Focus on PADI Wreck Diver Speciality


Photo taken by Chantal Brennan in Malta

There is something about wrecks, something about the looming shadow beneath you and the way the detail becomes more apparent as you descend down the shot line. To begin it simply looks like the area of water beneath is slightly darker than that surrounding it. As the shot line runs through your gloved hand and you equalise your ears the dark patch starts to take on a definitive shape, kind of long and narrow with even darker sections branching off. As you descend a little deeper you feel your heart rate increase slightly and the butterfly feeling in your gut as you realise there is something not natural down here, something that does not belong.

As you get deeper you start to notice the features on the uppermost side of the wreck, whether it’s the bridge with the windows missing from the increased pressure but the wheel still present or the railings encrusted with anemones and the dark doorways with corridors leading into the blackness. You start to realise the grand scale of the ghostly ship….you look to your left forwards towards the bow and it stretches off into the distance into the blue and when you look to your right the bridge structure towers above you but you can go deeper still…

The vast structure of this gargantuan vessel, which no one single dive can begin to give you the scale of, was once home to scores of people. You can swim through the crews’ quarters with the bunk beds still present but with the mattresses long since rotten away. You can imagine that the walls were once covered with photos of their loved ones and the floor once played host to games of poker and long days at sea drinking…

Although the above may read like a movie blurb, for committed ‘wreckies’ this is a reality on every dive!

Alex in a wreck

Photo taken by Chantal Brennan in Malta

In my mind there are 2 types of specialties. The ‘nice to haves’ and the ‘must haves’. The nice to haves are the specialities which don’t actually qualify the diver to officially ‘do’ more but serve simply to allow a diver to improve in certain key diving skills (peak performance buoyancy) or to better prepare them for situations they are likely to encounter (drift, boat etc.) or simply to allow a diver to get the most from the areas of diving they enjoy most (UW photography, UW naturalist etc.)

The ‘must haves’ actually allow a diver to dive in the areas concerned and demonstrate proof of experience. For example a deep diver certification proves that the holder of the card to go to 40m as this type of diving employs certain techniques that increase safety.

I would argue that there is no better example of a ‘must have’ for UK diving than the wreck speciality. But why is it such an important speciality to have for our blue and tranquil waters? And what does the course entail?

Being a war-mongering nation based on an island surrounded by tempestuous seas and rocky outcrops and once patrolled by war ships, submarines and hidden sea mines means that our coastline is reputed to be home to some 40,000 wrecks in varying states of decay.

The idea of the wreck speciality is to make sure that divers get the most from their experiences whilst diving in way that preserves their safety as well as that of looking after the wreck itself. We have to remember that the wreck could be an artificial reef that is home to scores of wildlife, or it could be considered a war grave where it holds the remains of the sailors whose home it once was or it could simply be of archaeological/historical interest and therefore removal of artefacts is forbidden.

The most important thing to remember when penetrating a wreck however is the fact you are in an overhead environment and a direct ascent to the surface is not possible. The comes with its own unique set of dangers and the wreck diver speciality seeks to make divers away of these and how to best minimise them.

Dive 1:

This is simply an orientation dive on the wreck, taking note of its position and any interesting features. The instructor will be looking for good diving practises such as good buoyancy and efficient and effective fin kicks that do not disturb the wreck. You will also need to keep your eye out for potential hazards and be able to use the layout of the wreck to navigate back to your ascent point at the end of the dive.

Dive 2:

With your buddy you will need to map the wreck which is not only good fun but will really allow you to learn the wreck in detail. It’s good to note hazards, depths, possible entry points and location of key and interesting features.

Dive 3:

This dive will teach the correct use of a penetration line (this is a line you deploy as you penetrate a wreck so you don’t get lost and can find your way out – think the Hansel and Gretel with the gingerbread house). You will practise deploying on the outside of the wreck first in preparation for dive 4…

Dive 4:

The penetration dive! The culmination of what you have learnt – you will penetrate the wreck deploying the line and having an exploration inside. However you will never be at any point more than 40 linear metres from the surface and with an instructor too.

If you’re interested in doing this speciality then get in touch. We can run them whenever we’re at open water, which is usually a few times a month.


Photo taken by Chantal Brennan in Malta


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