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Diving in the cold Great Lakes is not like diving anywhere else. The bottom water temperature hovers around 40 degrees year round. The visibility is often poor. Wrecks are the primary objects and they abound with dangers both obvious and hidden. Our purpose here is to review the equipment you need to dive comfortably. As an experienced diver, you should make the final decision on your equipment based upon your experience, training, and planned dives.

Before we discuss equipment, however, we offer two general rules:

  1. Double check your equipment before you leave home so that you know it is all there. Check it all again before the boat leaves the dock. While equipment can sometimes be borrowed from others, it causes a great deal of inconvenience and presents the possibility that someone will not get to dive.
  2. Your dive trip is not a place to try new equipment for the first time. From time to time divers will show up with BC's, dry suits, and full face masks without ever practicing with them. Dockside is no time to be cutting the price tag off new gear.

DRYSUIT OR WETSUIT?The favored method for diving is the dry suit, hands down. While wetsuits can serve the purpose especially in August and early September, a dry suit will enable you to dive comfortably any month of the diving season and regardless of the vagaries of each year's summer temperatures. Both the rubber style Viking and Gates brand dry suits and the tri-laminate or crushed neoprene dry suits made by DUI or BARE and others are frequently seen. If you choose a wetsuit it should be at least 5mm.

DRYSUIT UNDERGARMENTS: You should bring a suit of polar fleece or similar modern fabric undergarment with you for use with your dry suit. Some older style undergarments or thin garments will not provide you with the same thermal protection. Properly insulated, you will find your body temperature maintained comfortably at depth.

GLOVES: Both neoprene and sealed rubber gloves will work well. While some committed cold-water divers regard rubber gloves as essential, a good pair of 5 mm neoprene gloves will keep a normal person's hands warm and still allow flexibility of movement. Some neoprene gloves now come with a Kevlar reinforced palm giving more durability. Regardless of which you use, you will need to exercise care in using them in areas with zebra mussels present.

MASK: There are no special requirements for a mask. However, on occasion, divers bring along full-face masks desiring to practice with them. If you are not already proficient in their use, you may find your dives terminating early as you work the bugs out. In such cases, it is wise for you to leave the practicing at home so that you can enjoy your vacation.

FINS: There are no special suggestions for fins. Over the years, divers have used most every kind of fin with success. Recently, "split" fins have appeared on the market and they too have been successful. In choosing your fins, you should consider the possibility that you may have to swim against a moderate or even strong current and you should use fins that allow you to swim comfortably in a surface or sub-surface current with your equipment on.

TANKS: If diving within open water recreational diving limits (60'), an aluminum 80 cf tank or a high-pressure tank of similar or greater capacity is minimally suitable. Any diving beyond that depth with a single tank should be done with a pony bottle to provide an alternate air source. Divers with training as technical divers can comfortably use doubles to provide this same margin of safety.

REGULATORS: Because of the cold water and risk of free flow, the regulator(s) you choose should be resistant to free flow at cold temperatures. Poseidon Odin, Mares Abyss or a similar high quality cold-water regulator is recommended. Regardless of the regulator you choose, it should be recently serviced to insure its operation.

DIVE COMPUTERS: It is strongly recommended that you use a dive computer for planning and conducting your dives. Computers greatly reduce the risk of injury and, if you should encounter a decompression limit, it will guide you to the surface safely. If you do not use a dive computer, you should bring your own dive tables designed by your certifying agency for your use in planning your dives and surface intervals.

BUOYANCY COMPENSATOR: A well made, sturdy BC is suggested. Some warm water BC's are not particularly well suited for cold water use. For instance, they may be intended for aluminum tanks as opposed to heavier steel tanks. Both their construction strength and lift may be less than optimal. You may want to consult your local dive store or dive club for recommendations depending on the equipment and depth you plan to use it with.


  • A reliable pressure gauge
  • A hood, if not integrated into your dry or wet suit, is necessary
  • A snorkel, for your surface swims to and from the bow of the Rec Diver
  • Sufficient weights with a weight belt if weighting is required
  • Lights, yes, lights plural. While not always needed, a light will allow you to see the details and intricacies of the shipwrecks. More than one gives you a back-up.
  • A knife, in the event you encounter line or need it to bang on your tank
  • An air powered signaling device, most divers carry a whistle, but these devices greatly extend the range of your signal
  • DAN insurance. If you are injured, this specialized diving insurance will assist you in providing transportation and hyperbaric as well as other necessary medical care. You can learn more at the DAN web site.

587 N. State St. in St. Ignace, Michigan