Victoria’s maritime heritage

Victoria has a rich and diverse maritime history that reflects the settlement, development, growth and change of the entire state. Heritage Victoria manages historic shipwreck sites and relics in Victorian coastal ;and inshore waters. We also manage shore-based maritime archaeological sites.

Types of maritime heritage

Maritime heritage is very diverse. It includes:

  • Historic shipwrecks
  • Historic shipwreck artefacts
  • Sunken aircraft
  • Jetties and piers
  • Navigation structures
  • Ship building sites
  • Maritime landscapes
  • Maritime defence infrastructure

Victoria’s Legislation information

The Victorian Heritage Act 2017 and the Heritage (Underwater Cultural Heritage) Regulations 2017  protect shipwrecks that are found in enclosed waters such as the bays, rivers and lakes around the state. The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (currently under review), protects shipwrecks that are located outside of these areas. Both Acts have similar protection provisions.

All shipwrecks and shipwreck relics/artefacts that are 75 years or older are automatically protected by both these pieces of legislation and are recorded on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Other items of maritime heritage 75 years or older are also protected by legislation.

You can dive or fish on most of Victoria’s shipwrecks. All historic shipwrecks have heritage value, and they are often fragile sites. It is an offence to interfere with, damage or disturb historic shipwreck sites or take relics from any historic shipwreck. Heavy penalties apply.

Anglers are allowed to fish near the majority of historic shipwreck sites; only historic shipwrecks in declared protected zones are off-limits to boat access. We encourage you to find out where these nine protected zones are located.

When fishing near an historic shipwreck, be careful about placement of your anchors (and weighted shot lines) because it is illegal to interfere with, damage or destroy historic shipwrecks and severe penalties apply.

Damage to historic shipwrecks can occur as a result of dragging and recovering anchors. Historic shipwrecks are fragile structures that often have weakened and vulnerable hull remains due to their long submersion underwater. There are sometimes loose artefacts on the surface of the seabed on or near historic shipwrecks that can also be easily damaged and destroyed.

SCUBA divers are allowed to access almost all historic shipwrecks for recreational diving activities. We encourage suitably qualified and experienced divers to enjoy Victoria's historic shipwrecks, it’s a marvellous way to explore and interact with our significant underwater heritage places.

When diving near an historic shipwreck it is important to be careful with your equipment to avoid disturbing the fragile protective layers that have accrued on shipwrecks after years underwater. It is also important to have good buoyancy and careful finning technique to avoid accidental damage to the fragile structures.

Divers can apply for a permit to access certain/some protected zones for recreational diving purposes.

Historic shipwrecks and historic shipwreck relics are protected by the Heritage Act 2017 and the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

Any shipwreck or shipwreck relic that is 75 years or older is protected by legislation and as such, permits are required if you wish to disturb a wreck in any way. Permits to disturb a wreck site or use maritime artifacts are subject to fees. Payment can be made by cheque or EFT and must be made when lodging a permit application.

For any historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic that is in Commonwealth waters, you need to use the Commonwealth online form to apply for a permit.

Maritime infrastructure sites on land such as jetties, piers, sea walls or maritime defence structures- are protected under the Heritage Act 2017, through the archaeology provisions. Disturbance and works to these sites require consents rather than permits.

Under the Heritage Act 2017, there is provision to nominate particularly significant shipwrecks or relics that may not meet the 75 year threshold. Shipwrecks or shipwreck relics that are between 10 and 75 years old and are of demonstrated state level significance, may be nominated for inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Of the 600 recorded shipwrecks in Victoria, only about 250 have been located.

Whether you find a shipwreck or shipwreck artefact when diving or fishing, through hours of research or unexpectedly discover one, don’t disturb it in anyway – it maybe a shipwreck protected by heritage legislation. Please take as many photos and drawings as you can and record GPS coordinates or other location data such as visual transits.

Complete the form (DOCX, 148.3 KB) to report the discovery of a shipwreck or shipwreck artefact.

We will investigate the wreck or artefact and its history and we encourage you to help us and be involved with researching and surveying.
If the wreck has not previously been reported, you must report the location within 7 days of finding the wreck or artefact. It is an offence under both Acts to not report the location of a shipwreck or artefact and heavy penalties do apply.

Explore some of Victoria’s shipwrecks without getting wet!

Read shipwreck stories and view photographs of the items found on board at Google Cultural Institute.

Get up close and personal with 3D digital models of items in our collection, including artifacts recovered from the wrecks of Loch Ard, Isabella Watson and City of Launcesto.

Heritage Victoria holds a large and unique collection of archaeological artefacts from both land and maritime excavations across Victoria. Victoria is the only Australian state that maintains such a significant historic archaeological collection.

The maritime artefacts, recovered from beneath Victoria’s waters, and the shipwrecks they are associated with,  form part of the State’s rich maritime heritage. The collection is available for research, viewable online through the Victorian Archaeological Artefact Database (hosted by Museum Victoria), or by appointment.

Artefacts are available for loan to organisations for exhibitions, research or educational projects. Contact Heritage Victoria for details: 03 9415 4444.

Get involved in maritime archaeology

There are several ways of becoming involved on maritime archaeology projects in Victoria. Open the accordion below to find out how.

The internationally accredited course is licensed to the Australasian Institute of Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) from the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) in the UK. The Australian course is made up of two main parts, which become more intensive as students progress through the program.

Part 1 is a two-day (usually a weekend) course that equips participants with the basics of underwater archaeology. There is some theory on legislation, history of maritime archaeology and search and survey techniques. Students participate on a simulated underwater survey (on land) and draw up their results. After passing a short quiz, students will receive their internationally recognised certificate.

More information is available at AIMA. Heritage Victoria teaches the program in various locations around Melbourne and regional Victoria on demand.

To put your name down for an upcoming course email Heritage Victoria or the State tutor Peter Harvey.

Flinders University in Adelaide offers world-recognised post-graduate courses in Maritime Archaeology, which you can study on campus or by distance education.

Heritage Victoria’s maritime archaeology team can be contacted via heritage.victoria@delwp.vic.gov.au or 03 9938 6894.