A forum for communication amongst Protected Wreck Licensees and Project Teams

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The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973

Part 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (PoWA) protects specific, designated wreck sites around the UK coastline from unauthorised interference “on account of the historical, archaeological or artistic importance of the vessel, or of any objects contained or formerly contained in it which may be lying on the sea bed in or near the wreck”.

Designation creates an exclusion zone around the site, within which access and activity is restricted. Protected sites and their exclusion zones are marked on navigational charts and may be buoyed or indicated on shore side signage.

A person commits an offence under the Act if:

“in a restricted area, he does any of the following things otherwise than under the authority of a licence granted by the Secretary of State

(A) he tampers with, damages or removes any part of a vessel lying wrecked on or in the sea bed, or any object formerly contained in such a vessel; or

(B) he carries out diving or salvage operations directed to the exploration of any wreck or to removing objects from it or from the sea bed, or uses equipment constructed or adapted for any purpose of diving or salvage operations; or

(C) he deposits, so as to fall and lie abandoned on the sea bed, anything which, if it were to fall on the site of a wreck (whether it so falls or not), would wholly or partly obliterate the site or obstruct access to it, or damage any part of the wreck;

and also commits an offence if he causes or permits any of those things to be done by others in a restricted area, otherwise than under the authority of such a licence.”

Sixty one sites around the UK coastline are currently designated with licenses administered by the devolved Heritage Agencies (English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw and the Environment and Heritage Service of N. Ireland).

Designated sites that are actively worked have a Licensee and a Licence team who undertake to survey, monitor, research and occasionally excavate their site (depending on the terms of their license). The majority of Licensees and team members are volunteers; sports divers with a passion for underwater archaeology who devote considerable amounts of their own time, energy and financial resources to working on and safeguarding the Nation’s Protected wrecks.

There are 4 categories of license:

The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 was a Private Members Bill, which was partly prompted by deliberate, destructive intrusion on the site of the Amsterdam, a Dutch East Indiaman wrecked on Hastings Beach in 1749, and the realisation that no existing legislation could prevent it. As is true for much legislation (and especially for that drawn up in haste), it is an imperfect tool. In particular it can only protect shipwreck sites and not other submerged heritage assets. As a consequence, in Scotland, the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 intends to repeal Section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and to introduce Historic Marine Protected Areas which will be able to protect more than just wreck sites. A licensing scheme will still be in place but visiting and non-intrusive work on sites are unlikely to require a licence.


Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (pdf)

Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 (pdf)

Accessing England’s PoWA Sites: Guidance Notes for Divers


English Heritage: Protected Wrecks

English Heritage Interactive Designated Wreck Map

English Heritage Licence Application forms

English Heritage Historic Wrecks Panel

Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites Archive

Historic Scotland: Protected Wrecks

Cadw: Protected Wrecks

HM Receiver of  Wreck: Protected Wreck Sites

Safeguarding the Nation’s Protected Wrecks