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Ask Chicagoist: SCUBA Diving in Lake Michigan?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on May 25, 2007 2:00PM


Can I go SCUBA diving in Lake Michigan in Chicago?

Swimming with the Fishes

2007_05_askscuba.jpgDear SWTF,

Yes, you can. But can we ask you why you'd actually want to? When we think of SCUBA we think of pretty coral reefs and colorful fish in exotic locales with crystal-clear blue water. We also think of drowning, gasping for breath, getting the bends, and that "Family Ties" episode where they kept chanting "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus" when Alex was helping Mallory study to be on a game show — but that's probably not relevant to your question.

We're somewhat biased, we admit, in our claustrophobic preconceptions of diving. But if you're really into strapping on the flippers, there's no need to wait for your next trip to the Cayman Islands to indulge your habit. There are all sorts of shipwrecks littering the bottom of the lake, and plenty of groups who like diving down there to check them out.

Now, you can't just walk up to Lake Michigan anywhere in the city, squeeze into your wet suit, and start diving. That would be chaos. You can either enter the water from a boat, or from the North Ave. Beach Chess Pavilion, where you (and your buddy — you can't dive alone) register with a lifeguard and then dive in from a wall. Proof of certification and dive flag and float are required. We should warn you that it might not be the most exciting dive you'll ever do. In fact we're pretty sure it'll be downright boring and probably not even worth the effort. But, we suppose you never know what you'll find in the murky (albeit altogether too shallow) depths of Lake Michigan.

Which, incidentally, is shipwrecks. Yes indeed. Lake Michigan is apparently riddled with sunken ships, and many dive groups spend their time sailing out to the wrecks and exploring them. Not all of the wrecks are in Chicago proper, but there are quite a few chartered dives taking off from Burnham Harbor that head out to different dive sites in the lake. Dive Chicago, for example, specializes in shipwreck dives, offering different trips and charters for groups (you can even bring your own iPod to plug into the boat's sound system).

Another local group with many shipwreck dives, as well as other excursions around the Midwest is Midwest Divers. They have a busy schedule this summer with different dives all over the area.

Our diver friends all talk about Haigh Quarry as the best place to dive near Chicago. It's just outside of Kankakee (so about 60 miles away), and is apparently quite nice, all things considered. All things, as far as we can tell, being that we're not on a beautiful island in the Bahamas. There are also some nice places up in Wisconsin for shipwreck diving.

Ask someone at your favorite dive shop for more ideas on where to go in the region. Although we've noticed dive shop owners have a tendency to close up shop and — not too surprisingly — go diving (in cool and interesting places more so than Kankakee) as much as they possibly can. In other words, call ahead; they might be 50 feet below sea level.

Image via luist & his inner pig.

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