We humans have always been fascinated with shipwrecks. From finding hidden treasures to making new discoveries, a lot of the advances in scuba diving were motivated by wreck diving.
But it’s not like regular scuba diving; exploring shipwrecks requires specialist training and comes with its own set of challenges.
If you’re thinking about becoming a PADI wreck diver, this step-by-step guide will give you everything you need to know.
Wondering which is better, PADI or NAUI? Check out this guide, where we compare the two scuba diving schools.
Table of Contents
What Is Wreck Diving?
Wreck diving is exactly what it sounds like – diving down to explore a shipwreck. Some wrecks are purpose-sunk in artificial reefs for scuba divers to explore, but most are the real thing.
It’s also not just ships; there are airplanes and even cars underwater for scuba divers to explore. They all offer a unique window into the past and are usually teeming with marine life.
Why Are There So Many Shipwrecks?
There are about three million intact wrecks in the oceans. But why are there so many?
Most ships went down due to poor design, issues with navigation and human error leading to collisions. Then there’s bad weather, fire, and a whole host of other factors that could cause a ship to sink.
Disturbing or moving wrecked ships is hard work and ruins the chance for research. Instead, most are left where they are and slowly get eaten up by the sea life far below. Of course, it takes hundreds of years for ships to decompose underwater, which is why there are still so many for us to explore today.
The Best Wrecks For PADI Wreck Diving
It’s tough to determine the best shipwrecks around the world. There are millions to choose from, and each has its own unique characteristics that make it interesting to dive down to.
But if you’re looking for some recommendations, here are our top three favorite wrecks around the world.
SS Thistlegorm – Ras Mohammed, Egypt
Found in the northern part of the Red Sea, the SS Thistlegorm is widely thought to be one of the most incredible wreck dives in the world. It’s accessible by dive safari and day trips from Sharm El-Sheikh, and spots on trips fill up quickly.
The ship is a 420-foot British transport ship that was sunk in 1941 after a German air attack. You can still see the cargo, including tanks and motorcycles, on board, and you’ll almost definitely need two days to explore the entire wreck.
SS President Coolidge – Vanuatu
This one was once a luxury cruise liner, but it got converted into a troopship during the Second World War. In 1942, the Captain failed to get a message about safe passage to the harbor, and it was struck by friendly mines.
Only two sailors survived, and SS President Coolidge now sits 230 feet down in a nationally protected dive site. On your dive, you’ll see the decks and holds where guns, cannons, and trucks still sit.
SS Yongala – Queensland, Australia
The SS Yongala is one of the most fantastic wreck dives in the Southern Hemisphere. It sank during a cyclone in 1911, claiming the lives of all 124 people on board.
The lowest point of the wreck sits at 108 feet, but you’re not actually allowed inside the hull of this ship (to reduce the negative effects of air bubbles on the wreck).
The Dangers Of Wreck Diving
Although responsible wreck diving is a lot of fun when done safely, it comes with some unique dangers that you should prepare for.
Being in Overhead Environment
It’s eerie swimming through the corridors and hatches of a sunken ship, but it also means you can’t directly ascend to the surface if something goes wrong. Swimming in an overhead environment requires special training and can be daunting, even when there are multiple entry and exit points.
Becoming Lost or Disoriented
Ships are usually on their sides or completely upside down, so it’s easy to get lost and disoriented swimming through the corridors. You’ll learn how to survey and navigate wrecks when you take the PADI wreck diver course, but you still need to prepare yourself for the crazy angles and upside world.
There’s no ambient light deep inside wrecks and very little water flow. Because of these conditions, silk builds up on the surfaces, forming a thick layer that can churn up when you swim by.
It’s essential to have a strong primary light, backup lights, and a wreck reel to help you navigate safely if the silt churns and obscures your view.
Wrecks are famous fishing spots since fish love to live in the wreckage. As such, they’re often covered in fishing lines that are almost impossible to see in low-light conditions.
There’s also the risk of getting tangled in loose wires, cables, and loose ship parts, all of which can snare scuba gear or your wetsuit and trap you inside.
Benefits Of Wreck Diving
It’s not all doom and gloom – wreck diving is popular for a reason!
- Hone and advance your diving skills in a unique environment.
- Learn various diving specialties and technical skills that only come with wreck diving.
- Take on a new challenge and explore the unknown – you might just make a discovery no one else has come across.
- Get up close and personal with artifacts and preserved pieces of history.
Most divers who have been down to a wreck will tell you what an incredible experience it is. As long as you do your training and dive safely, wreck diving is one of the most rewarding types of diving out there.
How To Become A Wreck Diver
There are a couple of prerequisites that you need before you can take the PADI wreck diver course:
- Be at least 15 years old.
- Already have your PADI Adventure Diver certification or higher.
- Have a minimum level of health and fitness (chronic health conditions and certain meds will mean you need an approval letter from your doctor).
If you meet these criteria, you’ll be able to get started with the eLearning part of the PADI course.
The first part of the course involves an independent study that can be completed online. You’ll learn the theory behind wreck diving, the different types of wrecks, and common hazards.
eLearning takes about four hours to complete, and you need to pass before you can move on to the practical part of the course.
Diving with an Instructor
You’ll get four dives with a PADI instructor, where you’ll survey and map a wreck, practice finning techniques, and learn all the skills you need to wreck dive safely.
It takes two to three days to complete all the dives, and you can take this part of the course anywhere with a PADI instructor.
How To Prepare For A PADI Wreck Dive
When it’s time to go out on your first wreck dive solo, here are some tips to get prepared.
Stay within your level of training
It’s daunting going out on that first wreck dive post-certification, but don’t just be a card collector – use your new wreck diver specialty!
Take it slow at first and go for easier dives to get used to the process. The more you dive, the more experienced you’ll become and the more challenging wrecks you can take on.
Nail your fundamentals
Fundamentals like buoyancy skills are essential for safe wreck dives, as are finning techniques. Practice these core skills often so they stay fresh in your mind. For wrecks, in particular, gentle flutters and frog kicks are best to avoid disrupting the silt.
Turn 90° when you go through holes
You’ll need to get used to navigating through holes, doors, and entry points into wrecks. By turning 90 degrees, you protect your first stage (attached to your scuba valve) from being knocked or damaged.
Know your limits
Don’t get pressured into signing up for a shipwreck dive that’s outside of your comfort zone, especially in the beginning. If you have a dive friend that’s keen on a certain wreck, it’s totally ok for you to say no. By overestimating your abilities, you’ll put yourself and your diver buddy in danger, so it’s always best to be cautious.
Don’t get complacent
Once you start getting used to being a wreck scuba diver, it’s easy to become complacent and forget about the significant dangers posed by shipwrecks. Whether it’s your first wreck dive or your 100th as a PADI master scuba diver, there is always a risk that needs to be respected.
Survey each wreck carefully before entering, and know your entry and exit points. The more planning you do in advance, the safer your dive will be.
If you’re in a position to get your PADI wreck diver certification, do it. It’s an incredible experience diving down to a shipwreck and exploring a piece of history. It’s also a rewarding feeling to take on such a unique challenge and do something so few people get to do.
The training is tough, but it’s well worth it when you’re down and surveying a centuries-old ship that’s become home to a host of beautiful marine life.