Department for Transport


Any wreck material found within UK territorial waters (to 12 mile limit), or outside the UK and brought within UK territorial waters must by law be reported to the Receiver of Wreck (under s. 236 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995)

All wreck material recovered must be reported, however small or seemingly insignificant. It is up to the Receiver to decide whether it is important. The type of material reported includes portholes, bells, plates, compasses, fixtures and fittings, historical and archaeological material such as medieval pots, gold coins, cannon etc.

Wreck Material

Wreck items recovered from the Hawksdale which sank in 1899 off Margate.

The Receiver of Wreck deals with wreck from tidal waters. Material from non-tidal waters are treated as if they were found on land, and come under other legislation (eg Treasure Act 1996 , Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979).

Report of Wreck and Salvage forms are available directly from the Receiver of Wreck, from your local Coastguard station, or you can download the form on this web site. Once the form has been completed, signed and witnessed you will need to return it to the Receiver of Wreck office.

The Receiver of Wreck will then investigate ownership of the wreck items.  Finders should assume that all recovered wreck has an owner.  It may for instance be owned by an individual, a company, a dive club, an insurance company, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) or the Department for Transport (DfT).

The owner has one year in which to come forward and prove title to the property.  During this time, the finder is normally allowed to hold the wreck on indemnity to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (see reverse page of report form).

If the owner decides that they would like their property returned, they will first have to settle salvage with the legal finder of the material.

If wreck material recovered from UK waters is unclaimed at the end of the statutory one year period, it generally becomes the property of the Crown, and the Receiver is required to dispose of it. This may be through sale or auction, although in many cases the finder will be allowed to keep items of unclaimed wreck in lieu of salvage a salvage award.

The Crown makes no claim on unclaimed wreck recovered from outside UK territorial waters and the material is returned to the finder / salvor.

In the case of historically or archaeologically important material, finds are often placed in museums in the area near the find site. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency is committed to maritime heritage, and has a policy of placing important finds in accessible registered repositories where they can be seen by the public. The views of the finder are taken into account when placing material in a museum.

The Receiver of Wreck does not charge a fee, but will expect to recover any expenses incurred during storage, valuation etc from the disposal costs. The finder receives the net proceeds of the sale.