Victoria’s underwater heritage includes impressive sunken submarines, steamships and ferries, a silent fleet scuttled in deep graveyard waters, well-preserved hulls of wooden sailing ships supporting spectacular marine life in Port Phillip Bay, and the remains of small ships and large sailing vessels scattered along the coast.
There are around 660 shipwrecks along the Victorian coastline, but only about 300 have been found. You can dive on most of them without permission. All are protected by law.
Maritime heritage protection
There are two sets of protection for maritime heritage in Victoria.
Shipwrecks, aircraft wreck sites and artefacts
The Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 protects shipwrecks, aircraft wreck sites, and artefacts along Victoria’s coast. The Heritage Act protects shipwrecks and shipwreck artefacts in coastal waters. Coastal waters include Port Phillip, Westernport, and Victorian rivers. Some maritime infrastructure sites like jetties, sea walls and mooring dolphins are also protected.
There are about 390 recorded wrecks protected under the Commonwealth legislation. To find out if a wreck is listed under the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act, search the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database.
There are about 260 recorded wrecks protected under the Heritage Act. To find out if a shipwreck is listed under the Heritage Act, use the Advanced Shipwreck Search.
Additionally, there are hundreds of maritime infrastructure sites protected under the Heritage Act. These sites are listed in the Victorian Heritage Inventory. To find out if maritime infrastructure is listed under the Heritage Act, use VicPlan or search by property address.
You are required to report any shipwreck that you identify.
Protected zones are no-entry zones around some wreck sites in Victoria. They provide extra protection for significant and fragile wrecks. Both the Victorian and Commonwealth law allows for the declaration of protected zones. There are 10 protected zones in Victoria.
Protected zones vary in size and very few are identified by pylons or danger marks. All protected zones are marked on most navigational software, and on the following charts:
- AUS 158 Port Phillip South and West Channels
- AUS 143 Port Phillip and the Rip
- AUS 182 Approaches to Corner Inlet and Port Albert
It is an offence to enter, anchor, trawl, fish or dive in a protected zone without a permit. It’s the responsibility to boat operators to know where the zones are and avoid them.