Attention Paddlers and Boaters: The Buoys are Back!

“The lake is the boss” and “know before you go” are literally words to live by when kayaking in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Before your next paddling or boating adventure, it pays to learn as much as you can about the weather forecast and wave conditions. Lake Superior can be glass-calm in one instant and a short time later you might face three-foot waves from a fast-moving storm. The islands themselves influence wind and wave patterns every day and the cold water presents and ever-present risk of hypothermia. That’s why proper gear, training and forecast knowledge are so important.

To help you make smart decisions, you can now get real-time wave and weather information from a growing constellation of buoys strategically positioned in and near the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

On June 9th, crews deployed eight spotter buoys at key locations. Chin Wu, project leader and a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says those locations include Little Sand Bay, Little Manitou Island, Big Bay on Madeline Island, Long Island, Saxon Harbor, and three locations established last year: Siskiwit Bay near Cornucopia, the mainland sea caves, and on the southeast side of Stockton Island. There is no longer a buoy near Devils Island as there was in 2021.

Map showing buoy locations around the Apostle Islands

The buoys provide real-time wave height, wind and temperature information. That data is used to provide wave forecasts for key locations in and around the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Josh Anderson, assistant scientist at UW-Madison’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering said the buoy that was in Chequamegon Bay last year will not be part of WISC-Watch this year because it was associated with a different project, which is complete.

The Sand Bay buoy to is now closer to Little Sand Bay. The Stockton Island buoy was moved from the more sheltered Julian Bay to just off the Presque Isle Peninsula so that it’s exposed to more waves.

“I compared the data from the buoys last year to our wave model,” Anderson said in a news release. “The model was accurate at five of the seven locations. After we collect a couple more years of data in more areas of the Apostles, that will help make the wave model more accurate. The winds are the problem. All the wind fields that we use to drive the wave models don’t reflect all the funneling of the wind through the island channels. We’re working on that.”

When you click on the buoy icons, you get specific wave information like this.

You can track conditions and wave forecasts for these locations at the WISC-Watch website; the acronym stands for Water Information for a Safe Coast Watch. 

You can also see timely web cam photographs overlooking the mainland sea caves.

Perfect paddling conditions at the mainland sea caves.

If you’ve used the WISC-Watch buoy information online, the team would like to know what you think. Adults can take a 15-minute public survey ( ) as the team works on the best ways to communicate real-time wave information.

The WISC-Watch Project, now in its second season, is funded by the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, Wisconsin Sea Grant and the UW-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Other project partners include the National Park Service, the National Weather Service in Duluth, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the cities of Bayfield and Ashland, Northland College, the Lake Superior Nearshore Working Group, the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and local outfitters.

You may also like…