From Naval History and Heritage Command 

The Department of the Navy (DON) regulations implementing the Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA) and establishing permitting requirements for conducting intrusive activities on sunken and terrestrial military craft under its jurisdiction go into effect March 1. 

Published in the Federal Register Aug. 31, 2015 following multi-stakeholder consultation, the revised regulations, which can be read in full here (, establish a permitting process for those interested in pursuing intrusive activities that may injure, disturb, or remove DON sunken and terrestrial military craft for archaeological, historical, or educational purposes. The rule also identifies guidelines for inclusion of foreign or other Department of Defense sunken military craft under DON’s permitting program, and establishes the process by which enforcement provisions of the SMCA will be implemented. 

Since publishing Final Rule 32 CFR 767, the Naval History and Heritage Command has developed information about the new program and its associated processes. 

The SMCA, enacted in 2004, codified customary international law in asserting that right, title and interest in and to any U.S. government sunken military craft remains with the U.S. in perpetuity, unless expressly divested. These craft are not to be disturbed, removed, or injured, and violators may face enforcement action for doing so without authorization. The permitting process established by DON serves to enable access to these resources by providing a means through which individuals may seek the required authorization. The DON regulations do not amend or change the SMCA, or in any way expand the stated prohibitions of the act. Recreational divers or commercial and sport fishermen may continue to operate over and around DON sunken military craft without requiring a permit as long as they do not intentionally or negligently disturb, remove, or injure them and their contents. 

“The Department of the Navy’s sunken ship and aircraft wrecks represent a collection of more than 17,000 non-renewable cultural resources distributed world-wide,” said Sam Cox, Curator of the Navy and Director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, the organization charged by the Navy with carrying out its responsibilities under the SMCA. 

The revision to the current regulations was issued after a federal agency comment phase coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget ultimately led to the publication of a Proposed Rule in January 2014, which itself initiated a 60-day public comment period. The DON, after affording due consideration to all public comments and federal agency stakeholders, proceeded to revise the Proposed Rule and with the Aug. 31 2015 publication issued the Final Rule that takes effect March 1 of this year. 

A continually expanding resource for information on the implementing regulations, the requisite application forms, associated guidelines, related documents and outreach materials may be found on the web site of the Naval History and Heritage Command at: 

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and items that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions throughout our nation's history, and supports the Fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archaeology, Navy histories, nine museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.