The US Navy’s ship and aircraft wrecks represent a fragile collection of non-renewable resources that, in addition to their historical value, are often considered war graves, may contain unexploded ordnance, classified information or materials, or environmental hazards. To ensure preservation of these sites, the Underwater Archaeology Branch develops, coordinates, reviews, and implements related policy on behalf of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC).
Sunken and terrestrial military craft under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy remain government property regardless of their location or the passage of time, and the former are afforded further protection from unauthorized disturbance under the Sunken Military Craft Act.
While NHHC prefers non-intrusive, in situ research on sunken military craft, it recognizes that disturbance and/or artifact recovery may be justified or become necessary for archaeological, historical, or educational purposes. Therefore, NHHC established a permitting program in May 2000 by 32 CFR 767 to allow for controlled site disturbance and, in 2015, revised that program pursuant to the SMCA.
Click on the pages below to learn more about the Sunken Military Craft Act and NHHC's permitting program.