Culture and heritage

Maritime heritage

Key legislation

There are two main pieces of legislation which protect historic shipwrecks and other submerged heritage items in NSW.

The Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) protects NSW's natural and cultural heritage. It contains measures to protect archaeological remains both on land and underwater within the limits of the state. Amendments to the Act in 2001 incorporated specific reference to Historic Shipwrecks as protected items if over 75 years of age. The changes also introduced the statutory 'Register of Shipwrecks' for NSW state protected historic wrecks.

The Act manges and protects archaeological relics. Permits are required from the Heritage Council of New South Wales to disturb known or potential sites. Relics can be protected on the basis of their local or state signfiicant values - under section 139 of the Act.

Your responsibilities

If you find a relic or shipwreck in NSW's waters (that is, rivers, harbours, lakes and enclosed bays, or within the 3 nautical mile coastal waters offshore limit), you are required to notify the Heritage Council (via the Heritage Branch, Office of Envrionment and Heritage).

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (Commonwealth) protects historic shipwrecks located within Australian coastal waters, including those adjacent to the NSW coast. Anyone who finds a shipwreck or article associated with a shipwreck in these waters, below the shoreline's low water mark, is required to notify the Federal Minister for the Environment. The notification can be made by emailing the Director of the Heritage Branch at, who serves as the NSW delegate for the Historic Shipwrecks Act.

All wrecks and submerged deposits which are 75 years old or more are automatically protected under this Act. This means divers are free to visit wrecks, provided they do not disturb them or remove relics.


The heritage of NSW is irreplaceable and heavy penalties exist for offences under the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) and the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (Commonwealth). Penalties may include fines, confiscation of equipment and/or imprisonment.

Page last updated: 18 October 2012