In order to protect South Australia's historic shipwrecks now and in the future, these wreck sites are covered by legislation. Such legislation prohibits the removal of or damage to these sites and their associated marine life.

Under the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 any interference with historic wrecks is prohibited. Wreck material must not be damaged, moved on site or taken from a wreck. Penalties for breaches of the Acts include confiscation of boats and equipment, fines and jail terms.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 was amended in 2005 to mirror the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act, enabling the protection of all shipwrecks over 75 years (timed from the wrecking or abandonment date).

This amendment granted immediate protection to many ships' graveyard vessels, such as the Seminole, abandoned at Garden Island in 1909, and a former bucket dredge grounded in Broad Creek in 1915.

For other vessels the legislation provides a 'roll-on' or 'blanket' effect, with protection under the historic shipwrecks Acts automatically bestowed on the 75th anniversary of the official loss date.

Some shipwrecks and their associated marine life may be protected under other legislation. There are special restrictions, for example, on activities associated with vessels within aquatic reserves, such as the Seawolf and H.A. Lumb at Port Noarlunga or the Garden Island, Broad Creek and Angas Inlet ships' graveyards which are within the Barker Inlet Aquatic Reserve.