The Department of Navy (DON) manages a collection of over 17,000 sunken ship and aircraft wrecks that are distributed worldwide and date from the American Revolution to the beginnings of the nuclear age. These wrecksites are often the final resting places of sailors who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service of the nation, carry significant historical importance, or may contain environmental or public safety hazards such as oil or unexploded ordnance. Accordingly, U.S. Navy ship and aircraft wrecks are in principle to be left in place and undisturbed. At times, however, artifact removal or site disturbance is necessary or appropriate to protect a cultural resource, conduct scientific research, or provide for public education. In these instances, the Naval History and Heritage Command may issue a research permit authorizing activities aimed at disturbing, removing, or injuring a sunken military craft under DON management.
While DON prefers that non-intrusive in situ research take place on sunken and terrestrial military craft, federal regulations (32 CFR 767) provide for a process by which the DON may authorize disturbance, removal, or injury of sunken or terrestrial military craft under its jurisdiction for archaeological, historical, or educational purposes.
Please click on the links below to download the associated application form and review the pertinent guidelines.
Special Use Permits:
Special use permit applications may be considered in the case of certain activities directed at sunken or terrestrial military craft that would result in site disturbance, removal, or injury, but would be minimally intrusive or would be directed at non-historic sunken military craft. Special use permits place fewer requirements on the applicant but do not typically allow for the recovery of artifacts.
Please click on the links below to download the associated special use application form and review the pertinent guidelines.
Please review the above permit and special use permit guidelines carefully as they elaborate and provide clarification on the application and evaluation process, principal investigator credentials, reporting requirements and conditions of an approved permit. Submit the completed application form and attachments to NHHC_UnderwaterArchaeology@us.navy.mil.
The Frequently Asked Questions page provides additional information and guidance on the permitting process and associated policies.
Activities That Do Not Require a Permit
1. Diving on or photographing a sunken military craft as long as the wrecksite and associated artifacts are not disturbed.
2. Conducting remote sensing operations over sunken military craft as long as the wrecksite is not disturbed.
3. Inadvertently disturbing a wreck site in the course of fishing or other maritime activities, such as the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, or the operation of vessels.
4. Any activity that is not directed as a sunken military craft.