World's Best Wreck Dives: the Top 10
12 March 2019
The list of ten best shipwreck dives on the planet, as voted for by our readers. How many have you dived? Almost all the wrecks are in warm water. There is just one cold water representative - at Scotland's Scapa Flow. 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 sits 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.
SS President Coolidge, October 1942, Espiritu Santo.
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)
Magnificent wreck with cargo of Zero fighter planes in one of her holds and heaps of artifacts. Find a liveaboard to Truk Lagoon.
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. Tied for 6th place with the San Francisco Maru.
Gas Mask on Fujikawa Maru
Compare Truk Lagoon Liveaboards - book online now, pay later
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
An American aircraft carrier which after the second World War became surplus to requirements. She became part of Operation Crossroads - a series of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in the summer of 1946. The wreck of the Saratoga lies between 12 and 50 m. She is upright and in good condition with abundant sea life. Find a liveaboard to the Marshall Islands and Bikini Atoll.
Crossroads Baker nuclear weapons test, 26 July 1946. The Saratoga, to the left of the picture, is being lifted out of the water. She sank later that day.
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.
- Top Wreck Dives of the World
- by Jack Jackson, New Holland, 2007, 160 pages, Hardback
More details on the world's top wreck dives.
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