What Is Wreck Diving And How Can You Get Started

Wreck diving

The great thing about scuba diving is that once you get some experience, there are many different types of diving you can then pursue. Some of these include cave diving, cold water diving, technical diving, and wreck diving.

We’re going to talk about the latter of those today. You’re going to find out exactly what wreck diving is and how you can get started.

We’ll also examine tips to help you get started as well as the top wreck dive sites in the world for divers of all skill levels.

What Is Wreck Diving?

Not too hard to figure out on this one. Wreck diving is just as the name implies, diving and exploring wrecks on the floors of oceans, lakes, and rivers around the world. These can be either wrecks that were purposefully sunk for scuba divers or that sank accidentally. Some wrecks can be hundreds of years old and some are quite new.

There are wrecks all around the world. In fact, chances are if you travel to a famous diving destination, such as Indonesia or the Caribbean, there will be tons of wrecks for you to dive. Many of these, as we previously stated, have been sunk with the sole purpose of providing extra sites for scuba divers.

Divers of all skill levels can get into wreck diving. Some wrecks will only require that you have an open water certification. For others, you will need to have a deep dive qualification and maybe even an advanced open water certification. If you are planning on doing a penetration dive, where you enter the wreck and explore the insides, you will need to take a wreck diving course.

There are many other levels from this point. Some wrecks are incredibly deep and require that you have technical diving experience. There are others that may be in incredibly cold waters. These will require you to have experience using a dry suit. So, the opportunities for divers are endless and, as you advance in your diving abilities, you will have access to more and more sites around the world.

How Do You Get Started In Wreck Diving

As we mentioned above, there are wreck sites which divers of all skill levels can explore. Generally, when you first start out, you will only be able to explore the outside of a wreck. Usually, you will start at shallow wreck sites that are within the depth ranges for open water divers,  up to 18m (60ft).

There is not much in the way of preparation for these beginner-level sites. Many of these wrecks are in shallow areas such as around reefs. You will not be penetrating the wreck as you need to have special skills and knowledge for this process. So, the most important thing at this point is to focus on improving your overall diving abilities and enjoying getting to see the wreck.

Once you have some experience under your belt, you can go for your advanced open water certification. We will say that it is not absolutely vital for you to get the advanced open water certification. Instead, you can get some of the specialty courses in the advanced open water program and be just fine.

Wreck Diving Courses

The courses that we recommend if you want to get into wreck diving are

  1. Deep Diving Specialty Course
  2. Underwater Navigation Specialty Course
  3. Nitrox Specialty Course
  4. Wreck Diver Specialty Course

The above are all specialty courses for PADI. If you are an SSI certified diver, you will need to do the SSI equivalents. Also, you can do these specialty courses under PADI and transfer them over to SSI to count toward higher certification levels. As we stated above, you don’t necessarily need the advanced open water certification to do wreck diving. Instead, having just the specialty courses will prepare you for more advanced wreck dives.

Deep Diving Specialty Course

You will need the Deep Diving Specialty Course to increase the depth which you can dive to. Many wrecks around the world are in deeper waters that are inaccessible to open water certified divers. This course will help you to understand the different formulas you will need for calculating bottom times. After the course, your dive depth limit will be extended from 18m (60ft) to 30m (100ft).

Underwater Navigation Specialty Course

The Underwater Navigation Specialty Course will help you understand how to navigate on your own. This will give you the ability to start doing dives by yourself or with just a dive buddy instead of needed a divemaster. It can also be important when entering and exiting wrecks to keep you from getting turned around.

Nitrox Specialty Course

The Nitrox Specialty Course will allow you to maximize no-decompression times. Also, if you plan on doing multiple dives during the day, it can help to stave off exhaustion the same way you would get from using regular air.

Wreck Diver Specialty Course

Finally, the Wreck Diver Specialty Course will give you the knowledge you need to safely perform a penetration dive. This will include understanding the equipment you need and how to safely enter and exit a wreck. You will also learn different techniques to help you swim through tight spaces and navigate in low visibility.

Once you have completed these specialty courses, you will be good to dive into the vast majority of wrecks around the world. But, if you want to keep going, there is an even more advanced level of diving that you can train for which will open up even more wreck diving opportunities. Technical diving is the final frontier for divers and will open up the most remote wreck diving spots around the world. Very few divers make it to this level and even fewer have seen the wrecks which you need technical diving experience to get to.

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The reason you would need technical diving experience is because of the depth of certain wrecks. These are wrecks that are in extremely deep parts of the ocean. Wrecks such as the Andrea Dory fall into this category. As we stated previously, this is the holy grail of wreck diving and very few people make it to this level. You will need to be incredibly advanced in your scuba diving skill level. Technical diving can be extremely dangerous to the uninitiated and is not cheap. But, this is the final level of wreck diving which you can make it to.

Wreck Diving Gears

Wreck Diving Gears

Most of the equipment you will use when wreck diving is similar to other types of recreational diving. Especially, beginner level wreck diving. It isn’t until you start getting into advanced wreck diving, such as technical diving, that you need different equipment.

If you are doing shallow dives and swimming around a wreck, you will be fine with your regular dive equipment. So, for others who are doing more advanced dives, let’s take a look at the type of equipment you will need as well as some good options to choose from.


The regulator you use is going to depend on the temperatures of the water you are diving in and whether you are using mixed gasses. If you are diving tropical locations at normal recreational levels, you will be fine with a normal regulator. But, if you are diving cold water sites or technical diving, you will need special regulators.

For cold water diving, you will need a regulator designed to prevent from freezing up. If your regulator freezes it is possible to go into freeflow and can empty your tank quickly. Potentially, before you have time to reach the surface. Even worse, you risk decompression sickness if you ascend too quickly.

When it comes to technical diving, you need different regulators for the different gas mixes you will be using. For oxygen-rich mixes, such as Nitrox or Heliox, you will want a regulator made from a high flashpoint material such as titanium. Each of your mixes will need its own regulator and will be dependent on the dive.

For technical diving, it is best to rent setups from the dive shops you plan on training with in the beginning. As you become more advanced, you can begin to acquire regulators for your specific needs.

Bail-Out System

A bail-out system is a piece of safety equipment that no wreck diver should be without. Bail-out systems are breathing systems separate from your primary air source. They serve as a back-up supply of air in the event that you run out of air or your regulator system fails. This allows you to get to the surface without having to use your dive buddies air supply. A bail-out system usually consists of a small tank with a separate regulator system to be used in the event of emergencies.

Note: Always make sure you are taking into consideration how deep you will be diving when selecting a bail-out bottle for each dive. Depending on the depth, small bottles may only provide you with a few seconds of air. At the very least, you will want enough air to make it to a dive buddy so you can both get to the surface. Preferably though, you want enough air for you to make it to the surface off your spare. This can become much more difficult during decompression dives. So, make sure to correctly perform all of the necessary calculations when selecting a bail-out bottle.


For your BCD, you are going to want something low profile without a lot of dangling straps or rings. It is vital when you are doing penetration dives that your equipment is streamlined. If you have anything hanging off, it is possible for this to snag on parts of the wreck or to tear.

The last thing you want is for your BCD to rip while in the middle of a penetration dive. Especially, if you are doing a technical dive, the extra equipment you are carrying can make it impossible for you to ascend. There are reported cases of dive fatalities due to BCD failure when technical diving. Don’t let this happen to you.

When it comes to wreck diving, you will likely want to choose a wing-style BCD over a jacket type. This allows you to mount your tanks in different configurations depending on the wreck. You can either do a twin mount on your back or a side mount if you know you will be squeezing through tight hatches and spaces. 

Dive Computer

As with your wetsuit, the computer you use will depend on if you are diving within normal recreational levels, or if you are going past technical levels. For normal recreational depths, a regular dive computer will work just fine. It is preferable that you use a wrist-mounted dive computer as opposed to a console. You want to eliminate extra hoses as much as possible and the console hose can become snagged easily. If you are getting into technical diving depths, you need a computer that can manage decompression times and mixed gas on multiple tanks. You will want a dive computer that has an air integration system. Again, so you can eliminate the need for a pressure and depth gauge attached to your tank.


The main thing you want to take into consideration with fins is that you want something sturdy. Also, you want to avoid split fins regardless of the depth of the wreck. The problem with split fins is that they are softer and not as easy to frog kick with. Also, there is a chance that line and other objects can get caught in the split creating a hazard. It is best to use a paddle fin and stick to something black as this is usually rubber and sturdier.

Dive Knife

It is imperative that you have a dive knife, as well as a backup knife or shears when wreck diving. There is always a risk that you can become tangled in some kind of obstruction such as rope hanging from the wreck. If you are performing a penetration dive, you also run the risk that your equipment can become snagged. Sometimes, you may be forced to cut a piece of your equipment to free yourself. This will be the case if you have straps hanging loose. A solid dive knife that you can cut, saw, and hammer with is a must-have on any wreck dive.

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Dive Light

It goes without saying but once you get inside of a wreck there isn’t much light. It is imperative that you take a dive light and have at least one backup in the event that your primary light fails. We prefer to have two backups, one as a backup to the primary, and a smaller light to put in our BCD pocket for emergency situations.

There are a few things you want to take into consideration when selecting a dive light:

  1. Ability to set the light down without it being carried away
  2. Ability to attach the light to your body
  3. How bright the light is
  4. How long the battery lasts
  5. How deep you can take the light

Make sure to take all of these things into consideration when you are buying a dive light. Especially, if you will be going on technical dives, it is important to have a strong light that can hold up to the depths which you will be going to.

Worth reading : Underwater Cameras

Best Sites for Wreck Diving

1. USAT Liberty

shipwreck diving
The shipwreck USAT Liberty undersea in Bali, Indonesia.

This is first on our list because it is one of the most popular wreck sites in the world. It has the advantage of starting off at a shallow depth of only 9m (30ft). The wreck lies on a slope so the maximum depth is around 30m (100ft). This makes it a great site for both beginner scuba divers as well as advanced scuba divers with a deep dive specialty. You can access this site year-round and, since it is in the tropical waters of Bali, the water stays warm throughout the year. The wreck itself is quite broken up so it cannot be entered. But, it is an excellent site nonetheless and a good starting point for new divers looking to get into wreck diving.

  • Location: Bali, Indonesia (off the coast of Tulamben)
  • Best Time to Dive: May to November
  • Skill Level: Beginner to advanced level divers

Also read : Diving In Bali & Indonesia

2. San Francisco Maru

Bow gun of the Japanese ship wreck San Fransisco Maru. Sunk in 1944 in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia as part of Operation Hailstorm.

You will need to be certified for technical diving to access this wreck. But, if you are, it is well worth it as this is one of the more unique wreck sites in the world. The San Francisco Maru was one of a large number of ships in Truk Lagoon (Chuuk Lagoon), located in the Federated States of Micronesia. During World War II, bombing from the allied forces sank dozens of Japanese ships and airplanes around the lagoon, including the San Francisco Maru. What makes this a unique wreck is all of the artifacts still intact on the ship. You can see tanks, mines, and other war artifacts in the ships holds. As mentioned previously, you will need to be certified for technical diving. The ship sits at a depth of between 42m (140ft) and 64m (210ft).

3. The Gunilda

Image courtesy of https://shipwreckexplorers.com/gallery/picture.php?/900/search/7

The Gunilda is a bit different than many of the other wrecks on this list. It is located in the cold depths of the Great Lakes or North America. So, this makes it a freshwater dive as opposed to others on this list which are saltwater. You will need both technical diving and cold water diving experience to make this dive. This means you need to have taken the Drysuit Diver Specialty Course

The wreck rests at a depth of 82m (270ft). At this depth, the temperature remains around 3.88°C (39°F). The water is one of the things that makes this such a great wreck site. Because of the cold water, the wreck has remained well preserved throughout the years. The freshwater has also helped to preserve the Gunilda as opposed to salt water which is highly corrosive. This is regarded by many divers to be one of the best-preserved wrecks in the world. In fact, Jacque Cousteau, one of the pioneers of modern diving and inventor of the Aqualung, even called this the best wreck site in the world.

  • Location: North of Copper Island in Lake Superior (one of the North American Great Lakes between Canada and the United States)
  • Best Time to Dive: July and August tend to be the best months. But, the wind can be unpredictable throughout the year.
  • Skill Level: Tech Divers (drysuit needed as well as a cold water regulator)

4. USS Saratoga

Image thanks to the good guys at https://www.scubadoctor.com.au/article-uss-saratoga.htm

This is a fascinating dive not only for the scenery but also because of the story behind it. The USS Saratoga lies on the ocean floor around Bikini Atoll. You may know this for being one of the original test sites for nuclear weapons in the mid-1940s. 

The USS Saratoga was a US Navy aircraft carrier which was used to test the effects of nuclear blasts on ocean vessels. The Saratoga sank during the second of these tests and now rests at 54m (177ft). One of the best parts about diving the Saratoga is the abundant marine life around the wreck. The islands around Bikini Atoll are mostly uninhabited now and few people make the dive each year due to permit restrictions. For this reason, the area is largely untouched and unexplored which has allowed marine life to flourish.

Note: In order to dive around the Marshall Islands, you must first purchase a permit. Some of the islands and atolls, Bikini Atoll included, have further fees that must be paid. Only a limited number of permits are given each year for some of the sites including Bikini Atoll. It is best to plan this trip ahead of time so you can make sure to secure permits and find a liveaboard to make the dive with. 

5. The MS Zenobia

This is another unique wreck. The Zenobia was a ferry used for transporting vehicles and people. It sank on its maiden voyage off the coast of Cyprus in 1980. What makes this wreck unique is that it had over 100 vehicles on its deck at the time of sinking. These vehicles can still be seen on the wreck. 

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At the time of its sinking, it was estimated to have had over $250 million worth of cargo on board. All of this has been well preserved over the decades making this a phenomenal wreck site. It is also a great wreck for penetration diving if you have the right level of experience. The dive ranges from a depth of 16m (52ft) down to 42m (137m)

  • Location: Larnaca, Cyprus
  • Best Time to Dive: March to November
  • Skill Level: Advanced Open Water Diver and higher with Wreck Diver Specialty Course

6. SS Thistlegorm

You can probably guess by now that World War II left behind an abundance of shipwrecks for modern-day divers to explore. The SS Thistlegorm is another ship from this era full of surprises for those who make the dive. 

It was originally a British transport ship which sank in 1941 after an attack by German planes. This dive is reminiscent of the San Francisco Maru, which we discussed above, due to the cargo it was carrying. 

You can see everything from motorcycles to tanks and jeeps. There is even part of a locomotive that was being transported. The shipwreck is located in the red sea near the Egyptian coast. The wreck rests at a depth of between 16m (52ft) and 32m (104ft).

Wreck Diving Tips

1. Have Redundant Equipment

There is a fine balance you want to strike when it comes to the equipment you bring. If you have too much, you risk creating drag for yourself and having extra things that can become caught or snagged. But, for your most important equipment, air, a dive light, dive knife, you want to have backups.

You can never be too careful and building redundancy into your diving will never do you wrong. There is always a chance that your dive light will fail or that your knife will fall out of its sheath and you can’t find it. So, it is wise to have backups for this equipment so that you are prepared for any circumstances that arise. Remember, once you are at depth, and especially once you are inside of a wreck, there is nothing you can do. If you don’t have backup equipment, you will be in trouble.

We also recommend having a dive watch to help you with things such as bottom times. Many new divers are overly reliant on their computers. But, we cannot stress enough that you should know all of the important formulas you will need on your dive. You should be able to get yourself safely back to the surface in the rare event of a dive computer failure. To do this, you need to have your tables memorized and a dive watch.

2. Always Stay In Your Comfort Zone

Wreck dives are no place for risk-taking. There are many wrecks which you can dive at an advanced level. But, if you do not have wreck diving training, you should not enter them. It can be very tempting to do so. An open hatch that looks easy to squeeze through can make a tempting entry point for any diver. But, if you do not have the proper training for penetration diving, you can quickly find yourself in a dangerous situation that you can’t get out of.

So, do not ever go past your level of training and comfort. The wreck will be there in the future. Instead, enjoy what you can now, and come back later on when you have the proper experience. No dive is worth taking unnecessary risks on. Remember, diving is only as safe as you make it. Scuba diving doesn’t have to be dangerous, but every year divers go beyond their comfort and skill level, and that’s what gets people injured or worse.

3. Review Your Plan

This goes along with tip number two. Have a plan for every wreck dive and review it multiple times before you get into the water. Know exactly how deep you are going and, if you are doing a penetration dive, what route you will be taking.

As a new wreck diver, this is especially important. You want to stick to the known areas of a wreck. The last thing you want is to venture into some unexplored compartment and have issues. Instead, stick to the planned route and enjoy what is in front of you. As you gain more experience diving, there will be more room for exploration. But, as with tip number two, always stick to your skill level.

4. Take Regular Refresher Courses

This is a solid tip for all divers. But, for wreck divers, cave divers, and technical divers, it is important to take regular refresher courses if you’ve been out of the water for a while. The last thing you want to do is jump into a wreck dive if you haven’t been diving in a few years.

The great thing about scuba certifications is that they last for life. But, this means the burden is on you to make sure you are staying up to date with the latest training and techniques. Thankfully, the scuba industry is not one that changes constantly. Sure there is new and improved equipment regularly coming out, but the principles remain the same. 

Refresher courses don’t have to be tedious affairs. Instead, a simple scuba refresher course that goes over the basics will be plenty. You just want to make sure you have all of the basics and safety procedures down. Safety, after all, should be your number one priority no matter how advanced of a diver you are.

Wrapping Up

What do you think about wreck diving? Does it sound like something you might like to try? Though we aren’t the most advanced wreck divers, we certainly do enjoy exploring these treasures of the deep. Let us know in the comments section what you think. If you have any questions or tips, then drop us a line. We love to hear from fellow divers like yourself. Also, if you have any other tips, make sure and share them. You never know when what you have to say might help out another diver.

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