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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.

Maritime infrastructure

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

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.

Protected zones in Port Phillip

Protected zone location -38.076829, 144.826321 (250m radius)

The City of Launceston (1865) is one of Victoria’s most significant wrecks. The original ferry between Melbourne and Tasmania, it is one of the most intact iron steamship wrecks of its age in Australian waters.

Protected zone location -38.202570, 144.723253 (100m radius)

Clarence (1850) is an early cargo trading vessel and is one of the most surveyed wrecks in the state.

Protected zone location -38.207960, 144.730102 (100m radius)

Joanna (1843) is a well-preserved wreck and one of the earliest known examples of a Victorian-built sailing ship to be found in Victorian waters.

Protected zone location -38.241498, 144.701159 (50m radius)

Will O’ the Wisp (1853) is the wreck of a former opium schooner. When it was first discovered it was lying in 2 to 3 metres of water and a large part of the hull remained.

Protected zone location -38.272943, 144.705493 (250m radius)

William Salthouse (1841) is one of the oldest and most important shipwrecks to be discovered in Victoria. It was the first cargo vessel to sail between Canada and Australia, directly flouting Britain’s trading laws which banned direct trading between British colonies.

Protected zone location -37.967382, 145.007876 (0.5 hectare rectangle)

HMVS Cerberus (1926) is a highly significant shipwreck and landmark in Half Moon Bay, Black Rock. Cerberus was the first armoured fighting ship built for service in Australia and the first designed to operate without sails.

Protected zones outside of Port Phillip

Protected zone location -38.486944, 144.750556 (500m radius)

SS Alert (1893) was a nineteenth century coastal steamer, which sank in a wild storm in the late 1800s with the loss of 15 crew onboard.

Protected zone location -38.744000, 146.677800 (50m radius)

PS Clonmel (1841) is a very significant site as the ship’s wrecking directly enabled the opening up of Gippsland and the development of the small towns around Port Albert.

Protected zone location -38.5524, 147.2074 (500m radius)

SS Glenelg (1900) is one of the worst maritime disasters in Victorian history with the deaths of 38 people and only 3 survivors. After the wreck was discovered it was subject to heavy looting and was placed in a protected zone to help prevent further theft.

Protected zone location -38.1222, 148.7308 (800m radius)

SS Federal (1901) was lost in a storm off Gabo Island, with the loss of 31 crew. This highly significant wreck was 3D mapped by CSIRO research vessel Investigator in 2018.

Page last updated: 17/03/23