Updated September 2020
Tobermory is one of Canada’s best locations for scuba diving, and one of the top freshwater dive sites in the world. Scuba diving in Tobermory is renown for its numerous well-preserved shipwrecks.
The scuba diving is all within the Fathom Five National Marine Park, which protects the shipwrecks, lighthouses and ecosystem of the area. (A park day pass or annual pass must be purchased to dive here; local dive shops will bundle this with your charter or air fill purchase.)
Tobermory features a mix of easy, shallow dives that are perfect for beginner divers (and still exciting enough for experienced divers), and deep, cold dives reserved for advanced divers only.
Sweepstakes schooner shipwreck
The Sweepstakes shipwreck is Tobermory’s most famous and photographed wreck. It was a Canadian schooner built in 1867 (the year Canada became a country) and sank in Tobermory’s Big Tub Harbour in 1885. It sits upright in only 7m/20ft of water, so the ship’s deck is only a few feet below the surface and clearly visible from above the water.
It’s no longer possible to enter the wreck (in order to preserve it), but there’s a spot where you can descend and look into the hull.
City of Grand Rapids steamer shipwreck
Also in Big Tub Harbour, only a few fin kicks away from the Sweepstakes wreck is the wreck of the City of Grand Rapids, a passenger steamer. It sits in even shallower water, barely contained under the surface.
The Tugs dive site
The Tugs is a shore dive site that includes the wrecks of 4 small steam tugs, including the Alice G, Robert K, John & Alex and a fourth unidentified tug. It’s located just outside the Small Tub Harbour, and there’s a large wooden deck at the shore for suiting up, and stairs into the water.
Caroline Rose schooner shipwreck
The Caroline Rose is a schooner built in 1940 and thought to have been one of the schooners depicted in the former $100 bill (but later disproven). The ship was purpose-sunk in 1990 as a new dive site, but heavily damaged in a storm. While not the most notable or exciting wreck in Tobermory, it’s a relatively easy dive at 16m/55ft with lots of equipment to explore.
Arabia and Forest City shipwrecks
More advanced dive sites include the Arabia (the “crown jewel” of Tobermory) and the Forest City, often paired together in a 2-dive charter. These are two deep, cold and dark dives, so they’re quite challenging even in the best conditions, and should only be done if you have experience with deep, cold dives. Water temperature at depth is frequently as low as 40°F/4°C. A drysuit is really recommended for these sites.
The Arabia is 40m barque built in 1853 and sank in 1884. The wreck is in good condition and the bow is particularly impressive. The maximum depth at the Arabia is 37m/120ft, but can be fully appreciated from a depth of 32m/105ft. The current can be strong, so get a proper briefing and dive conservatively.
The Forest City is a steamer built in 1870 and sank in 1904. The wreck sits at a steep incline, with the bow sitting in 18m/60ft of water, while the more impressive stern is at 46m/150ft. For advanced divers with the appropriate certification and training, the wreck is best appreciated by descending to 40m/130ft to appreciate the stern, then make your way back up the wreck and do an extended safety stop in the shallows. The angle of the wreck can be disorienting.
Philo Scoville schooner shipwreck
The Philo Scoville is a 42m/140ft schooner built in 1863 and sank in 1889. The bow and bowsprit are the deepest parts of the wreck around 24m/80ft, while other wreckage can be found in depths as little as 7m/25ft amidst interesting rock formations near the shore. In calm conditions, do your safety stop in the shallows and do a surface swim back to the boat.
Niagara II shipwreck
The Niagara II shipwreck was a purposely sunk in 1999 to act as a playground for scuba divers (and freedivers willing to brave the cold). The ship was originally a 55m/192 ft tanker that was converted to a sandsucker. It sits just outside the national park (which wouldn’t permit its sinking within the park). The ship has been cleared of all equipment, doors and windows, so penetration of the wreck is safe and there are lots of corners to explore. It sits upright, with the top of the wheelhouse at 14m/45ft below the surface, with a max depth of 28m/98ft. Most of your time exploring the wreck will bet between 18-24m/60-80ft. Visibility can deteriorate in the afternoon as divers stir up silt through the day.
Conditions and temperature
The diving in Tobermory is amazing because of the amount and conditions of the shipwrecks, as well as the surprisingly clear water (particularly for freshwater).
Unfortunately, the tradeoff is cold water. The cold freshwater is what has preserved the wrecks for 100+ years.
While the water temperature at the surface can get as high as 70°F/21°C in the summer, deeper dives will have thermoclines, with water temperatures dropping to 40°F/4°C year-round. For shallower dives, a 2-piece 7mm wetsuit is sufficient, but you’ll stay warmer in a drysuit. A drysuit is highly recommended for deep dives.
Staying and scuba diving in Tobermory
The largest and best-known dive shop in Tobermory is Diver’s Den, offering morning advanced charters and afternoon open water charters. They also offer snorkelling tours, tank rental and fills, and full equipment rental (wetsuits, not drysuits). They offer accurate nitrox tank fills; drop your tanks off in the afternoon for pick-up in the morning.
There are a few basic motels in downtown Tobermory near the Little Tub Harbour. The area also many rustic cabins that can be rented, especially if you’re coming with a group. Or stay at one of the many campsites in the area.