Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive - Top 10

Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive - Top 10

Wreck diving is an experience quite unlike any other underwater adventure. For some, the thought of venturing into the dark recesses of a submerged scrapyard is intimidating or even frightening, while others relish the opportunity to explore a shipwreck’s hidden past. For the novice wreck diver not trained in penetration, simply swimming around the outside superstructure is exciting in itself, and no more difficult than diving a reef.

Shipwrecks are often described as artificial reefs due to the abundance of marine life that they attract. This only adds intrigue, bringing color and life to a seemingly ugly tangle of metal. The photo opportunities are endless, and wrecks bring a whole new dimension to underwater photography.

Here at Bluewater Dive Travel, we’ve selected some of our favorite wrecks and compiled a list of the best shipwrecks to scuba dive.

 

best shipwrecks to scuba dive

Pick a destination or scroll down to read the entire list: 

1. SS Yongala, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

2. SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea

3. USAT Liberty, Bali, Indonesia

4. Fujikawa Maru, Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon

5. SS President Coolidge, Vanuatu 

6. USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

7. USS Oriskany, Florida, USA

8. Hirokawa Maru, Solomon Islands

9. U-352, North Carolina, USA

10. Iro Maru, Palau


SS Yongala, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Considered one of the best dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef, the SS Yongala sits at 98ft on an open sandy stretch of sea bed within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. She sank off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland in March 1911, but was not discovered again until 1958. Mostly intact, the 358ft wreck is now a fantastic artificial reef, every surface covered in superb hard and soft corals with sea fans dancing in the brisk current.

Expect to spot all manner of supersized marine life on a dive here, including huge grouper, eagle rays, and turtles, as well as flashy schools of hunting barracuda and giant trevallies. Manta rays and several shark species can sometimes be glimpsed beyond the wreck’s superstructure, and from June to November dwarf minke whales and humpback whales have been known to make an appearance.

Despite the ‘no penetration’ rule, Australia’s largest wreck is a fantastic dive, showcasing the best of the Great Barrier Reef’s biodiversity in a unique environment.

Learn more about the Great Barrier Reef

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Cairns Airport (CNS).

Diving Season: Year-round. 

Water Temperature: 73 to 84oF (23 to 29oC).

Depth: 49 - 108ft.

Difficulty: Depth allows for all levels of diver, however, the stronger currents do require some experience.

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To dive the SS Yongala, view the availability of the MV Spoilsport and book online at the best price! 

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SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea 

A favorite amongst divers worldwide, the SS Thistlegorm is an exciting wreck in the northern Red Sea, well known for its cargo of military supplies. Lying in around 100ft of water, she offers intriguing swim-throughs and gloomy holds still packed with motorbikes, jeeps, and a shipment of wellington boots! 

The Thistlegorm was bombed en route to Alexandria, Egypt in 1941, and the resulting explosion split the ship in half, spreading much of her cargo across the surrounding sea bed. As such, exploring the outside of this 490ft wreck is just as interesting as venturing inside, with great piles of ammunition, two steam engines, and an anti-aircraft gun still in place.

Emperor Elite Emperor Superior

Heavy currents and persistent damage from dive boats have resulted in steady disintegration of the Thistlegorm’s superstructure, however hard and soft corals and some interesting macro can still be spotted amongst her rusting framework. This is a fascinating wreck suitable for all diving levels, offering visitors a snapshot of wartime history.

Learn more about diving the Red Sea. 

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Sharm El Sheikh International Airport (SSH).

Diving Season: March to December.

Water Temperature: 75 to 79oF (24 to 26oC).

Depth: 52 - 105ft.

Difficulty: All levels, but current may be tricky.

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To dive the SS Thistlegorm, view the availability of the Emperor Superior, Emperor EchoBlue Horizon (Red Sea Master)or the M/Y Blue Melody Liveaboard and book online at the best price! 

Find out about Aggressor trips to the Red Sea or other great destinations.

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USAT Liberty, Bali, Indonesia

Lying only 100ft offshore on the Indonesian island of Bali, the USAT Liberty was torpedoed and beached near Tulamben in 1942, before being washed back into the sea by the eruption of nearby Mount Agung in 1963. The 412ft army cargo ship sits on a sandy slope between 10 and 98ft, and is now the best-known dive site in Bali, and possibly all of Southeast Asia.

The Liberty is a spectacular artificial reef, smothered in corals, tube sponges, and gorgonian fans, and with a huge diversity of reef fish at home amongst the ledges and overhangs. Expect to spot schools of trevally, bream, and vivid anthias, as well as batfish, angelfish, sweetlips, and butterflyfish. On the surrounding sand, divers can attempt to catch a glimpse of garden eels, gobies, and blennies as they disappear and reappear in a coordinated dance.

Liberty Dive Resort Liberty Dive Resort

The location and shallow depth of this wreck make it one of the most accessible anywhere, and it can be enjoyed by snorkelers as well as all levels of diver. Numerous short swim-throughs are a great introduction for new wreckers, while deeper penetration should be reserved for more experienced divers. 

Learn more about scuba diving Bali

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS).

Diving Season: Year-round.

Water Temperature: 81 to 84oF (27 to 29oC).

Depth: 10 - 98ft.

Difficulty: All levels, including snorkelers.

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To dive the USAT Liberty, book a stay at Liberty Dive Resort, Ocean View Tulamben, Villa Markisa, or Paradise Palm Beach Bungalows

OR

view the availability of liveaboards Sea Safari VII, Damai I, Damai II

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Fujikawa Maru, Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon

Located at the heart of the largest ship graveyard in the world, Fujikawa Maru is the piece de resistance of over a hundred military wrecks, casualties of Operation Hailstorm, the Allied bombing of the Japanese fleet during WWII. As a transport ship, much of her fascinating cargo is still in place, however, the main attraction has to be several virtually untouched Zero fighter planes resting in the second hold. 

Much of the outside of the wreck is encrusted in coral, attracting a great variety of marine life including some interesting macro. In particular, the guns at the bow and stern, misshapen by colorful sponges and crinoids, make for a fantastic photo. Keen eyes might also spot one of a variety of shark species patrolling between the wreckage.

wreck diving Truk Blue Lagoon Resort

With the main superstructure at a depth of only 30ft, the Fujikawa Maru is a great recreational dive, and Chuuk Lagoon’s clear waters and lack of current means that many of the intact wrecks and artifacts scattered across the sea bed are free from silting. The whole area has a sense of being frozen in time, a ghostly window into the past.

Learn more about Truk Lagoon.

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Chuuk International Airport (TKK).

Diving Season: Year-round. May to December is the rainy season which can reduce visibility.

Water Temperature: 81 to 86oF (27 to 30oC).

Depth: 30 - 110ft.

Difficulty: All levels.

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 To dive the Fujikawa Maru, book a stay at the Truk Blue Lagoon Dive Resort

OR

view the availability of the liveaboards Truk Master or  Odyssey Adventures

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SS President Coolidge, Vanuatu 

Another casualty of WWII, the SS President Coolidge was a huge luxury liner, pressed into service as a troop carrier during the war. In early-1942 she hit two mines trying to enter the harbor on Espiritu Santo island, beached on the nearby reef and then slid down to her current position at a depth of 70 to 240ft. The 5,340 evacuated troops left all their personal and military belongings on board, making for a fascinating underwater museum of artifacts, protected from removal by the Vanuatu government. The most photographed icon on board is a porcelain panel known as ‘The Lady’, still in good condition and with the original colors visible.

Accessible from the shore, and with much to offer both recreational and technical divers, there are around 50 dives on this massive wreck, and many visitors to Vanuatu will dive exclusively on the President Coolidge. Marine life is abundant, and many of the South Pacific’s key species make an appearance. Expect to spot turtles, moray eels, and barracuda sheltering amongst the wreckage, with the occasional reef shark patrolling in the background. 

The SS President Coolidge is an exceptional wreck that keeps on giving. Every dive will leave you wanting to explore more.

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Bauerfield International Airport (VLI).

Diving Season: Year-round. 

Water Temperature: 72 to 82oF (22 to 28oC).

Depth: 70 - 240ft.

Difficulty: All levels.

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USS Kittiwake, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

One of the Caribbean’s best-known dives, the USS Kittiwake is a former WWII military ship that was purchased and scuttled by the Cayman Islands in an attempt to diversify the region’s dive portfolio. Sunk in 2011, the 250ft wreck is situated just off Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach, and in only 75ft of water offers divers an excellent introduction to wreck diving. She was originally sat upright until huge swells from Tropical Storm Nate ripped the bridge open and tipped her onto her port side in 2017.

Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive

As a relatively young wreck, the Kittiwake has yet to develop the variety of marine life found at other similar sites, however, a good amount of macro can still be spotted amongst her superstructure. Schools of horse eyed jacks, barracuda, and turtles patrol her outer reaches, while southern stingrays and eagle rays are often seen in the surrounding sand. Minimal colonization by corals and sponges means much of the metalwork remains visible, and the compass and steering wheel, ship’s bell, and two recompression chambers are all easy to identify.

Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive

Close to shore, and in relatively shallow water, the USS Kittiwake is an excellent first-time wreck dive whilst also offering more experienced divers a unique taste of a pristine wreck. And with the top in only 27ft of water, much of her can be enjoyed by snorkelers too.

Learn more about the Cayman Islands

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM).

Diving Season: Year-round. 

Water Temperature: 72 to 82oF (22 to 28oC).

Depth: 27 - 75ft.

Difficulty: All levels, including snorkelers.

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To dive the Fujikawa Maru, book a stay at the Compass Point Dive Resort or view the live availability of the Cayman Aggressor V.

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USS Oriskany, Florida, USA

The USS Oriskany is the largest artificial reef in the world and one of only three aircraft carrier wrecks accessible to recreational divers, creating a one-of-a-kind experience. Located 22 miles off Pensacola in Florida’s panhandle, the 60-year old ship was sunk in 2006 as part of a US Navy program to recycle decommissioned ships for economic and marine benefits.

Like the Kittiwake in Grand Cayman, the Oriskany is a fairly young wreck, and it has taken time for marine life to colonize their new reef. Increasing numbers of tropical fish are starting to move in, while grouper, amberjack, and tuna are regularly spotted nearby. A good part of the superstructure is shallower than 100ft, and divers with a variety of skill sets can thrill in exploring her bridge, flag bridge, and pilothouse, complete with radar and navigation equipment still in situ.

At over 900ft long and with a beam of 148ft, visitors return again and again to explore this vast and fascinating wreck, making it one of the most popular in the US

 Learn more about Florida.

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Pensacola International Airport (PNS).

Diving Season: Year-round. 

Water Temperature: 65 to 82oF (18 to 28oC).

Depth: 80 - 210ft.

Difficulty: All levels, with some currents, swell, and poor visibility in the winter.

 

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Hirokawa Maru, Solomon Islands

Known locally as Bonegi 1, or B1, the Hirokawa Maru is the best preserved of three Japanese cargo ships that ran aground in the Solomon Islands during the American bombardment of Japanese forces in 1942. Accessible as a shore dive from Bonegi Beach, west of Honiara, the top of the wreck lies in just 16ft of water with the stern dropping down to 196ft. Colorful hard corals and large sea fans cover gaping holes in the superstructure, all in the same excellent condition as the natural reefs throughout the Solomon Islands.

While her stern is in one piece, the Hirokawa Maru’s bow is fairly broken up and can be quite confusing to dive. Sponges, gorgonians, and hard and soft coral add to the misshapen jungle of debris that, with increased depth, gradually identifies as the ship’s hull. Expect to swim through schools of snapper, butterflyfish, sweetlips, and batfish, as well as the usual bright hue of bassets and fusiliers. 

This 510ft wreck needs to be dived several times to fully explore all she has to offer. Shallow, and with beach access, she also provides a great adventure for snorkelers.

Learn more about the Solomon Islands

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Honiara International Airport (HIR).

Diving Season: Year-round. 

Water Temperature: 80 to 85oF (26 to 29oC).

Depth: 16 - 196ft.

Difficulty: All levels, including snorkelers.

 


 

To dive the Hirokawa Maru, view the live availability of the Solomons PNG Master.

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U-352, North Carolina, USA

Considered one of the best wrecks in North Carolina, the hull of this German U-Boat lies in 110ft of water, off Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks. She was sunk by USCG Cutter Icarus in 1942 and rediscovered in 1975 in what is now known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’. Her hull is mostly intact, restricting any penetration, but there is visible damage from the torpedo strike that sunk her. Debris-scatter on the sandy seabed is spread across a 330ft radius.

This wreck is a fascinating artificial reef, heavily encrusted in soft coral and anemones. Large schools of red barbier baitfish and amberjacks abound, and expect to come across lionfish lurking under the keel. Visibility of up to 100ft and the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream makes this a great North American wreck to explore.

Read Tanya Houppermans’ account of diving with sand tiger sharks on North Carolina’s wrecks.

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Wilmington International Airport (ILM).

Diving Season: May to November.

Water Temperature: 68 to 80oF (20 to 26oC) during the season.

Depth: 110ft.

Difficulty: All levels, although conditions can be more challenging at either end of the season.

Back to List of Destinations


Iro Maru, Palau

The Japanese oil tanker Iro Maru is one of over 60 military ships that were sunk in Palau during WWII. Today, many of the wrecks have been salvaged or removed, however, the vast Iro Maru is considered one of the best remaining to explore. She sits upright at a maximum depth of 130ft, with much of the deck, bridge, and mast above 80ft.

Ocean Hunter III

Whilst she has some great penetration dives for those with experience, there's also plenty to see on the outside superstructure. The forward and aft guns are still in situ and there is a good amount of ammunition spread across the wreck and the surrounding seabed. The bridge is easily accessed although none of the instrumentation or equipment remains. Palau’s vibrant reef life has overrun every inch of this 470ft vessel, her enormous hull festooned in a fantastic array of macro life, nudibranchs, and clams. Anemones and their clownfish add further entertainment, as well as countless other small reef fish.

 Learn more about Palau.

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Nearest Airport: Roman Tmetuchl International Airport (ROR).

Diving Season: Year-round.

Water Temperature: 81 to 84oF (27 to 29oC).

Depth: 65 - 130ft.

Difficulty: All levels.

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 To dive Iro Maru, view the availability of the Ocean Hunter III, Palau Siren, and Palau Aggressor II, and book online at the best price! 

Back to List of Destinations 


OTHER PLACES IN THE WORLD TO SCUBA DIVE WITH AMAZING shipwrecks

Of course, there are many other places around the globe where scuba divers can explore fantastic wrecks as well as the marine environments surrounding them. 

Coron is the wreck-diving capital of the Philippines, with some experts even saying it's the best in Southeast Asia. During World War II, the Americans bombed and sunk a fleet of Japanese ships, many of which remain well-preserved (with ammunition and fixtures still intact) and teeming with marine life. Aside from the wrecks, divers will enjoy the healthy reefs and vast underwater caverns. 

Best Shipwrecks to Scuba Dive

Coron Bay Wreck

Coron may be the Philippines' best-kept secret, but probably not for long, as more and more people are heading there for not only the amazing diving but also the breathtaking limestone cliffs, white-sand beaches, and brilliant blue-green waters!

Well-known for its pristine coral reefs, extremely rich marine life, and exotic culture in off-the-beath-path locations, Papua New Guinea or PNG is also home to a variety of World War II wrecks such as ships, aircraft, and submarines. This is the perfect destination for scuba divers who enjoy taking photos of the metal structures.

Papua New Guinea Trip Report Papua New Guinea Trip Report 

Photos from BWT's recent trip to Papua New Guinea, led by Mark Strickland

The east coast of Sri Lanka is also renound for its shipwrecks, with some excellent recreational and techncal dives including the WWII aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes.

Liveaboards are an excellent way to explore shipwrecks. Find out more about our best liveaboard destinations.

Where have you seen the best wreck diving in your travels? Let us know in the comment section if there’s a particularly beautiful area that you’d like to recommend!

 

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