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.
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 20 feet 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 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.
Advanced dive sites
More advanced dive sites include the Arabia (the “crown jewel” of Tobermory), Forest City and Niagara II wrecks. These sit at depths of 100 to 120+ feet, where you’ll encounter thermoclines with water dropping to 40°F/4°C. A drysuit is really recommended for these sites.
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). 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 45 feet below the surface, with a max depth of just under 100 feet. Most of your time exploring the wreck will bet between 60-80 feet. 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).
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.