Every diver has a favourite wreck - here is the top 20 voted for by DIVE readers
1 Yongala, Australia
The SS Yongala was a British-built steamship that spent several years plying lucrative trade routes in Australia. In March 1911, on a voyage from Sydney to Cairns, her luck came to a tragic end as she succumbed to a cyclone off Cape Bowling Green. The final resting place of the Yongala remained a mystery for many years until a wreck-shaped object was discovered in the 1940s, with a positive identification being made in the 1950s. It has since become one of Australia’s best-known dives.
It’s remarkably well preserved and rests on sand in 28m of water, with the shallowest part of the wreck at 14m. Currents can often be strong and the visibility around the wreck is extremely variable. If you get 10–15m of visibility, consider yourself lucky.
The amount of life that has colonised the wreck is truly astonishing. Corals, sponges and anemones are so prolific that it’s easy to forget that you’re diving on a wreck. At times, the surface of the Yongala seems to move, as carpets of baitfish react in unison to real or imaginary threats.
This profusion attracts an amazing concentration of larger predators. Expect to see batfish, jacks, Maori wrasse, stingrays, barracuda, turtles, olive sea snakes and gigantic Queensland groupers. The more fortunate might encounter eagle rays, mantas, dolphins and several species of shark. There’s even a report of a humpback whale that cruised past the wreck on one occasion!
2 Liberty, Bali
This is arguably the world’s best shore dive.
The Liberty, an armed cargo ship, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in January 1942, but managed to stay afloat while two destroyers towed her to Bali where she was beached. The wreck lay unsalvaged on the beach until 1963, when the volcano Gunung Agung erupted, creating an earthquake that pushed the wreck off the beach and down a drop-off.
Today, the 120m-long wreck is partially broken up and lies on black volcanic sand at depths between 8m and 30m.
To reach it, all you have to do is enter the water at a well-marked access point, swim out for a couple of minutes, follow the drop-off and, well, you just can’t miss it.
The pebble beach is run by a collective of local women who insist on carrying divers’ kit as part of the concession they collect from dive businesses (they can carry two sets of cylinders and BCs on their heads!); they will be quite offended if you turn this service down.
The wreck has a cavernous structure on which a stunning array of wildlife prospers: there are big gorgonian fans complete with pygmy seahorses, red anemones with the most beautiful of the anemonefish, the spine-cheek, and masses of anthias, while above the wreck diver-friendly jacks school in the classic circular formation.
Of the wreck itself, the most recognisable features are the huge rudder and prop shaft, the stern and bow guns and two big boilers that lie amidships. As a dive, it has just about everything.
3 Thistlegorm, Red Sea
In peak season hundreds of divers visit the remote wreck site of the Thistlegorm every day either from liveaboards or from day boats making a very early start from Sharm or Hurghada. It started life as a humble merchant ship, built in Sunderland in 1939. It was voted the most popular shipwreck among DIVE readers several times - it’s probably the world’s most dived wreck and is Egypt’s most famous dive site.
Lying at depths of 12–30m, the 300m-long wreck is a living museum, a time capsule of the Second World War with its cargo of trucks, Bren gun carriers, Stannier 8F locomotives and rolling stock. With its fore section intact and upright, the holds are packed with hundreds of motorbikes, armoured cars, water-purifying trucks, aircraft spares and rifles.
Divers have only explored down to 25m in the holds, adding to speculation about what happened to the remaining four metres. This vessel also had hydraulic decks, so it has not revealed all its secrets – yet!
The stern still presents an iconic vista, with two old guns in place – watching the sun rise over them sends shivers up one’s spine, especially with the resident barracuda school overhead. This area is generally less explored, with two huge side-holds full of artillery shells, store rooms and steering compartments, and let’s not forget its rudder and propeller.
Back on deck at only 14m, there is a galley, radio room, water bowsers and coal tenders. Behind the bridge, basins and toilets hang down as if from a ceiling – in fact, a deck folded back when the ship blew up, testimony to the massive explosion that caused the Thistlegorm to sink in seven minutes.
4 Zenobia, Cyprus
The Zenobia is probably the best wreck dive in the Mediterranean.
It is, in every sense, a colossal dive. A ‘roll-on, roll-off’ ferry, this Swedish-built vessel was carrying 104 articulated lorries when it sank just outside Larnaca harbour, creating the perfect all-round wreck dive, at depths of between 16m and 43m. The vessel took two days to sink and, unlike so many other ferry sinkings, there were no fatalities, so you don’t get the sense of doom that divers report on wrecks where people have died.
The vessel took two days to sink and, unlike so many other ferry sinkings, there were no fatalities, so you don’t get the sense of doom that divers report on wrecks where people have died.
You could spend a week diving the Zenobia (named, incidentally, after a Syrian queen who ruled over a splinter of the Roman Empire in the third century AD), such it is vastness. Check out the still-stocked drinks dispensers in the cafeteria, the propellers, the bridge, the anchor and the bow thrusters. Some of the lorries are still hanging out of the rear doors – evidence of the violence of the sinking back in 1980.
5 Fujikawa Maru, Chuuk
The most popular wreck in Chuuk Lagoon still manages to exceed divers’ expectations. Festooned with soft corals, fans and crinoids of all sizes and colours, this 132m freighter has everything you can imagine.
Two huge guns, situated at both the stern and bow, are overgrown with corals, and the accessible holds contain a fascinating array of cargo, including gas masks, bottles and ceramics.The highlight is hold number two, which contains aeroplane parts and two virtually intact Zero fighters. Like most Japanese wrecks in Chuuk, the ship was torpedoed during the US Navy’s devastating attack, codenamed Operation Hailstone, on 17–18 February 1944.
The highlight is hold number two, which contains aeroplane parts and two virtually intact Zero fighters. Like most Japanese wrecks in Chuuk, the ship was torpedoed during the US Navy’s devastating attack, codenamed Operation Hailstone, on 17–18 February 1944.
The bridge is safe to explore, but you have to negotiate a maze of cables and wires that hang from the ceiling. The colours here are striking. For those who like to explore a little further inside wrecks, the engine room of the Fujikawa is fasinating. Here lies ‘R2D2’ – an old air compressor so named because it resembles the Star Wars robot character, and an iconic image of Chuuk.
As you ascend, the huge king posts come to within 5m of the surface, providing a convenient place for safety stops. The Fujikawa is one of the shallowest wrecks in the lagoon, bottoming out at only 34m. It lies close to the shore-based Blue Lagoon Resort, which, for most visitors, is home for the duration of their stay or the stopping-off point to board liveaboards.
6 Spiegel Grove, Florida
There is one word for this wreck - huge! The 176m-long giant sits off Key Largo in 20m to 40m of water.
7 Bianca C, Grenada
Deep (sits at 50m), big and imposing. Poor viz and strong currents can be a challenge, but the sheer scale of this former cruise ship makes it worthwhile.
8 President Coolidge, Vanuatu
One of the best dives in the South Pacific. This luxury liner had been enlisted as a troop carrier for the US before hitting one of their own mines. A quick thinking captain saved all but three of the 5,400 soldier aboard.
9 Rainbow Warrior, New Zealand
A box many divers want to tick. More a symbol of just how daft governments can be (the French blew up this Greenpeace campaign ship) than a great dive.
10 Köln, Scapa Flow, Orkney
The German fleet was scuppered here in 1919 and this vast cruiser is one of the few not salvaged. It sits relatively intact at 34m.
11 The Doyle, Scapa Flow, Orkney
One of the best shallow dives in UK waters.Theblock ships are not as challenging as Scapa’s deep wrecks but are extremely popular.
12 Rosalie Moller, Egypt
Another Second World War classic sitting upright on a sandy but deepish bottom near Gubal Island. With limited bottomtime you need a good few dives to fully appreciate and explore this wonder.
13 USS Arizona, Hawaii
Sunk with the loss of 1,177 sailors in the sneak attack that started the Pacific war in 1941. Access is extremely limited but the lucky few that havedived it say it is deeply moving.
14 Russian Frigate, Cayman Brac
Deliberately sunk for divers in the late 1990s, the former Soviet ship used to patrol around Cuba. Cold war history in warm, clear waters.
15 The Rhone, British Virgin Island
This Royal Mail passenger ship went down in 1867. The exposed steel frame is a visual feast.
16 Kyokuzan Maru, Philippines
One of the wrecks of Coron Bay with normally the best viz - sits upright at 22m - 28m.
17 HMCS Saskatchewan,Vancouver Island
Sunk for divers in 1997, its 26m to the deck and the wreck is covered with marine life. Watch out for playful seals.
18 Shoun Maru, Northern Marianas, Micronesia
This Japanese Second World War freighter sits in crystal clear water on a white sand bottom. A sight to be seen.
19 Betty Bomber, Chuuk
The most popular small wreck among the Japanese hulks to be found in the lagoon. Sandy coral bottom at 15m.
20 Numidia, Red Sea
Start at the holds around 40m and slowly ascend the near perpendicular hulk covered in coral and fish on the exposed northern tip of Brother Island. Wonderful.