For recreational wreck divers, here are several coastal locations and fresh-water lakes where historic shipwrecks loom beneath the surface and create an interesting underwater experience. From the Great Lakes to Guam and from the East Coast to West Coast, let us be your guide to explore America’s maritime history at these marine sanctuary and national park locations.
Remember to take only photos and leave the wreck sites completely intact. These vessels provide a window into our past and are best left undisturbed for everyone to experience. Check with local officials to determine if diving permits are required.
Search By State: California, Guam, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin
Marine Sancturay (NOAA)
About 1,660 square miles (2,672 km) of ocean and near-shore habitat off the southern California coast make up the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The maritime heritage here is vast with an inventory of more than 140 shipwrecks documented between 1853 and 1980; yet only 20 have been located. Weather conditions can change quickly in this area, a main factor for many of the shipwrecks among the islands.
Historical Park (NPS)
Air and water temperatures that hover about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 Celsius) make Guam a popular destination for divers. The War in the Pacific National Historical Park preserves this strategically-located island and its importance in U.S. history. The period between the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941 and subsequent Japanese occupation of Guam, followed by the American reinvasion in 1944 are the primary focus of the park. Many of the wrecks are of Japanese origin.
Known as the “Ocean Graveyard,” more than 3,000 shipwrecks have been recorded along Cape Cod’s coastline. While most of the dive sites are outside of the park’s boundaries, Cape Cod National Seashore provides ample opportunity for wreck divers to explore a significant chapter in America’s maritime heritage. “Know before you go” is crucial before embarking on a diving adventure in this area—check local conditions and consult local diving experts.
Marine Sanctuary (NPS)
Located north of Cape Cod, Stellwagen Bank is an underwater plateau that spans 19 miles (31 km) north to south, is six miles wide and between 100 to 120 feet (30-37m) below the surface. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary protects maritime heritage for several historic and modern sunken vessels. While dive conditions in this offshore environment at the mouth of the Massachusetts Bay can be challenging, it is also rewarding. For more visitor information about Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, check out our Spotlight Article.
If you find yourself at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, explore sunken shipwrecks and take some time to wander the shores where many vessels reveal themselves in the shifting sands. Located along the shore of Lake Michigan, there are 33 recreational diving sites that include shipwrecks and maritime-related facilities.
Located along the shore of Lake Superior in northern Michigan, the rock formations that make Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore an above-ground destination extends to the underwater environment. The clear waters provide excellent visibility as divers explore this area where 21 shipwrecks have been documented within the boundary of the lakeshore; 13 of these locations are known.
Kothrade/Share the Experience)
The frigid waters surrounding Isle Royale National Park help preserve 10 major shipwrecks that represent some of the earliest steam navigation dating back to the late 1800s through the 1940s. Located in Lake Superior, Isle Royale is a wilderness area 45 miles (72.4 km) long and two to six miles (9.6 km) wide. The water around the island is clear and the below-50-feet (15.2 m) water temperature is the same year round, two degrees above freezing.
On November 23, 1907, after hours of fighting a gale in northwestern Lake Huron, the crew of the wooden steamer Monohansett took a chance to regroup, only to be faced with a fire that quickly sank the ship. All 12 crewmembers made it to safety. Today, the Monohansett's steel propeller and lower hull are visible in 18 feet of crystal clear water. With more than 50 identified shipwrecks ranging from schooners to steamers and from depths shallow to deep, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a recreational wreck diver's dream.
New York and New Jersey
An area known as “Wreck Alley” just minutes from the heart of New York City is a wreck divers’ paradise. Gateway National Recreation Area and Fire Island National Seashore are surprising entry points to an area where hundreds of shipwrecks dot the landscape below the surface. And outside the park boundaries are well known wrecks like the USS San Diego, Oregon, Black Warrior, Mohawk and the Andrea Doria.
Seashore (Ann Respess/Share
Known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks are meccas for wreck divers. Topography, weather and currents made for treacherous sailing conditions and caused many shipwrecks for merchant ships. During World War II the Germans launched an attack sinking more than 80 ships. There are also wreck sites among the sand dunes, and depending on shifting sand, one can observe the skeletons of ships as time and erosion converge to dismantle these vessels.
Marine Sanctuary (NPS)
As a protected wilderness area, the 73-mile (117 km) coastline of Olympic National Park is a unique treasure and gateway to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. While diving from the beach is not an option, boat diving off shore and within the sanctuary provides a window to more than 150 historical shipwrecks on the ocean floor. Weather was the biggest factor in the demise of most ships along this coastal stretch as more traffic flowed in and out of the Puget Sound in the 1900s.
Among 22 islands in Lake Superior is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore where more than 100 shipwrecks create about two dozen known wreck sites; most of which are great for diving. Be aware that the water here is dangerously cold and weather can change quickly. Check the park’s Things to Know Before You Go to help you plan your trip.