Historic shipwrecks in South Australian state waters are protected by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 and the Historic Shipwrecks Regulations 2017. State waters include the waters of Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf, in proclaimed historic bays (Anxious Bay, Encounter Bay, Lacepede Bay and Rivoli Bay), inland rivers and lakes, and everywhere else above the high tide mark.

Historic shipwrecks, aircraft and artefacts in Commonwealth or Australian waters (all other waters adjacent to the state waters) are protected under the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018. Both pieces of legislation have similar protection provisions.

All shipwrecks and shipwreck relics (artefacts) that are 75 years or older are automatically protected by the legislation. Similar protection is given to underwater aircraft in Commonwealth waters. Historic shipwrecks, aircraft and relics/artefacts are registered on the South Australian Register of Historic Shipwrecks (SARHS). The contents of SARHS can be accessed via the Australian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database (AUCHD).

Shipwrecks or underwater cultural heritage: what's the difference?

Legislative protection is based on whether the object is located in Commonwealth or state waters.

In state waters, only historic shipwrecks are protected. In Commonwealth waters, however, the term 'underwater cultural heritage' is used to include protected shipwrecks, submerged aircraft or any other cultural heritage items that are declared under the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018.


Development in South Australia is governed by the Development Act 1993. The overarching guide for development around shipwreck sites is the protection provisions of the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981/Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018.

It is unlawful to damage, destroy, interfere with or remove an historic shipwreck (and in Commonwealth waters), aircraft or relic/artefact without a permit.

For further information see Shipwrecks and Development.

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