Perhaps Australia's most famous shipwreck is that of the SS Yongala that sank during a cyclone in 1911 off the tropical coast of northern Australia. She attracts over 10 thousand divers annually and is regarded as one of the best wrecks to dive and one of the best artificial reefs.

In the United States, one of the best places to go freshwater wreck diving is the storm-prone Lake Erie with its many wrecks. For those who would like to have a much more extreme diving experience, it is possible for experienced divers to explore the sunken fleet at Bikini Atoll (the ghost fleet sunken in nuclear testing).


What To Know Of The Ill-Fated SS Yongala

The SS Yongala was a passenger and cargo ship and was built by Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. She was built to service routes in the newly created country of Australia and became the first ship to sail from Brisbane to Fremantle direct 5,000-kilometer (2,700 nmi) - the longest route in Australia.

  • Launched: 29 April 1903

She met her waterly fate on her 99th voyage in Australian waters on 24 March 1911. It wasn't until a couple of days later that she was reported missing.

She is one of Australia's greatest maritime disasters. She sank, claiming the lives of all 122 souls on board, and traces of the ship were not found until days later as cargo and wreckage washed ashore. The wreck itself was not found until 1958.

  • Location: Off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland, Australia
  • Date: 23 March 1911
  • Lost: All 122 Passengers and Crew Were Lost

The wreck was first detected by the Australian navy during the 1940s but they did nothing to follow up the find. It was only in 1958 that Bill Kirkpatrick located the wreck and brought to the surface a barnacle-encrusted steel safe. There was nothing in the safe, but its serial number—9825W was traced to the SS Yongala during her construction in 1903.

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The SS Yongala Wreck Today

Today the wreck of Yongala is 109 meters (358 ft) in length and lies listing to starboard at an angle of between 60° and 70°. Her structural integrity has been retained and she rests in a depth of around 30 meters (98 ft). The upper sections of the wreck are at a depth of around 16 meters (52 ft).

  • Depth: 30 meters (98 ft) - Upper Sections; 16 meters (52 ft)
  • Condition: She Is In Good Condition

She has become an artificial reef with the seafloor around her being open and sandy. She has become a complex habitat for a diverse range of marine life. She is in the central section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

  • Protected: She Is Protected By The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
  • Permit: A Permit is Required To Dive Her

Access to the SS Yongala is by permit only and the zone around her is protected. The permits are obtainable from the Maritime Archaeology Section of the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

  • Divers: She Attracts Over 10,000 Divers Annually

Today the SS Yongala is a major diving tourist attraction. She is a very popular attraction with over 10,000 divers coming to visit her every year. She is of particular interest in that she is one of the largest, most intact historic shipwrecks.

If one does go to see her, don't forget to check out the Maritime Museum of Townsville which has an extensive display of Yongala memorabilia.

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Diving The SS Yongala

"Exploring the S.S. Yongala is a diving experience matched by few other places on the planet. The combination of the wreck’s mysterious history and the vast amount of resident marine life make the Yongala a must-do bucket list dive."

Yongala Dive

One of the companies providing small group diving tours of the SS Yongala is Yongala Dive. They provide certified divers and all the equipment and transportation needed to dive the wreck.

To get to the wreck it takes a 30-minute boat ride. Their small group diving tours include:

  • Dives: 2 Dives Of The Wreck
  • History: A Talk About The History of The Yongala
  • Refreshments: Snacks and Drinks Are Provided On The Dive Vessel
  • Lunch: BBQ Lunch (at Dive Centre)

To dive with them there is a list of minimum requirements. Divers need to hold Open Water certification with 6 logged dives and deep-dive training. Open Water divers must complete Deep Orientation dive (underwater skills) with a PADI Dive Instructor during the 1st dive at the wreck (extra cost applies).

  • Minimum age: 16 years of age
  • Experience: A Level Of Diving Experience Is Required

Novice divers (those with less than 20 dives) need to have refreshed their skills within the last six months and will need to be provided with a dive guide.

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