Wreck diving

Exploring wrecks is—for many people—the main reason of scuba diving. This activity is particularly popular in countries without coral reefs to dive on. However, it also has a general appeal, because wrecks give a historical context for a dive and demand mastery of special skills.

Wreck diving is not just about ships; crashed aircraft and military vehicles carried by sunken vessels provide equally enthralling alternatives.

Sunken ships have an obvious attraction as sites of archaeological and historical interest. A wreck is a time capsule from a given period, and the waters around most countries contain
thousands of them. Although most known wrecks are metal-hulled vessels, unusual conditions
will sometimes preserve wooden-hulled ships dating back hundreds of years. These provide an
excellent opportunity to examine past shipbuilding techniques, and sometimes hold interesting and unusual artifacts. To explore significant wrecks, you should be properly trained and, preferably, work within an archaeological organization. Information on recent wrecks, such
as warships sunk during the two world wars, is usually readily accessible. It is often possible to research the specifications and history of the vessel, along with details of its crew and mission. Historical records may give details of the events surrounding the sinking of the ship. Wrecks also make for good diving because they act as artificial reefs, attracting all sorts of marine life. Over time, the structure becomes encrusted with marine growth, especially filterfeeders, if it lies in a tidal stream. Fish exploit the safety and shelter that wrecks offer: smaller fish tend to shoal around wrecks; larger fish, such as moray or conger eels, can hide safely in nooks and crannies; and predators, such as sharks,  may be found in the wreck’s surroundings, because they feed off the smaller fish.

Preparation and skills

Wreck diving can be a fascinating activity, but it is not without risks. Under no circumstances go inside a wreck if you lack appropriate training and equipment; the danger of entrapment is very real, and specialist knowledge and skills are required to enter wrecks safely. Exploring the outside of wrecks is safer, but always treat such sites with respect.

diving in confined spaces
Wreck penetration often involves exploring in dark, confined spaces. It is not recommended for those with claustrophobic tendencies.

Finning technique

Wrecks often contain a lot of static silt and mud, which is easily disturbed by changes in water currents caused by divers finning overhead. Good visibility can suddenly and dramatically change to almost zero, so using a frog kick, which generates relatively little turbulence, is recommended to minimize disruption of the silt. The best time for wreck diving is at slack water, but a small current can help sweep away any disturbed silt.

Using guidelines

When you arrive at the dive site, ensure that your boat cover is moored to the wreck’s marker buoy. If it doesn’t have one, an experienced diver needs to swim down and attach a guideline directly to the wreck, to act as a guide for other divers to follow. If you intend to return to the surface via the same guideline, it can be useful to use a distance line to help you find your way back to the bottom of the guideline, especially in poor visibility. If you plan to ascend from another part of the wreck, deploy an inflatable marker buoy

Penetrating wrecks

When wreck diving, you should carry backups of certain pieces of gear, such as your reel and your flashlight, as well as an independent air source, such as a pony bottle (see p.68), in case
of emergencies. You must also ensure that you follow the “Rule of Thirds” with your air consumption—a third of your air is used to get to the site and explore, a third to return to the point of entry, and a third is left in reserve as a contingency. Allow extra time at the end of the dive to find the guideline, and do not take any unnecessary risks with your dive time, depth, or penetration.

the golden rule
Never remove items from a wreck. As with any artifact, marine finds are more useful to archaeologists when examined in situ, and their context provides more information about the wreck than if they are handed in without details of where they were located. Worse still is if they are lost forever in a diver’s personal artifact collection.

Exploration tips

It is a good idea to investigate the area around a wreck, since artifacts may have spread over time and pieces of wreckage may have been knocked off that might be of interest, but take great care.
Always be aware that the structure (both inside and outside a wreck) may be much degraded and potentially dangerous. Wear protective gloves, even in warm waters, as corroded metal can be sharp. Wrecks are often heavily fished, so carry a knife in case you become entangled in fishing line. You also need a powerful flashlight (and a backup) to illuminate your way in poor visibility, and to signal to your buddy. In some very enclosed wrecks, it is advisable to wear a helmet and head lamp.

Responsibilities when Diving

Wrecks are historical sites, and just as you would not remove artifacts from a historical site on land, such as a castle or monument, you should also respect a wreck and not damage it in any way. Be considerate of the enjoyment of others who may dive the wreck after you. Dive
responsibly and with care, and do not remove anything without being given permission to do so. When you find an artifact, such as a ship’s bell, after a long, hard search, you may feel that you deserve to be able to take it away as a trophy, but all such discoveries should remain where they were found, or be raised by trained archaeologists for preservation in a museum.

Artificial reefs

At some popular dive sites, wrecks have been sunk deliberately to provide a safe, interesting dive at a reasonable depth for recreational divers. Such wrecks quickly become colonized by marine life and provide a fantastic opportunity for diving and marine research. They are generally
a good place to start wreck diving, since the structure will be intact and any hazards will have been removed. At some wreck sites there are special diving trails with underwater display boards to explain the layout. There may also be laminated booklets that you can take with you on the dive, which enable you to read about the most interesting features of the wreck while on site.

diving in confined spaces
Wreck penetration often involves exploring in dark, confined spaces. It is not recommended for those with claustrophobic tendencies.

Every wreck diver’s dream is to find a previously undiscovered wreck—and there are certainly still plenty to be found. Before you embark on such a search, you should familiarize yourself
with the law regarding wrecks, and any wreck you find should be reported to the authorities. Generally speaking, you can dive any wreck around the world apart from those that are designated as historic wrecks and war graves, which are restricted and require special
permission to dive. Locating a virgin wreck can be a difficult, lengthy task, and is likely to
be expensive. But a modern hardboat with an experienced skipper and high-tech equipment such as an echo sounder, 3D imaging of the seabed, and a GPS system, combined with charts and some good background research on your part, could help you hit the jackpot. Many undiscovered wrecks are found in very deep water, so make sure you are fully qualified and appropriately trained before undertaking deep wreck dives.

Finding out more

If your interest in a wreck goes beyond merely diving it and you wish to enhance your dive by finding out more about the wreck’s history, there are a number of available sources of information. Good starting points include books on wrecks in the area that you are diving, and using the Internet to do some background research. There are numerous websites and forums where you can discover more about wrecks, and also make contact with other divers interested in finding new wrecks. Furthermore, local museums may have displays of artifacts recovered from wrecks in the area, and local divers and boat skippers may be able to reveal information about the history of a wreck.

Dive deep and explore exotic marine life when you choose to enjoy Sharm el Sheikh holidays.

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