People around the world have always been fascinated with shipwrecks.
There is something about them that just resonates with us and inspires feelings of awe and wonder. One of the best ways to experience this is scuba diving.
So let’s have a look at some of the best wreck dives around the world.
They are often described as artificial reefs as they attract a wide range of marine life, including corals, rays, sharks, etc.
As well as being stunningly beautiful these underwater marine marvels offer us a brief glimpse back into our past where we can imagine the lives of the sailors, adventurers, explorers, and even pirates that once sailed them to circumnavigate our magnificent seas and oceans.
Underwater wrecks are not only limited to experienced divers.
There are many wrecks available out there to divers who have not yet been trained in penetration and can easily swim around the outside of these magical sunken vessels.
As long as the underwater conditions are acceptable this is no more difficult than diving a standard everyday reef.
So, let’s dive in and check out some of the best wreck dives available to you….
USAT Liberty (Tulumben - Bali - Indonesia)
The USAT Liberty is the most popular dive site in Bali and one of the best and most accessible shipwreck dives in the world, it is an easy shore dive. It sits around 100ft (40m) from the shore. The deepest section is at around 95ft (28m) and the shallowest at 10ft (3m).
The USAT Liberty was an American warship/cargo ship that was torpedoed during WWII in 1942 by the Japanese armed forces. Due to the extensive damage, the ship was crippled and subsequently beached by the captain, where it sat rusting away for the next 30 years.
Then in 1963, a volcanic eruption of the nearby Mt. Agung dislodged the vessel and it shifted back into the shallow waters.
The wreck is available to dive all year round with temperatures ranging from 81-84°F (27-29°C) and the visibility is generally around 33-49ft (10-15m). It functions as a spectacular artificial reef and with all the ledges and overhangs is very accommodating to a huge variety of reef fish.
The wreck itself is around 390ft (120m) in length and is completely covered in hard and soft corals, sea fans, nudibranchs, gorgonians, hydroids, anemones, among other things and if you get luck maybe even a manta ray. The wrecks fits seamlessly into its underwater surrounding. You can also see corals on the gun emplacements.
This is a great intro wreck for snorkelers and novice divers alike who will thoroughly enjoy swimming around and exploring all its treasures.
For the more advanced divers, there are also various swim-throughs to make the dive site even more exciting to visit.
SS Thistlegorm (Ras Mohammed - Egypt)
The SS Thistlegorm definitely hits the mark as one of the best dive wrecks in the world. It lies in around 100ft (30m) of water in the northern red sea. It’s a very popular destination for liveaboards, as well as dive safaris and day trips from Sharm El-Sheikh.
This wreck was a British transport ship with a cargo of military supplies en route to Alexandria when bombed by the Germans in 1941. The explosion ripped the ship in half as it sank to the seabed.
The best time to dive the SS Thistlegorm is from March to November and temperatures range from 75-79°F (24-26°C). So a good 3mm wetsuit is sufficient.
The wreck is 420ft (128m) in length and full of swim-throughs and dark and gloomy holds to explore. You will find everything from tanks, trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, and even a locomotive. A real joy for any history enthusiast.
You can find all the marine life native to the red sea here including, sharks, batfish, jacks, snappers, barracudas, and of course turtles.
To explore this marvelous colossus you will need at least 2 or more dives. You need to take a boat to is and it is a nice day trip from Dahab or Sharm El Sheik.
USS Saratoga (Bikini Atoll - Marshall Islands)
The USS Saratoga truly is a grand spectacle underwater. It sits on the sand at a depth of around 177ft (54m). Due to the fact that the island is still uninhabited, this beautiful wreck remains largely unexplored. The bridge lies at around 60ft (18m).
The ship was originally constructed to be a battle cruiser but was then converted to one of the navy’s first aircraft carriers and commissioned in 1927.
After serving in WWII she found herself surplus to requirements and was assigned to “Operation Crossroads” A program used to assess the effects of the atomic bomb on naval vessels. The ship survived the first test with limited damage but then was sunk during the second test.
The best time to visit the USS Saratoga is between May and Oct and you will need an advanced divers cert due to the deeper diving involved.
Diving this 880ft (268m) vessel is a real treat. Due to minimum human interaction, marine life seems to thrive and the ship is now home to a large array of marine species. You can span the entire deck area where you will find the bridge, deck guns, and even a forklift truck.
But be aware there are unexploded WWII bombs still around. So be cautious when diving!
USS Oriskany (Pensacola - Florida)
The USS Oriskany is truly a world-class dive and is the largest artificial reef in the world. Nicknamed “The Might O”, it is one of only 3 aircraft carrier wrecks available to recreational divers and sits at a depth of 220ft (65m). The top of the chimney stack reaches up to around 84ft (26m).
A veteran of the Vietnam War, the 60-year-old carrier was decommissioned and sunk in 2006 around 22 miles (35km) from Pensacola as part of a US navy program to recycle ships for marine benefit.
You can dive the wreck all year round and temperatures range from 65-82ºF (18-28ºC). There can be heavy currents and swells and poor visibility in the winter, so novice or beginner divers are not permitted to dive here.
Diving this 900ft (275m) monster is truly awe-inspiring and it is one of the most popular dive wrecks in the US. Being a relatively young wreck it has taken time for marine life to populate the area.
But now increasing amounts of marine species are slowly moving in. You can even see pelagic fish, reef sharks, whale sharks, or the odd manta passing by. The ship’s island (control tower) is available to almost any advanced diver where you can still see the nav bridge, flag bridge, chimney stack, etc.
Due to the size, there are plans available for navigating the ship.
USS Spiegel Grove (Florida Keys)
The USS Spiegel Grove is one of the largest ships ever sunk for the sole purpose of becoming an artificial coral reef. It rests 6 miles (10kl) from the coast of Key Largo in the Florida Keys at a depth of 130ft (40m). The highest point is at around 45ft (14m).
This US Navy landing dock was commissioned in 1956 and was used as part of the US cold war strategy. After retirement, she would eventually be sunk in 2002 as part of a project to form a new reef ecosystem in Florida. Lots of places are tryin to do this on the East Coast of the US.
The ship actually started to sink before the scheduled time and rolled onto her side. She stayed that way until 2005 when Hurricane Denis ripped through the Caribbean and forced the wreck (to everybody’s surprise) back into an upright position.
The best time to dive the wreck is during the hot season from May to Oct. when you can expect temperatures of 82-86ºF (28-30ºC) with visibility in the range of 30-100ft (10-30m). To dive the wreck you should ideally be an advanced level diver or have logged a sufficient amount of dives.
This 520ft (155m) giant is much larger than any other natural reef structure in the keys and is well on its way to becoming an entire reef ecosystem in its own right.
You can explore the dock, stern, batteries, and bow. There are even various swim-throughs to navigate including hallways cabins and the large hold. There is also plenty of marine life to get your teeth into, with Corals, sponges, groupers, barracudas, gobies, and jacks all on the list of marine species inhabiting this marvelous piece of history.
Plan multiple dives if you want to get the most out of diving the USS Spiegel Grove.
Fujisawa Maru (Chuuk Lagoon - Micronesia)
The Fujisawa Maru is one of the leading wreck dive sites in the world. Out of the 45 or more known wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon, the Fujisawa Maru is by far the most famous and popular. The Ship lies off the coast of Eden Island at a depth of 110ft (33m). The main deck sits at around 60ft (18m) from the surface making it accessible to all diver levels. You can find some amazing trips with The Dirty Dozen as well if you are into that.
Originally built in 1938 to be a Japanese cargo ship, she was then refitted and reassigned just 2 years later as an armed aircraft transport vehicle. The ship almost survived WW2 but in 1944 she was sailing out of Chuuk Lagoon when torpedoed by the US Navy as part of Operation Hailstone and sank to the bottom of the lagoon bed.
Chuck Lagoon provides one of the world’s most comfortable dive environments. You can dive all year round but the best time to dive here would be during the dry season, so from December to April. Water temperatures range from 83-85ºF (28-29ºC) with no thermoclines and no currents. Visibility varies from 40-100ft (12-30m).
The ship measures 132m (435ft) and sits almost perfectly upright and intact. It really is a treasure house of WWII artifacts. There are tanks and bulldozers, motorcycles and boxes of ammo and even 9 disassembled Mitsubishi fighter aircraft that can be found in one of the forward hangers.
In terms of marine life, the ship is covered in corals and sponges. Not enough to obstruct the features of the ship but enough to turn this giant hunk of metal into a thriving ecosystem. You will encounter a huge array of tropical fish, sting rays, eagle rays, turtles, grey reef sharks, and much much more. And the Macro is amazing. It almost feels like there is a tiny creature waiting to be discovered in every crack and crevice.
This is also a great dive site to take advantage of your Nitrox certification as you can spend more time exploring.
USS President Coolidge (Vanuatu)
The USS President Coolidge really is an impressive dive wreck. You can dive here multiple times and not even get close to seeing everything she has to offer. It sits 65-230ft (20-70m) underwater making the wreck accessible to all divers from open water upward but it is recommended that you at least have your advanced certification. You can even access the wreck directly with a shore dive.
The ship was built as a luxury cruise liner but then refitted as a troopship during WWII. In 1942 due to poor navigational information the ship stuck 2 friendly mines on the way into port on Esparto Santo Island. The ship was beached on a reef and then slid down underwater to its current location.
You can dive here all year round although the best time to dive would be between April and October. The water temperature can range from 72-82ºF (22-28ºC).
There is an abundance of marine life here. You can see turtles, morays, reef sharks as well as most of the other species associated with the south pacific.
Of course, the main attraction is the wreck itself. You can explore the decks and holds. There are guns, cannons, and even trucks. And then there are the various swim-throughs to get even the most advanced divers excited. The most popular sight is the porcelain panel known as “the lady” which still exhibits its original colors and is in great condition.
Equipment to Bring on a Wreck Dive
Wreck diving is an extremely rewarding activity and can be some of the best diving you will ever do. There are however additional risks to take into consideration especially if you plan to penetrate the wreck.
Here’s a rundown of the essential equipment you will need.
Dive Light & Spare
A good dive light is essential to check out all those nooks and crannies on the inside and outside of the wreck. It will also be essential for navigation if you go deep inside the vessel. Try to get yourself a solid light that is negatively buoyant with either a lanyard or wrist-strap
A dive knife is a great addition. You may need it for cutting lines, wire, ropes, or fishing nets. A good knife will have a straight edge and a serrated edge and will normally contain a line-cutting tool. Noncorrosive materials are best. Something like Titanium.
You can purchase a line-cutting device that attaches to your equipment. The blades are usually concealed for safety. They come in very handy when for example you come across a fishing line that’s blocking your way.
A slate can be used with a regular pencil and is the perfect way to communicate with your buddy or take notes. You might have a greater need for communication when navigating the inside of a large vessel.
A wreck reel is a great tool to mark your return dive path when penetrating a wreck. It can also be used to navigate the outside of a broken-up wreck on the sea bed.
Frequently Asked Questions
This varies depending on where you are diving and what you have planned. A wreck certification is always recommended but not always compulsory (every major agency has a course).
There are 3 types of wreck diving:
Non-penetration – This is when a diver descends on the wreck, circumnavigates the wreck, and then returns to the surface. Although this is the safest method to dive on a wreck, you still have to be aware in case of entanglements. For this type of diving, no extra cert is generally required
Limited Penetration – This is when a diver enters the wreck but the exit is visible at all times and there is still at least a small amount of natural light. A wreck specialty cert is definitely recommended here.
Full-Penetration – This is when a diver enters a wreck and ventures further than the natural light zone. This is of course the most dangerous type of wreck diving as there is no immediate access to the surface in the event of an emergency situation.
And then there are a few other factors to consider:
Depth – If it’s a shallow wreck with good diving conditions then normally an open water certification is enough. If it’s a wreck that sits between 18 and 40m you would need an advanced cert plus a deep dive specialty cert. Some Wrecks are out of reach for recreational divers and can only be tackled if you are a certified tech diver.
Location – Some sites in the world may have local regulations. For example, they may ask for an advanced certification or a minimum number of dives before allowing you to dive.
Like all types of diving, wreck diving carries its own set of specific risks. For that reason, you should always plan your dive thoroughly before descending.
The most common danger is entanglement (so it is always good to know your gear beforehand). Nearly all wrecks have their fair share of protruding objects and railings. Perfect for getting caught on or causing significant damage to your equipment.
And always be on the lookout for fishing lines nets that have been ensnared as they are not always obvious and can catch you off guard. A good dive knife is always handy in these situations.
Silt-outs are also a problem, especially when penetrating a wreck as a diver can get disorientated in the low visibility and head further into the wreck.
Good buoyancy and control are essential skills to maintain distance and navigate a wreck safely especially when penetrating.
So there you have it…… Some of the best dive wrecks out there!
Just make sure when diving a wreck that you have the relevant training required to complete the dive safely and the correct equipment needed. There’s nothing to stop a novice diver from experiencing the wonders of a sunken vessel but we must be aware of the additional risks. Additional training is often required for tricky environments, depth, and of course wreck penetration.
Let us know if we have left out your favorite dive wreck in the comments below.
Happy wreck diving!