Thousands of shipwrecks lie off the coast of Northern Ireland. Shipwrecks reveal information about life, technology, trade and warfare at the specific moment they were lost. There’s a database of shipwreck incidents, information for recreational divers, guidance on archaeological finds underwater and when you need a licence.

Database of shipwreck incidents

A database of shipwreck incidents based on historical sources, UK Hydrographic Office data, Sports Diver information and marine geophysical surveys has been developed to support marine spatial planning; enhancement of these records is ongoing. 

This database benefits a wide range of stakeholders, and links in to Historic Environment Division’s (HED's) work on regionally important but undesignated sites on land, where enhancement of the record is an important part of our wider offer to the public.

Designated wreck zones, historic wrecks and a density map of documented marine losses can be viewed on the Historic Environment Map Viewer:

Information for divers

If you are visiting a shipwreck site, the Department asks that you take notice of established codes of conduct such as the Respect Our Wrecks (BSAC) code of practice.

If you find an underwater archaeological site that you think might be of importance then we would ask that you:

  • record the position and details of the site
  • do not disturb the site; and
  • report your discovery to the Receiver of Wreck

If you do intend to recover any objects of historic interest from the seabed using a vessel, vehicle, structure or floating container (including lifting bags), you should enquire with DAERA Marine Licensing Branch as to whether a Marine Licence is required.

Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, all wreck material found in the sea or on the shore must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck based in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

For more information see the Guidance note prepared by the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee (JNAPC) and others:

Marine antiquities scheme

The Marine Antiquities Scheme (MAS), an initiative created to improve knowledge of our underwater heritage through the recording of marine finds, was launched in Northern Ireland in February 2018.

The scheme aims to enhance awareness of Northern Ireland’s marine heritage by helping record archaeological finds in the marine environment. Through its website and mobile app, MAS enables users to record archaeological material discovered anywhere from the Mean Low Water Level Mark to territorial sea limits. 

Guided by the approach ‘record any discovery before any recovery’, the scheme allows finders to learn more about their discoveries, help characterise the archaeological nature of the marine environment, and allow public access to the data for research. 

To learn more about MAS, go to Marine Antiquities Scheme.

Dive NI

Dive NI launched in June 2020 and provides an online resource enabling the recreational diving community to explore and contribute to the recording of Northern Ireland’s rich natural and historical marine heritage.

The website includes:

  • many of Northern Ireland’s most well-known and accessible wreck sites; much of this wreck information has been provided by HED curatorial staff and derived from the Historic Environment Record of Northern Ireland (HERoNI)
  • The Dive NI website also includes  useful guidance on responsible diving with regard to underwater cultural heritage and how to go about reporting and recording this heritage.

HED staff recognise that the general public has always been instrumental in discovering and recording new underwater sites and they look forward to learning of any new discoveries through the Dive NI initiative.

Dive NI is maintained by the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (National Museums Northern Ireland). Funding for the production of this website was provided by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Environment Fund 2019-22.

Protected wrecks

Northern Ireland's most famous wreck site is the Spanish Armada vessel, La Girona, which sank at Lacada Point on the north Antrim coast in 1588. Finds recovered from La Girona are displayed in the Ulster Museum.

The designation order on this site (under The Protection of Wrecks Act, 1973) requires that any diver wishing to visit it must apply for a license.

Application forms are available on request from:

Your application will be considered by our marine archaeologist (who works on-loan to DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division) who will recommend to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, whether or not a license should be granted.

In 2017 the First World War armoured cruiser HMS Drake was scheduled for protection under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. This is the first time scheduling has been used in Northern Ireland to protect a historic shipwreck situated on the seabed. 

This scheduling is in line with the UK Marine Policy Statement and also helps to deliver international obligations under the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (the ‘Valetta Convention’); it accords with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which deems WW1 Military remains to be of cultural, historical or archaeological interest; and, importantly the Drake scheduling has the support of key local stakeholders.

Once a monument has been scheduled, it is an offence to execute, cause or permit to be executed any works which affect a scheduled monument without scheduled monument consent. Public access, i.e., diving on the site is permitted on a ‘look but do not touch’ basis. Anyone who does visit the wreck is encouraged to provide a brief report about their visit to the Historic Environment Division to assist in monitoring the wreck. Any reporting can be sent to:

The wreck is managed through the joint-working of HED and DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division

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