If you would like to know more about the designation of protected wreck sites, the frequently asked questions below should help to answer any queries you have on the process.
How are wrecks protected?
Sites identified as being likely to contain the remains of a vessel or its contents which are of historical, artistic or archaeological importance can be designated under Section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.
Each designated wreck has an exclusion zone around it and it is an offence to tamper with, damage or remove any objects or part of the vessel, or to carry out any unauthorised activities within this exclusion zone.
Administration of this Act, and the associated licensing scheme, is the responsibility of English Heritage in England, Historic Scotland in Scotland, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments in Wales and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland.
Section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 provides protection for wrecks that are designated as dangerous by virtue of their contents. Diving on these wrecks is strictly prohibited. This section of the Act is administered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency through the Receiver of Wreck.
What does protection mean?
A Statutory Instrument identifies the location of the site and also the extent of the restricted area used to ensure the protection of the site. It is a criminal offence to do any of the following in a restricted area without a licence granted by the appropriate Secretary of State:
- 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 using 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.
How can I apply for a wreck site to be protected?
Anyone may apply for an historic wreck site to be protected on account of its historical, artistic or archaeological importance. This may be undertaken by using the online application form.
How can I access a protected wreck site in English waters?
A licence issued by English Heritage on behalf of the Secretary of State is needed 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.
How many wreck sites are protected, and where are they?
There are currently 46 historic wreck sites designated in English waters (61 across the UK). You can search The National Heritage List for England to find protected wrecks within English waters. You can also use our interactive map for further information.
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.