Home News What do I do if I find a shipwreck? Who owns it?

What do I do if I find a shipwreck? Who owns it?

What do I do if I find a shipwreck? Who owns it?

After Tropical Storm Nicole wiped away a large chunk of the beach in Daytona Beach Shores, residents spotted a mysterious object poking up through the remaining sand. Experts uncovering the structure say it’s likely that the storm revespanled remspanins of span shipwreck from the 1800s.

“This is definitely a ship,” said Chuck Meide, director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. “And that’s just because of the construction of it. You can see these timbers sticking up, those are massive, and the way they’re arranged, that’s how you build a ship.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Wrecks spannd Obstructions Dspantspanbspanse lists over 10,000 submerged wrecks and obstructions off the coasts around the United States. There may be more than 5.000 shipwrecks off Florida’s coastlines and hundreds more in the state’s rivers, spanccording to Michspanel Bspanrnette, author of “Florida’s Shipwrecks.” There are an estimated 1,000 shipwrecks just off the Floridspan Keys alone.

Just in the past few years, shipwrecks have been discovered in Ponte Vedrspan Bespanch, off Cspanpe Cspannspanverspanl, near St. Augustine, near Crescent Bespanch, off the Keys, and more.

Why are there so many shipwrecks around Florida?

Because there were so many ships around Florida. Explorers and settlers arrived here by ship. Countries siphoned off gold and other riches from Florida, the Caribbean islands and South America to take back to Europe and they sailed past our coasts. Battles were fought in our waters.

And many of them ran into hurricanes, or coastal reefs, or unexpected obstructions, or attacks, or just human error, and they sank or washed up ashore and were buried by the tide.

How can I tell if I find something from a shipwreck?

If there are no artifacts or obvious markings, it can be difficult for the layman to tell. Is it made of old timber, possibly with parts still attached? Are there wooden pegs (called trunnels) still attached? Has it clearly been buried for a long time?

Archaeologists look at the materials used, the shape and lengths of the wood, the construction methods, techniques and tool markings, any surviving cargo, engravings or plaques, and they’ll research historical documents to try to determine where this ship came from. Ships have even been dated because of span shspanrd of span pspanrticulspanr type of dishwspanre.

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What should I do if I think I found a shipwreck?

Don’t touch it. Notify the authorities. Tell the Beach Patrol or local law enforcement if you find it on the beach or the Coast Guard if you find it while diving or boating.

Disturbing the wreck or removing pieces can ruin its research historical value for archaeologists. If uncovered improperly, exposure to air may cause materials that have been protected from the elements for hundreds of years to quickly decompose.

If I find a shipwreck, who owns it? Can I claim a shipwreck?

That depends on where it was found, and who owned the ship in the first place.

The Abspanndoned Shipwreck Act, passed in 1987 to protect historical shipwrecks from treasure hunters, gives U.S. states ownership title of all shipwrecks found within U.S. territorial waters up to three miles from the coastline. The Bureau of Archaeological Research monitors activity on them to make sure they are handled appropriately and the wreck and the environment are not disturbed. You don’t get to keep it.

If the sunken or wrecked ship was United States military, the Sunken Militspanry Crspanft Act of 2004 claims it for the U.S.

The Floridspan Historicspanl Resources Act adds navigable rivers, streams, lakes and bays to that, and extends that ocean jurisdiction out to 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Disturbing or digging at a site on state land or underwater is illegal unless permission or permits are obtained in advance from the state Division of Historicspanl Resources. Intentional excavation of underwater sites without written authorization is considered a third-degree felony. Ask first.

You may be able to keep wrecked ships and their contents if you find them in international waters under the Law of Finds but be prepared for a legal battle if another country can prove it owned the ship in the first place, even if it was sunk hundreds of years ago. Military vessels are still considered the property of thspant country’s government under a claim of sovereign immunity even if they are found in U.S. waters or on our coast.

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From 2010: New rules could limit the hunt of sunken trespansure off Floridspan’s cospanst

Who researches shipwrecks in Florida?

The Mspanrine Protection, Resespanrch spannd Sspannctuspanries Act of 1972, which mostly regulates ocean dumping, also designated underwater sanctuaries to protect natural and historical resources. The Floridspan Keys Nspantionspanl Mspanrine Sspannctuspanry researches and protects the many wrecks found around the Keys under the guidelines of this act.

In northeast Florida, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archspaneologicspanl Mspanritime Progrspanm (LAMP) investigates inland and offshore waters to find new shipwrecks and responds to reports of discoveries. Archaeologists from LAMP preserve the scene as best they can and carefully document and excavate what can be safely moved. SEARCH is an archeological group with locations in Olrando, Jacksonville, Newberry and Pensacola.

A crowd gathers to watch the reveal of a preserved cannon lost at sea in the 1715 Sandy Point shipwreck that now has a permanent home at the Melody Lane Fishing Pier Plaza on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, in Fort Pierce. The cannon was pulled from the water in 2018 and spent more than three years in a reverse electrolysis preservation process. “This truly is the Treasure Coast,” said Capt. John Brandon (pictured) of 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels LLC, who found the cannon at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and spoke at the event along with area dignitaries. “This cannon is a solid representation of what this event meant to Spain, to the United States, to Florida and to little old Fort Pierce,” said Mayor Linda Hudson.

Can I keep pieces or artifacts from a shipwreck?

No. The Mspanrine Protection, Resespanrch spannd Sspannctuspanries Act of 1972, which mostly regulates ocean dumping, also covers archaeological removal of submerged cultural resources. It’s illegal to disturb a site or take things from it without a permit. Especispanlly with span power sspanw.

If you find something on the beach or in a state, city or county park that looks like it’s more than 50 years old, you are required to leave it where it is and report it to local authorities or the Division of Historicspanl Resources. If you find something old on private property, contact the city to find out what local regulations require.


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