explored in their entirety in two dives. The Indiana sunk in 1870 during inclement weather due to being overloaded with paving stone. The Dean Richmond was a twinscrew wooden steamer that was once rumored to contain gold but in fact carried only zinc ingots at the time of its sinking.
Dives in Lake Erie are dark and require lights, but the visibility can be outstanding.
Wreck diving sites in Lake Erie.
John J. Boland
The John J. Boland sank on its starboard side in 1932 and now rests in 130 feet of water. Water overtook the ship during a storm because the ship was so full with cargo that the hatch covers couldn’t close. The rudder seized in place and is now a prominent feature of the wreck.
A three-masted barkentine sailing ship, the Indiana is a low-profile wreck that still holds the paving stone it was carrying to Cleveland when it sank in 1870. Features such as anchors, the windlass, rigging and winch are strewn across the site at 90 feet of depth.
This is the fourth ship named Dean Richmond on the Great Lakes and the fourth sunk, this one during a strong storm in 1893. The steamer sank upside down and created a large debris field at 110 feet of depth with only one propeller remaining.
Need To Know
Viz varies from 15 to 60 feet; water temps range from 37 to 47 degrees during summer.
What To Wear
Dive Shop Recommended By Padi
- Professional Scuba, Hamburg, New York
Niagara Falls State Park
1. Niagara Falls State Park
Visit either the Canadian or the U.S. side to enjoy views of these famous falls. The Horseshoe Falls, seen from the Canadian side, are taller and longer than the American Falls. Explore above from the park, or book a boat to view from below—but be prepared to get wet.
2. Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture
Buffalo boasts an impressive seven Frank Lloyd Wright structures available for tours, including the Darwin D. Martin House and Graycliff. Darwin Martin, a wealthy businessman in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century, was one of Wright’s patrons and commissioned most of these pieces.
The Holiday Motel in Westfield is modest but offers a 10 percent discount to scuba divers and is located down the street from Osprey Charters, which will take you out to all the wrecks covered in this article and more. Westfield is a one-hour drive from Buffalo.