Scuba diving is a multifaceted and dynamic adventure activity that allows you to explore the fascinating underwater world of wildlife and the treasures that the sea guards. Diving, however, can also be a way to submerge (literally) yourself in history when it comes to wreck diving. Wreck diving consists in exploring ship wrecks and sometimes even aircraft that lie under the water´s surface.

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The UK boasts hundreds of sites for wreck diving as we have a rich naval history, and unfortunately there are many ships that have sunk around the coast. Nowardays  there are also ships that are scuttled (purposely sunk) in order to create tourist attractions for diving and to give a second life to a ship that is no longer able to sail the ocean blue.

Why wreck dive?

There are multiple reasons why wreck diving is fascinating. First of all, the sunken ship creates an artificial reef which which creates a new habitat in which sea life prospers. Divers are also many times attracted to the morbid, tragic history of the boat, and/or by the mechanical parts of the boat. Many of these parts are no longer featured on ships or they cannot be seen when the ship is afloat. Wreck diving is a great way to preserve our cultural patrimony and to make history interesting and dynamic adventure.

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There are 3 categories of wreck diving that were developed, Non-penetration diving, Limited penetration diving and Full penetration diving, by Gary Gentile in his book The Advanced Wreck Diving Handbook. The first type consists in only swimming over and around the ship wreck. It is dangerous, but not as dangerous as the other types but divers must be aware of fishing lines and nets that may be around as wrecks are often a popular place to fish.

The second, Penetration within the¨ light zone¨ as named by Gentile, is diving the wreck where there is still light. However it presents dangers like getting snagged or cut by parts of the wreck. Diver must also be able to move horizontally, something which can cause complications in the event of a cut air supply.

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The last consists in going deep into the wreck which is only for experienced divers as it involves diving with technical equipment and dealing with the dangers of getting lost inside the wreck, losing the source of light or not being able to exit in case of a loss of air supply as well as becoming injured by part of the structure.  It must be noted that not all wrecks are fit to be explored inside and one must investigate first before undertaking the dive by contacting the Nautical Archaeology Society.

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Wreck Diving Courses:

It is quite easy to find a course for wreck diving as many diving providers both technical and theoretical training for wreck diving. The official diving bodies PADI and SDI both offer courses. The training usually consists in learning skills like air management, wreck diving planning and how to correctly use the reel (which is used to mark your way throughout the dive) along with other special equipment for wreck diving. However, most courses are only for the second level of wreck diving or for wreck diving which penetrates 100 feet into the wreck.

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Technical diving courses do exist for those looking for advance training so as to be able to explore deeper into wrecks using more complicated equipment. In the UK the Nautical Archaeology Society is a distinguished organisation which looks after underwater cultural heritage as well as diving and archaeology. 

In the UK there are thousands of sunken ships to explore, especially along the Isles of Scilly and the Southern Coast.Wreck Diving is controlled in the UK and there are three Acts that were established to protect these historical treasures at the bottom of the sea.

Map of wrecks along the coast

Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 states that divers may not take any artifacts from the wrecks without reporting it to the owner of the wreck (who is called the Receiver of Wreck).

Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 states that without a licesne, certain wrecks are not allowed to be explored.

Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 states that if a wreck is a war grave (in the UK there is one military aircraft and 16 ship wrecks), it may not be explored without a license.

Wrecks to explore:

There are countless wrecks in and along the British coast. One notable wreck is the recently scuttled HMS Scylla who now lies in Whitsand Bay, Cornwall. She was purposely sunk in order to create an artificial reef, to give her a new use and to create a diving attraction. In the near future we will be publishing more articles about specific dive sites, so stay tuned!

We highly encourage anyone who is even slightly fascinated by naval history or diving to try wreck diving. It is an astounding and fascinating experience that you won´t soon forget!