Department for Culture Media and Sport

protected wreck sites

As an island nation the United Kingdom has a long and proud maritime heritage. This is reflected in the quality of our marine historic environment.

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 complements the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 by providing an alternative means of designating and controlling access to heritage assets located in English territorial waters.

Protected wreck sites

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 enables us to protect the site of a wrecked vessel from unauthorised interference on grounds of its archaeological, historical or artistic importance by designating a restricted area around the site. Prior to doing so, we seek advice from English Heritage.

A map of sites designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 may be found on the English Heritage website.

Licences to dive protected wreck sites

It is a criminal offence to do any of the following in a restricted area without a licence issued by the 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 use equipment constructed or adapted for any purpose of diving or salvage operations.
  • Deposit anything which, if it were to fall on the site, would obliterate, obstruct access to, or damage any part of the site.

Applications for licences should be sent to English Heritage. They may also be submitted electronically via the English Heritage website.

Preventing illicit trade

We also work closely with The Receiver of Wreck, part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, to prevent illicit trade in items recovered from protected wreck sites.