Lake Erie Shipwrecks | Top 5 in Ohio

lake erie shipwrecks
lake erie shipwrecks

Lake Erie is a graveyard littered with shipwrecks. Its shallow waters with reefs wreaked havoc on unsuspecting ships. Weather played a big part in historical shipwrecks. Lake Erie can be a dangerous place in a thunderstorm or wind. The lake can be calm one minute, and in the next, there are waves higher than your vessel. Often visibility can drop to zero. Fog also plays a big role in the ability to navigate Lake Erie. Discovered every year are new Lake Erie shipwrecks. However, historical documents are sparse. Often when ruins are found it is hard to tell if the wreck has been salvaged or not making identification difficult. There are currently 277 documented shipwrecks in Lake Erie according to the Ohio Sea Grant.

Weather Causing Shipwrecks on Lake Erie

Weather is said to be the number one reason there are so many shipwrecks in Lake Erie. The weather on Lake Erie can turn in an instant. One minute it is flat and calm and the next you are in six-foot waves. Ships will typically follow the same path during calm conditions, but during wind events, they alter course to stay out of the wind. Sometimes the wind is unavoidable, for example, if it blows from the West or East there is no calm water in the middle of Lake Erie. A south or north strong wind can be avoided by boating close to the shore where the wind is coming from.

Why so Many Shipwrecks in Lake Erie?

Not only does weather cause shipwrecks, but the bottom structure of Lake Erie is unique. The lake is split into three basins. The western, central, and eastern basins. The western basin has only an average depth of 24 feet and is considered a dangerous area to navigate a large ship. When a ship loses power, there is no real way to avoid running aground somewhere in the western basin. Several shipwrecks are located in the western basin due to shallow water. Some of the more dangerous places to navigate are around the Lake Erie islands and Sandusky Bay.

Another large cause of shipwrecks in Lake Erie is due to fires. Old wooden ships that catch fire are certain to self-destruct and sink. With no real way to put out the fires, the crew would have to abandon the ship.

Preservation of Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks located in Lake Erie naturally last longer than shipwrecks located in salt water. The constant flow of clean and fresh water helps preserve the shipwrecks on the bottom of the lake. Zebra mussels have taken over some of the wrecks. The mussels cover up the structure left behind by the wrecks. Mud and sand flows through Lake Erie causing some of the shipwrecks to be some or mostly covered up. This is due to runoff and heavy winds across the lake.

The Top 5 Lake Erie Shipwrecks in Ohio

Isabella Boyce | Middle Bass Island

The Isabella Boyce is located on the North East corner of Middle Bass Island. Middle Bass Island has a long point normally referred to as Lucy’s Point, popular for fishing. The point is a rocky shoal that extends far out into the lake marked by a green buoy at the end for navigation. The ship was known as a sandsucker type. There was no known cargo onboard when the ship ran aground on the rocky reef. After running aground the ship caught fire and was abandoned.

The bow faces the North with pieces scattered throughout the area. Pieces of the shipwreck are in 4-10 feet of water along the point. When approaching the wreck, come in from the East. There are shallow boulders in between the wreck and shore that will ground your boat. Lastly, large waves cause the rocky point to be seen.

F.H. Prince | Kelleys Island

The F.H. Prince shipwreck is on the East side of Kelleys Island off the airport runway. Located about a half mile from the end of the runway. The shipwreck lies in 18 FOW. The ship was carrying sand as cargo and was a propeller ship. The bow faces the West toward Kelleys Island shore. The ship was built in 1890 and wrecked in 1911. The cause of the wreck was fire.

The engine and boiler were removed from the sunken ship in 1914. The wood from the ship remains on the bottom of Lake Erie. Just under the surface of the water lies the stack, caution in this area is mandatory. Divers sometimes mark the stack with a milk jug or small buoy. To caution boaters, the wreck should marked by a buoy in the future.

Toledo Shipwreck | Rattlesnake Island

The Toledo wrecked one mile West of Rattlesnake Island in 35 FOW. This is a rocky bottom with some silt present. The ship was 100 feet long and had rock on board. Additionally, silt covers part of the wreck, but the cables are draping over the ship. The cable drums are close to the wreck. The ship was lost by being foundered.

Divers on the wreck should take caution because of the cables draping on the wreck. The steel pontoons and firebox are both visible as well. Use a dive flag and the buddy system. Never dive into this wreck alone.

The Wisconsin Shipwreck | West Sister Island

The Wisconsin shipwreck lies two miles from West Sister Island in the western basin of Lake Erie. The vessel was 218 foot long and had no cargo on board when wrecked. The remains stick up about 9 feet off the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck’s wood spreads over a large area. Diving in this area requires the right conditions as the water can be low visibility quite often. Lastly, Check the water conditions before heading out there.

Chicago Board of Trade | Niagara Reef

The Chicago Board of Trade wrecked due to a storm. The wreck is on Niagara Reef in the western basin of Lake Erie. Niagara Reef is on the edge of the Camp Perry firing range. This schooner was 153 feet long and carrying coal at the time of the wreck. The keel of the boat lies on the reef with coal scattered around. The anchor is still visible and so is the anchor chain. The rudder is on display across from the Coast Guard station in Toledo. Part of the anchor is on display in Port Clinton. Lastly, While diving at this wreck look out for unexploded ordinance and fishermen.