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Protected Wreck Sites FAQs

Here you can find the answers to some frequently asked questions about protected wreck sites and the process involved in protecting them.

How are wrecks protected?

Wrecks may be protected through the designation system. Once we have identified a wreck site as being historically, archaeologically or artistically import, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport may then list it under Section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Each designated wreck has an exclusion zone around it.

We administer Section 1 of the Act and the associated licensing scheme together with our partners Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Historic Marine Protected Areas have replaced use of Section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 for the designation of historic shipwrecks in Scottish territorial waters. The legislation was repealed in Scotland on 1 November 2013. Please see the Historic Scotland website for information on legislation in Scotland.   

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency administers Section 2 of the Act, which relates specifically to dangerous wrecks, through the Receiver of Wreck.


The A1 submarine, built by Vickers in 1902 and sunk in the Solent, was the first British designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy. © Crown copyright, taken by Wessex Archaeology.
The A1 submarine, built by Vickers in 1902 and sunk in the Solent, was the first British designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy. © Crown copyright, taken by Wessex Archaeology.

What does protection mean?

Protection means that, without a licence granted by the Secretary of State and administered by us, it is a criminal offence to do any of the following in the restricted areas:

  • Tamper with, damage or remove any part of a vessel lying wrecked on or in the seabed or any object formerly contained in such a vessel
  • Carry out diving or salvage operations directed to the exploration of any wreck or to removing objects from it or from the seabed, or use equipment constructed or adapted for any purpose of diving or salvage operations. This is likely to include deployment of remotely operated vehicles
  • Deposit anything including anchors and fishing gear which, if it were to fall on the site, would obliterate, obstruct access to or damage any part of the site.

Bathing, angling and navigation are permitted within a restricted area provided they do not breach the above restrictions. Anchoring on the site is only permitted for licensed activities or in cases of maritime distress.

How can I access a protected wreck site in English waters?

You need a licence issued by us on behalf of the Secretary of State to access a designated wreck. Anyone may apply to access a designated wreck. There are four categories of licensed access which are dependant on the type of activity you may wish to undertake.

West Bay Protected Wreck Site, Dorset
West Bay Protected Wreck Site, Dorset © Wessex Archaeology

How many wreck sites are protected and where are they?

There are currently 49 historic wreck sites designated in English waters (64 across the UK). You can search the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) to find protected wrecks within English waters. 

What are war graves?

War Graves are more correctly known as 'Military Maritime Graves'. In the UK, individual vessels and all crashed military aircraft are designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, administered by the Ministry of Defence.

For further information on all typs of designation please refer to our Designation: Frequently Asked Questions page.

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