Archaeological Research Permits

Generally, Department of Navy (DON) ship and aircraft wrecks will be left in place unless artifact removal or site disturbance is justified and necessary to protect DON ship aircraft wrecks, to conduct research, or provide public education and information. While the Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC) prefers non-destructive, in situ research on DON ship and aircraft wrecks, it recognizes that site disturbance and/or artifact recovery is sometimes necessary. At such times, site disturbance and/or archaeological recovery may be permitted, subject to conditions specified by NHHC.

Situations where a permit would be required:

  1. Any plans to disturb a wreck site, in any way, using any means.
    • Removing or moving sediment is considered disturbing a wreck site.
    • Removing or moving artifacts or any portion of a wreck site is considered disturbing a wreck site.
    • Removing the entire wreck is considered disturbing a wreck site.
  2. Photographing human remains on a war grave site.
  3. Archaeological study of a shipwreck site.
  4. Using a remotely-operated vehicle or similar equipment to document a wreck site. The use of this equipment could pose a danger to the wreck by inadvertently striking it.

Situations where a permit would not be required:

  1. Sport diving on a site as long as nothing about the site is disturbed, including associated artifacts.
  2. Remote sensing over a site as long as nothing about the site is disturbed.
  3. Photographing a site as long as human remains are not depicted.

Federal law prohibits the theft or damage of government property and any activity that disturbs, removes, or injures a sunket military carft. The public is encouraged to report the discovery of the remains of any sunken military craft to the NHHC in the interest of preserving our nation's heritage and out of respect to sailors who potentially made the ultimate sacrifice at that site. To avoid unintentional infractions, or for clarification of policies and procedures, please contact the Underwater Archaeology Branch for more information.

Related Resources:

Application for Archaeological Research Permits on Ship and Aircraft Wrecks (PDF)

Guidelines for Archaeological Research Permit Applications (PDF)

Sunken Military Craft Act

32 CFR 4 Part 767: Application Guidelines for Archeological Research Permits on Ship and Aircraft Wrecks Under the Jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy

Policy Fact Sheet on Sunken Naval Vessels and Naval Aircraft
Legal Agreements Regarding the Navy's Historic Wrecks

Underwater Archaeology Branch
Naval History & Heritage Command
805 Kidder Breese Street, SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374

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