World's Best Wreck Dives: the Top 10
21 April 2016
The list of ten best shipwreck dives on the planet, as voted for by our readers. How many have you dived? All the wrecks are in warm water: the one cold water representative (at Scotland's Scapa Flow) has dropped out of the latest update of list. Is this just a reflection of more people diving in warm water, or are the tropical dives really the best?
Most of these wrecks are notable not just for being wrecks, but also for the amount of sea life they attract. Let us know what you think of the list, and tell us your favourites.
You might also be interested in the best 100 dives and top 10 dives in Europe.
Claiming the title of the best wreck dive in the world, is the Yongala. Full of life you may see manta rays, sea snakes, octopuses, turtles, bull sharks, tiger sharks, clouds of fish and beautiful coral.
The Yongala sank off the coast of Queensland during a cyclone in 1911, killing 122 people, a racehorse called Moonshine and a red Lincolnshire bull. She had no telegraph facilities and so could not be warned of the weather ahead. In 1981 the Yongala was given official protection under the Historic Shipwrecks Act: divers are not allowed into the wreck. The ship is 90 km southeast of Townsville, 10 km away from Cape Bowling Green. 109 meters long, the bow points north and the ship lists to starboard.
Turtle on the Yongala. Photo credit: Tim Nicholson
Thistlegorm is Gaelic for Blue Thistle. A British vessel, it was attacked from the air and sunk in 1941 whilst carrying a cargo of war supplies: rifles, motor bikes, train carriages, trucks. A big wreck - 131 metres long - you'll want to do this more than once to explore fully. Currents can be strong, and in different directions at the surface and at the wreck.
The Thistlegorm is in the Strait of Gobal, north of Ras Mohammed near Sharm El-Sheikh. Thistlegorm Photo Gallery.
Motorbikes on the Thistlegorm. Photo credit: Tim Nicholson
Compare Thistlegorm Liveaboards - book online now, pay later
The Liberty lies on a black sand slope, almost parallel to the beach and is only 30 m offshore. She lies between 9 and 30 m of water and is totally encrusted in fabulously coloured anemones, gorgonians and corals. The wreck is 120 m long and is pretty broken up so you can't enter it, but you can still see the guns, toilets, boilers, anchor chain and such like. There is some confusion as to the history of the Liberty. Many people refer it as the Liberty Glo, but this is a different ship which sank off the coast of Holland. The difficulties probably arise as the ship had several designations during her life. The US Navy Museums site, tells us that she was originally the USS Liberty (1918), then the SS Liberty and finally the USAT (United States Army Transport) Liberty. On 11 January 1942 she was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-166.
Looking out from the wreck of the Liberty Glo. Photo credit: Pb1791, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Originally a large, luxury, liner, the President Coolidge became a troop carrier during the war. She sank after hitting mines. The wreck now lies on its side between 17 and 70 m, bow to stern. The President Coolidge is fully protected by law and both it and the surrounding seabed has been designated a Marine Reserve. The wreck is huge and needs several dives to do it justice.
Photo credit: Tim Nicholson
This roll-on roll-off ferry was launched in 1979 but sank just a few months later on her maiden voyage. No lives were lost. She lies on her side, outside Lanarka harbour. The dive starts at 16 m with a maximum depth of 42 m. The ferry was transporting more than 120 vehicles, which are still down there. Another large wreck, with plenty of sea life, demanding several dives. An excellent dive site no matter how experienced you are.
Photo credit: dModer101, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Picture perfect shipwreck - awash with coral and sea life. Each of the five holds offer exciting finds, however the highlight is maybe the massive engine room which occupies the midships area, taking up 3 floors. Also features a cargo of Zero fighter planes in one of her holds
Gas Mask on Fujikawa Maru
Lies on the sandy bottom of a beautifully reefed slope, near Kralendijk. Big wreck with sponges, pristine coral, terrific sea fans and loads of fish. A dive with something for everyone.
In 1984 customs officials discovered almost 12 tons of marijuana on the Hilma Hooker. The captain and crew were arrested and the ship moored at the pier. However, she was in a very poor state of repair and the authorities were worried that she might sink, causing a shipping hazard. Dive operators started campaigning for the ship to be scuttled as a dive site. The ship was moved to between two reefs, over 30 m of water. Whether by design or accidently, she began to list and a few days later sank.
by actor212 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
"Blocking" ships were deliberately sunk during both wars to prevent access Scapa Flow bay by the enemy. Tabarka was one of the last blockships to be sunk. She is upside down with numerous entry points. Covered in life, gin clear water - like a cathedral, a beautiful place.
Blockship Tabarka. Photo credit: Joe Ryan
During the second world war, the Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier HMS Hermes was sunk off Ceylon's (Sri Lanka's) East Coast. She was the world's first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1924, the Hermes served briefly with the Atlantic Fleet before spending the bulk of her career assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and the China Station. Many people were rescued by a nearby hospital ship, but 307 lives were lost. The ship lies in 53 m of water in clear warm water on its port side and is intact. Teeming with fish life.
HMS Hermes sinking after Japanese air attack
Magnificent wreck with cargo of Zero fighter planes in one of her holds and heaps of artifacts.
Vote for your favourite wreck dives.
How are the votes counted?
The first criteria is number of votes (weighted to favour the first choice dive site above the second). Where two dives tie for a position, priority is given to those with the most enticing descriptions and those whose area has several votes for different dives.
Compiled by Jill Studholme
Have dived many of the wrecks listed, mine are for the more experienced diver who is looking for a bit of a challenge, Chuuk or Truk as it was known for a long time is a wreck divers paradise, have been there several times and will go back
Jackie Bone-George, Australia, 2013
Books of the World's Best Wreck Dives
- Shipwrecks from the Egyptian Red Sea
- by Ned Middleton, Hardback, Immel Publishing, 196 pages, 2006.
The author spent over 8 years engaged in dedicated research into the many shipwrecks which are found in this part of the world. Amongst many others, the Thistlegorm and the Umbria are covered in detail.
Available from Amazon
- Dive Scapa Flow
- Lawson Wood.
On Midsummers Day in 1919, a German Admiral ordered the German High Seas Fleet to be scuttled. Seventy-four German ships had been anchored at the Orkney Islands of Scotland. They were sunk to prevent them being divided up amongst the allies. These and other shipwrecks have helped make Scapa Flow into one of the most popular dive sites in Europe. Includes the Blockship Tabarka
Read our review of Dive Scapa Flow...
- Ultimate Diving Adventures: 100 Extraordinary Experiences Under Water
- by Len Deeley and Karen Gargani, John Wiley & Sons, 2009, 218 pages, Paperback
Includes the Zenobia, Rainbow Warrier, Umbria, President Coolidge, Yongala and sixteen other wrecks
Available from UK or USA
SCUBA News (ISSN 1476-8011)
Every month we send out a free newsletter featuring the best diving areas, underwater life, diving book reviews and interviews with authors. To receive this please fill in your e-mail address below. For an archive of previous issues see the SCUBA News page.