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Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines

Part II. Guidelines

E. Documenting and Evaluating Shipwrecks

Documenting a shipwreck (whether it is historic or non-historic) provides important baseline information for long-term management of the site. Once a shipwreck has been documented, it is then possible to assess changes to it and the surrounding area over time. These changes may result from siltation, water currents, water pollution, dredging, trawling, anchor damage, vandalism, or intensive diver use. Over time, where comparing a shipwreck's current condition to the original documentation shows significant deleterious change or damage and it is determined that the shipwreck should be preserved, then steps can be taken to protect the shipwreck from further damage.

Documenting shipwrecks also aids in evaluation and interpretation efforts. Shipwrecks generally have multiple values and uses that must be taken into consideration for management purposes. The various values and uses shipwrecks may have include, but are not limited to:

(a) Historical values associated with shipwrecks that are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, like being associated with a significant historical event or personage, possessing distinctive characteristics of a particular vessel type, or containing information important in the nation's history;

(b) Recreational and educational values associated with public use and enjoyment of shipwrecks through such activities as scuba diving, snorkeling, spearfishing, underwater photography, visiting maritime museums, and participating in shipwreck research projects;

(c) Tourism and other monetary values associated with public and private profit making through such activities as operating a dive boat company, Salvaging shipwrecks or valuable cargoes, being a commercial fisherman, making movies, and publishing popular books;

(d) Biological values associated with habitat areas and coralline formations that develop in and around shipwreck sites; and

(e) Memorial values attached to warships whose wreck events are associated with the deaths of service personnel, even if human remains are no longer present or visible.

The following guidelines are offered to assist the States and Federal agencies in documenting and evaluating shipwrecks--as they are discovered--that are located in or on submerged lands under their ownership or control.

Guideline 1: Make a photographic record of shipwrecks.

Where possible, shipwrecks should be photographed using black and white photographic film and color slide film. Photographs of non-embedded shipwrecks should include shots of the wrecked vessel, artifacts, and important features. Embedded shipwrecks should be photographed without removing bottom sediments or encrustations. All photographs should be clearly labeled and, where possible, contain scales and compass points. Where possible, a video survey should be made, particularly of historic shipwrecks. Video surveys should be oriented to a map of the site that shows the passes over and through the shipwreck. Several passes should be made to provide as comprehensive a video tour of the shipwreck as possible. Detailed video footage should be made of noteworthy, fragile or dangerous features. Where possible, video footage should include a scale and an annotated time reference. When the identity of a shipwreck is known, photographs of the wrecked vessel when afloat and of the actual wreck event should be obtained, where they exist.

Guideline 2: Collect and evaluate information about each shipwreck's history, values, and uses.

When the identity of a shipwreck is known, archival information should be collected about her construction and use history. Information about a shipwreck's historical values and uses should be collected from underwater archeologists, maritime historians, maritime museums, maritime historical societies, and historic preservation officials. Information about a shipwreck's recreational and educational values and uses should be sought from dive clubs, sport divers, dive boat operators, recreational fishermen, maritime museums, maritime historical societies, and tourism officials. Information on a shipwreck's tourism and other monetary values should be sought from tourism officials, commercial salvors, commercial fishermen, dive boat operators, dive shops, and marina operators. Information on a shipwreck site's biological values should be collected from marine biologists and fisheries officials. Information about a wrecked warship's memorial values should be sought from the U.S. Department of the Navy and the General Services Administration (for U.S. and Confederate warships) and the U.S. Department of State (for warships belonging to a foreign flag nation). Evaluations of a shipwreck's history, values and uses should be made available for public review and comment by interested professional, avocational and other interest groups, appropriate State and Federal agencies, and any shipwreck advisory boards.

Guideline 3: Nominate historically significant shipwrecks to historic registers.

When a shipwreck appears to be historically significant, sufficient information should be gathered to nominate it to the National Register of Historic Places 5 and any State historic registers. Shipwrecks that possess exceptional value as commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States should be nominated for designation as National Historic Landmarks. 6 Nominations should be subject to professional and public review by the various interest groups prior to submission to the State's historic preservation office or to the National Register.

Guideline 4: Prepare site maps, drawings, and reports of historic shipwrecks.

Archeological site maps should be prepared for historic shipwrecks. Drawings should be made of unique, representative or significant features of historic shipwrecks. When measured drawings are made of substantially intact historic shipwrecks and hulks, they should conform, when possible, to the National Park Service's "Guidelines for Recording Historic Ships" (Sept. 1988). Reports should be prepared about historic shipwrecks. Reports should contain information gathered during archival research, field surveys, any archeological excavations, and any other studies. Reports also should contain recommendations about conducting future studies and about managing the historic shipwreck site. State and Federal agencies are encouraged to use the National Park Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Study series as a model for report preparation. 7 Publications in this series also contain examples of archeological site maps and line drawings that resulted from diving surveys at historic shipwrecks in units of the national park system.

Guideline 5: Prepare a shipwreck inventory.

An inventory of all known, surveyed shipwreck sites should be prepared and maintained. The shipwreck inventory should contain, but not be limited to, the following information:

(a) Popular name and, when known, the vessel name, if different;

(b) Vessel size, type, and age;

(c) When known, the wreck date and function at the time of the wreck incident;

(d) Location, including whether it is in an underwater park or preserve;

(e) Whether it is intact or broken into scattered pieces;

(f) Whether it is buried or encrusted in coralline formations;

(g) Whether it is listed in or determined eligible for the National Register, or is potentially eligible for listing;

(h) Whether it is listed in a State registry of historic properties; and

(i) Owner and manager, if different.

State and Federal agencies are encouraged to use the National Park Service's National Maritime Initiative Inventory format as a model.8 Information on historic shipwrecks also should be provided to the State's historic preservation office and underwater archeology office (or archeology office, in the absence of an underwater archeology office) so that it may be incorporated into the State's inventory of historic properties and the State's comprehensive historic preservation plan.

Guideline 6: Maintain documentation on shipwreck sites.

Documents such as field notes, historical information, photographs, site maps, drawings, inventory forms, and reports relating to each vessel listed in the shipwreck inventory should be maintained. Documentation for each shipwreck site should remain together and be deposited, when possible, in a central repository that houses similar documentation on other shipwrecks under the State or Federal agency's ownership or control. However, for safety reasons, duplicate copies of documents should be made and retained in separate locations. Maintaining copies of documentation in multiple locations also results in greater accessibility to the information by researchers and other interested parties.

Guideline 7: Make documentation accessible to interested parties.

Shipwreck documentation should be made accessible to the public for interpretive and-educational purposes. Shipwreck documentation (particularly maps and drawings) and information about dangers associated with specific sites should be published. However, prior to releasing maps and associated documentation that contain the exact location of historic shipwrecks, States and Federal agencies should assess the risk of theft, vandalism, or other damage to the sites. Documents that contain precise locational information for historic shipwrecks should be considered confidential only when there is reason to believe that their disclosure would lead to vandalism, pilferage, or other damage to a particular shipwreck site. In such cases, the precise locational information should be replaced with information of a more general nature so that the documents may be made available to the public.


5 Criteria for evaluation and procedures for nominating historic properties to the National Register are found in regulations at 36 CFR Part 60.

6 Criteria for national significance and procedures for designating National Historic Landmarks are contained in regulations at 36 CFR Part 65.

7 Information on the Submerged Cultural Resources Study series may be obtained by writing to the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, Intermountain Cultural Resources Center, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, P.O. Box 728, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0728.

8 Information on the format of the National Maritime Initiative Inventory may be obtained by writing to the National Maritime Heritage Program, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, DC 20240.

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