Image of a diver surveying the underwater wreck of the 'Invincible'.
A diver surveying the exposed wreck of the 'Invincible'. © Michael Pitts and Pascoe Archaeology Services.
A diver surveying the exposed wreck of the 'Invincible'. © Michael Pitts and Pascoe Archaeology Services.

What Are Protected Wreck Sites?

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 allows the Secretary of State to designate a restricted area around a wreck to prevent uncontrolled interference. These protected areas are likely to contain the remains of a vessel, or its contents, which are of historical, artistic or archaeological importance.

You can search for protected wreck sites on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) and PastScape.

Why protect wreck sites?

  • The sites can hold information about ships, mercantile trade, the lives of sailors and passengers, and society as a whole
  • Modern practices, such as dredging or gravel extraction, can be destructive to the seabed which means that certain zones need to be safeguarded
  • Marine spatial planning benefits from clear identification of significant wreck sites
  • Protection can help broaden public appreciation of England's maritime heritage

Access to protected wreck sites

You can apply for a licence to visit protected wreck sites. Access is monitored through a system of licensing administered through Historic England. There are currently 57 Protected Wreck Sites off England (details of which may be found in the National Heritage List for England).

Historic England has supported the creation of a number of dive trails at protected wreck sites as well as some virtual dive trails online. 

More about dive trails

Dive trails have been successful on a number of levels:

  • The presence of licensed divers at a wreck site can act as a deterrent to anyone thinking of illegally accessing the wreck
  • Research has shown that dive trails bring local economic benefits
  • Visiting divers have a better experience because trail booklets help them to orientate themselves underwater and understand what they are seeing
  • Dive trails make access easier for divers because there's no licence required

By its nature marine archaeology is very inaccessible. Dive trails are just one of the ways the public can explore heritage lying deep underwater. We also raise the profile of our submerged cultural heritage through education and outreach programmes and by sharing research.

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