There are more than 800 recorded shipwrecks in South Australia. Most are resting on the bottom of the state's waters and can only be visited by diving and snorkelling. However, more than 70 of these wrecks are classed as graveyard vessels as they have been deliberately abandoned around the margins of the state's coast and waterways or deliberately scuttled as artificial reefs. Most can be visited by boat, kayak and even walking. A few shipwrecks are located completely on dry land.
Where to go
The term 'ship's graveyard' refers to a place where vessels that have reached the end of their useful lives are deliberately abandoned or scuttled, often because it is more economical to discard them rather than adapt them for reuse.
The vessels abandoned at these graveyards tell the history of shipbuilding from the 1850s to the 1960s and represent the diversity of vessels that worked South Australian waters during that time.
SA's ships' graveyards are home to everything from majestic windjammers, steamships and motor vessels that travelled international waters to coastal traders, fishing boats, ferries, tugs, dredges and barges. Today the remains of these vessels lie in various states of repair. While a rotting keel or rusting places are all that remain of a few, other vessels are largely intact.
You can visit the 19 ships' graveyards that are located around SA's waters. Many are on muddy shores and can be viewed by land, kayak or small boat, while others are accessible to recreational divers.
With more than 800 known shipwrecks in SA, DEW has created a series of nine shipwreck trails encompassing some of the more prolific shipwreck areas. These include inland trails along the River Murray, extensive coastal trails, and confined 'ship trap' locations like Horseshoe Bay at Port Elliot.
You can take a self-guided interpretive tour along the shipwreck trail, which provides information about the maritime heritage of the region and the shipwrecks within them.
Prior to visiting
There are no restrictions on visiting most shipwrecks in SA. However, there are three shipwrecks located in protected zones where visitors need to obtain a permit prior to visiting.
There may also be access restrictions imposed by other authorities or landowners, particularly for wrecks in some of the ships' graveyards. If you intend to visit these please contact DEW on (08) 8124 4960 or email DEWHeritage@sa.gov.au for advice.
DEW has produced several handy guides and brochures for many of the shipwrecks in SA. These include booklets and brochures describing each of the nine shipwreck trails, fact sheets on vessels in each of the ships' graveyards, and tips on topics such as anchoring around shipwrecks (see Visiting Shipwrecks).
Recreational scuba divers are encouraged to explore our significant underwater heritage sites and historic shipwrecks. In most cases, there are no restrictions on divers visiting these sites but divers are reminded that it is illegal to dive within a historic shipwreck protected zone without a permit.
Shipwrecks provide a wonderful opportunity for recreational divers to explore and engage with the State’s maritime history. Qualified SCUBA divers and snorkelers are welcome to visit almost all shipwrecks for recreational diving activities.
Historic shipwrecks can be fragile, and poor diving practices, such as careless finning, poor buoyancy control and dangling equipment, can permanently damage shipwreck structures and the protective marine growth that has built up over long periods underwater. Avoid visiting shipwrecks in times of heavy surge to avoid the temptation to grab hold of the shipwreck.
• download the brochure Diving shipwrecks
Boating, anchoring and fishing
Shipwrecks are well known as important fish habitat and are popular locations for anglers. When anchoring around shipwrecks, boat operators should take care to anchor in a way that avoids impact. Anchors can snag on shipwreck structure resulting direct damage as the anchor is retrieved. Anchor chain can also rub against the shipwreck structure or the marine growth covering it, causing abrasion and eventual break-down. Penalties may apply if damage is caused.
• download the brochure: Anchoring on shipwrecks
• download the brochure: Snagged objects from the marine environment
If you are interested in maritime archaeology, you can get involved in a number of ways. You can study maritime archaeology professionally, join an avocational group, do a short course or get involved in DEW volunteer activities.