Why the SS Yongala Wreck is the Best Wreck Dive

Claiming the title for the best wreck dive and also ranked in our top 12 dive sites in the world, is the SS Yongala. This coral encrusted wreck is unlike no other. Beaming with all kinds of marine life, many divers have quoted the Yongala dive a dive of a lifetime. So here’s a little bit more about it.

The Yongala wreck

It is believed that more than 1400 ships have been wrecked since the 18th century along the Queensland coast alone. Each wreck is astonishing in its own way and a museum to all us scuba divers. Every wreck is an irreplaceable archaeological site which is able to tell us about the lives of many past generations on Queenslanders and also other people of have visited the shores of Queensland.

Great Barrier Reef

A number of these wrecks have now become very popular dive destinations for scuba divers all around the world. The people of Australia are happy to welcome everyone to enjoy the beauties that Queensland’s wrecks offer along with the maritime heritage it provides, but we should all be grateful to have the opportunity to dive at such locations, treat each one with respect and be reminded that it is illegal to interfere with these fragile sites.

The SS Yongala Wreck

Today, the SS Yongala is a major tourist attraction for the recreational diving industry. Due to its extensive array of marine life the wreck is one of the most famous wreck dives in the world. So much so that the Yongala receives more than 10,000 divers visit the wreck every single year. At 110 meters (361ft) long, she is one of the largest and most intact historic shipwrecks known to date. Management of the wreck site is now the responsibility of the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

The SS Yongala

She lies at the central section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, at approximately 12 nautical miles east of Cape Bowling Green and 48 nautical miles south east of Townsville. The Yongala wreck was given official protection under The Historic Shipwrecks Act in 1981. The Maritime Museum of Townsville now has a very extensive display of Yongala memorabilia for all visitors to see.

Maritime Museum

The Yongala wreck is a site of national significance and also a substantial artificial reef which supports a great diversity of fish life. There has been recorded 122 different fish species in an established community around the wreck alone.

Scuba Diving the SS Yongala Wreck

For divers with a sense of adventure, the Yongala dive really hits the spot. If you have a passion to explore, a thirst to learn about the history of a mysterious ship and  to witness an underwater paradise full of marine life not seen like this anywhere else in the world. Dive Yongala!

Yongala wreck and fish

The SS Yongala sits intact and proud on the seabed at an angle of about 60 to 90 degrees listing to starboard. The upper sections of the wreck are located at approximately 16 meters below the surface, with the maximum depth of the wreck at about 30 meters. Despite the depth and the fact the ship has been in the water almost 100 years, you are still able to see the aft, rudder, forward masts, engine and steam rooms, port holes and toilets and even most of the name – Yongala.

The 110 meter hull and deck are both completely intact. Due to it being protected by the Historic Shipwreck Act the altering and removing of artefacts is strictly prohibited. And as a result of this, wreckage such as things like chairs, lights, portholes, bottles and some human remains are still visible. Providing for a fascinating dive.

Divers are no longer allowed to go into the wreck unless a permit is obtained, as the bubbles trapped inside could corrode the wreck.

Yongala wreck with coral

The wreck itself is completely encrusted with coral, and since it is the only large reef structure within the region, this is called home by the abundance of marine life that gathers here. Encrusted by brightly coloured soft and hard corals, hydroids and huge sea fans makes the Yongala wreck a beauty. This also makes it quite an attraction to the larger pelagic. Such as barracuda, sharks and giant trevally. One resident in particular, a Maori wrasse is named “VW” as that’s about how big it is! And during the winter months, calls of the migrating whales can be heard and sometimes seen around the wreck.

Humphead Wrasse

The timing of the dive is very important. This is because tides and currents can make the dive too difficult and sometimes even dangerous. The professional dive operators should be well aware of the conditions as they visit the wreck often, therefore they will be able to time your visit accordingly. Always keep in mind that this dive can potentially be cancelled due to windy or bumpy sea conditions. This is because the wrecks location is well away from the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and is right in the shipping channel. When this does happen, the alternate plan is to dive the Great Barrier Reef, and in all honesty, that’s a pretty good Plan B anyway!

How do I get to the SS Yongala Dive Location?

The Yongala wreck is located 90 kilometres south east of Townsville, a further 10 kilometres away from Cape Bowling Green.


Many dive operators offer dive trips to the wreck, some of which vary in length from 1 to 7 days. Sometimes dive centres will also offer visits to the Great Barrier Reef, which is located further offshore, and even trips to the Coral Sea. The Yongala wreck dive trips normally depart from the city of Townsville as well as its resort island, Magnetic Island.

Townsville is just a short flight away from either Sydney or Cairns.

Why is the SS Yongala One of Australia’s Most Famous Wreck Dives?

There are very few dive locations in the world which have as much to offer as the SS Yongala does. Every scuba diver who has been lucky enough to experience this incredible SS Yongala dive will no doubt comment that this truly is a dive to remember and will remain in their memories forever.


One thing that attracts many divers to the Yongala wreck, is the mystery she offers. No one really knows what happened to her. 1911 when the ship sunk, all 122 aboard were lost at sea. The only trace of the ship were found days later as cargo and wreckage washed upon the shore.


Diving Yongala, is truly like diving into the past. Many stories began following the disappearance of the ship where people would day they saw a ghost ship resembling the SS Yongala which would frequently be seen moving in the distance of the seas between Bowen and Townsville.

Yongala Ray

Due to her not having any telegraph facilities the ship was unable to be warned of the weather ahead, and therefore lead to the ship sinking in a cyclone on 23 March 1911. There was a seven day search for the vessel. With no luck and all passengers lost at sea, she lay undiscovered for almost 50 years, where positively she was identified in 1958.

Marine Life

Whether you are a Divemaster, taking your PADI advanced open water course or new to scuba diving, everyone loves diving with the marine life. Yongala diving offers an amazing size and prolific variety of marine life.

One of the other reasons why the SS Yongala dive is the best, is because it allows you to come face to face with the mega marine life and flora that it has to offer.

And everything here is BIG. From giant groupers, to trevally as big as people. That’s enough to make it an awesome dive!

Sea snake

But scuba diving Australia has so much more. Giant marble rays, huge schools of barracuda, sea snakes, bull sharks, turtles… There is just too many to list! And what’s even better is this is all located around a beautiful coral encrusted wreck making it a Scuba Bucket List dive which shouldn’t be missed by any scuba diver. Some people have even said that you will see more fish in one dive on the Yongala, than you would on 10 dives in the Great Barrier Reef.

What is a Shipwreck?

A shipwreck is the remains of a ship that has been wrecked. This means either found on beached on land, or sunk to the bottom of a body of water. The term “shipwrecking”, may mean deliberate or accidental. It is estimated by UNESCO that over 3 million shipwrecks, some thousands of years on lie on the seabeds today. Many still undiscovered.

Yongala wreck

Shipwrecks and their associated relics which are older than 75 years of age are protected by law in Australia. The below dive guide has been developed for scuba divers to help them discover stories around the local underwater maritime heritage and also be informed about the history, visibility, biology, conditions, location and the responsibilities divers have whilst visiting these shipwreck sites. For reference, I have added the guide for the SS Yongala from theDepartment of Environment and Heritage Protection. For the complete guide please click here.

yongala dive guide

What is the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976?

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 is an Australian Act of Parliament designed to legally protect historic shipwrecks and their relics or artefacts from those wrecks which are more than 75 years old. The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 protects historic wrecks in Commonwealth waters, extending from below the low water mark right down to the edge of the continental shelf.

The Northern Territory and each of the States have complementary legislation, which also protects historic shipwrecks in State waters, such as harbours, rivers and bays. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts is also able to make a declaration to protect any historically significant wrecks, articles and relics which are less than 75 years old.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act aims to ensure that each historic shipwreck is protected for their heritage values and also maintained for scientific, educational and recreational purposes. It also seeks the control to actions which could result in interference, damage, removal or even destruction of a historic shipwreck or an associated relic. Scuba divers are allowed to use the wreck sites for recreational purposes, but relics must not be removed for the site and physical fabric of the wreck site should not be disturbed. The only exclusion to this is if a permit has been obtained to do so.

There are currently 15 historic shipwrecks in Australia which lie within the protected of no-entry zones. Some of these zones cover an area up to a radius of 800 meters around the wreck site which are sometimes declared as circumstances where at particular risk of interference. This type of declaration prohibits entry into this zone in the absence of a permit. You would also need a permit to undertake any activities otherwise prohibited or restricted by the Act.

Entering a Protected Dive Zone

Shipwrecks are very highly vulnerable and they can be very easily damaged through both direct and indirect contact. It is very important to be as cautious as possible and not damage the areas with your fins and other scuba gear. Remember, when diving Australia, it is illegal to damage, interfere and remove artefacts from a historic shipwreck.

Protected zones

The Australian National Shipwreck Database provides lots of information about diving Australia and which sites are in protected zones. Within Queensland itself, there are 9 protected zones. To be able to dive in these areas, you must obtain a permit to enter protected zones.

What Should I do if I Discover Remains of a Shipwreck?

Anyone who comes across the remains of a ship, or even an article associated with a ship, must notify the relevant authorities as soon as possible. Ideally this would be no later than one week to let them know the information about what have been discovered and its exact location. Notification forms for Australia can be found here. It is also important to remember that historic shipwrecks and their associated relics do not belong to the person who found them.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act also requires that a register of historic shipwrecks and relics be maintained at all times. Both the transfer, possession and custody of material such as relics, including coins, from historic shipwrecks, are also regulated.

Both historic shipwrecks and their associated relics are still protected even if you came into possession of the material before the Historic Shipwreck Act existed.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act is administered by the Australian Government in conjunction with Delegates in each of the States, the Northern Territory and on Norfolk Island. To find out information about permits and protected zones, contact the Commonwealth Minister’s practitioner in your State or Territory.

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 is currently being reviewed.

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