Beneath Croatian waves: top 10 shipwrecks for snorkelling

Beneath Croatian waves: top 10 shipwrecks for snorkelling

Embark on a yachting adventure to explore the underwater world. Even without diving expertise, you can experience the magic of shipwrecks.

Snorkelling is a very popular activity among sailors partly due to its simplicity and accessibility, provided you can swim. Exploring sunken shipwrecks while snorkelling takes this pastime to a thrilling new level, especially when sailing the pristine waters of the Mediterranean off the coast of Croatia. This region, steeped in a rich seafaring history, provides ample opportunities for yachting adventurers to discover awe-inspiring underwater wrecks. 

Snorkelling in Croatia not only enhances your sporting skills but also reveals hidden chapters of history. Croatia, a favourite destination amongst yacht enthusiasts, is a captivating location with a magnificent coastline and profound nautical legacy. The country is home to a host of intriguing shipwrecks that can be explored right from the surface or dived into with advanced snorkelling techniques. Let's take a look at these spots.

But before you equip yourself with the fundamental snorkelling gear — mask, fins and snorkel, let's first understand the basics of snorkelling, the recommended practices for wreck diving, and familiarise ourselves with potential hazards. This knowledge will prove invaluable, particularly when exploring the unique and specific flora and fauna surrounding these underwater wrecks.

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Snorkelling around the wreck or even diving directly into the wreck are very specific.

The beauty of snorkelling around a wreck in turquoise waters.

Specifics and magic of snorkelling at a wreck

Snorkelling or free-diving around a wreck offers a distinct experience, quite unlike traditional snorkelling over a coral reef. This is primarily because you're venturing into a unique environment that may, at times, be enclosed, limiting the possibility of an immediate ascent to the surface. Such closed areas are better suited for experienced swimmers who are well-versed in breath-holding techniques and can accurately gauge their capabilities.

Even if you are only snorkelling around the wreck from the surface, remember that there may be splinters or pieces of iron sticking out of the wreck. Coral itself can also cause skin irritations, making protective clothing like a wetsuit or underwater sun protection crucial. And don't touch anything. The ecosystem that has built up around the wreck over the years is very fragile and you could easily damage it.

Guidelines and tips for snorkelling at shipwrecks

 1. Follow specific guidelines:  This helps ensure safety and minimize damage to wrecks and the surrounding ecosystems.

2. Maintain a respectful distance: Avoid touching or climbing on the wreck, as it may be fragile or contain hazardous materials.

3. Observe from a safe distance: Respect the boundaries set by the dive operator or local authorities to protect the wreck and preserve its historical significance.

4. Handle equipment with care: Be mindful not to bring your equipment into contact with the wreck or its surroundings. Avoid stirring up sediment or creating excessive water disturbance, as this can affect visibility and disturb the marine environment.

5. Follow local regulations: Familiarise yourself with all regulations and restrictions regarding snorkelling in wreck sites. Some wrecks may require permits or have specific guidelines in place to protect the site and maintain the ecological balance.

6. Be observant: Wrecks may have sharp edges, rusted metal or other hazards that can cause injury. Be careful not to touch potentially hazardous areas. Also watch for debris or fishing lines and do not swim into areas with a dense net of ropes or lines.

When snorkeling near a wreck it is a good idea to use some body protection such as a wetsuit or at least UW sun protection.

Snorkelling to a wreck with a breath.

Advantages of snorkelling in Croatia

Snorkelling in the waters off the Croatian coast is particularly appealing due to two simple facts. There is fantastic visibility underwater, which allows you to see things you wouldn't normally see anywhere else. Secondly, you won't come across any sharks, barracudas or other intimidating species of marine animals, so you can enjoy snorkelling worry-free. Check out our list of 7 top snorkelling spots in Croatia.

Of course, we don't get to explore as many wrecks while snorkeling as we would scuba diving. Most of the wrecks lie deep, often beyond the limits of recreational diving, i.e. deeper than 30 or 40 metres. Croatia, however, is the perfect location for exploring shipwrecks with a snorkel. The regions with the highest concentration of wrecks are found around Istria and the island of Vis in the Split-Dalmatia region.

Snorkelling near a shipwreck is different from snorkelling on a reef.

Snorkelling near a shipwreck is different from snorkelling on a reef.

Within the Mediterranean waters of Croatia lie numerous shallow wrecks, offering a captivating glimpse into different periods of history. From ancient Roman wrecks that have withstood the test of time for over 2000 years to ships sunken during the harrowing Second World War, each wreck holds its own unique narrative and exhibits varying degrees of preservation.

 As you explore Croatia's coastal waters, you'll encounter some of the most incredible snorkelling spots, where these shipwrecks have been transformed into captivating underwater museums. Join us as we delve deeper into the stories behind a select few of these extraordinary sites.

Top 10 Croatian wrecks for snorkelling

We have divided the snorkelling wreck sites by depth, from the most accessible, i.e. the shallowest, to those for experienced snorkellers and freedivers. Most of the wrecks are also dive sites.

1. Zavratnica wreck near the Island of Rab (depth: 3m)

Croatia's most renowned and captivating wreck, accessible to snorkelers, known as the Zavratnica in the bay of the same name near the island of Rab.

Zavratnica Bay, nestled near the idyllic island of Rab, cradles the remnants of a German cargo ship from World War II. As history unfolds beneath the crystal-clear waters, the abandoned wreck of a Wehrmacht ship reveals itself, a haunting testimony to a tumultuous era. Resting a mere 2 to 3 metres below the sea's surface, this remarkable site allows even snorkelers without professional diving gear to immerse themselves and marvel at its presence. The hull of the vessel, adorned with vibrant marine life, creates an awe-inspiring underwater spectacle.

In 1944, this Italian warship met its watery grave. As you venture into the depths to explore the wreck, you'll have the opportunity to observe the remaining fragments of the ship, including its hull and various structures. The crystal-clear waters of Zavratnica Bay offer excellent visibility, allowing snorkelers to fully appreciate the underwater artifacts and the thriving marine ecosystem that has developed around the sunken vessel.

Zavratnica bay near Rab is an ideal place for snorkelling. In addition, there is a shipwreck here.

Zavratnica bay near Rab is an ideal place for snorkelling.

2. Michelle or S. Michelle wreck (depth: 6 m)

Similar in fame and popularity to the Zavratnica wreck, the Michelle wreck offers a captivating experience. This ship, which sunk in 1983, now lies adorned with vibrant coral and attracts an array of fish species. Located near Dugi Otok, it has become a sought-after destination for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts.

The ship ran aground north of Veli Rat lighthouse on Dugi Otok in May 1983, with locals claiming it was deliberately stranded by the crew. For many years, the ship remained afloat but gradually sank over time. Anchoring near the wreck is possible, with a mooring depth of approximately 6 metres. However, it's important to note that during the high season, the wreck tends to get crowded. To fully enjoy the experience, it's best to visit in the early morning and during calm weather conditions.

Resting on a sandy seabed, the freighter provides an ideal setting for snorkellers to admire its structure and the thriving ecosystem that surrounds it. While the wreck is partially exposed, it's essential not to underestimate the challenges of diving. Although easily visible and accessible for snorkelers, caution must be exercised due to strong currents. It is advisable to dive with a partner or, ideally, under the guidance of a professional.

On the eastern side, in Lučica Bay, there is also a sunken ship in shallow water. The wreck lies in the western part of Lučica Bay at a depth ranging from 2 to 4 metres.

YACHTING.COM TIP: If you want to learn more about the Michelle wreck, then don't miss our article.

It is best to go to the Michelle wreck first thing in the morning and in good weather.

Snorkellers around the wreck of the Michelle in Croatia.

3. Boka wreck near the island of Krk (depth: 8-15 m)

The wreck of the small wooden ship Boka is located near the island of Krk and is a cargo ship that sank in the early 20th century. Its wreck now rests at a depth of 8-15 metres, making it accessible for snorkelling. The complete engine of the ship with its fittings and mechanical parts, as well as the hull with two huge propellers, are a truly fascinating sight. While snorkelling around the wreck, you will encounter the vibrant marine life, such as fish and various species of marine vegetation that have made the wreck their home.

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4. Peltastis cargo ship off the island of Krk (depth: 8-11 m)

This Greek freighter became another casualty of an Adriatic storm in the Kvarner region. Resting northeast near Krk Island, it's frequented by budding divers and snorkellers. Viewable from just 8 metres depth, scuba divers and freedivers can descend to 30 metres. In a 1968 storm, it wrecked on a rocky coast, sinking just 50 m offshore. The main mast's top is at 12m, the bridge at 20m, and in good visibility, the propeller is visible at 31m. The wreck is teeming with a rich array of fauna and flora, and is regularly visited by fish schools.

At some wrecks it pays to be an experienced freediver.

At some wrecks it pays to be an experienced freediver.

5. Shipwreck of the Teti (depth: 10 m)

This merchant ship from the 19th century met its end in 1887 near the island of Hvar and currently resides at an approximate depth of 10 metres. Its accessible location makes the wreck a fantastic spot for snorkelling. So teeming with marine life is this wreck that it can be likened to a reef. The tranquil conditions make it perfect for snorkellers, and the ship hosts a multitude of moray and large eels that are familiar with divers and approach them readily. As you snorkel around the remnants of the Teti, you can appreciate the well-preserved aspects of the ship, including its timber framework and cargo.

Hvar is an ideal place for sailors. And not far from the island you will find the wreck of the Teti.

Hvar is an ideal place for sailors and close to the wreck of the Teti.

6. Wreck of Coriolanus, Western Istria (depth: 11 m)

On the 5th of May, 1945, a British warship met her fate off the west coast of Istria, near Novigrad, in the open Adriatic Sea. She was involved in the risky operation towards the end of the war of clearing underwater minefields to re-establish Adriatic navigation. Striking a mine, a large hole was torn in the ship, causing it to sink swiftly. Today, her wreckage lies at a depth of 11 to 25 metres, embedded in the sandy seabed but remarkably intact with certain parts being well-preserved. It is advised that neither divers nor snorkellers attempt to enter the wreck's interior, however, the surrounding area is teeming with schools of fish. The wreck is of significant cultural and historical value.

7. Ribolovac wreck near Split (depth: 13 m)

Close to the town of Stomorska, on the island of Solta near Split, the remains of a former fishing vessel known as Ribolovac rest alongside a deeper shipwreck, the Pajo. The latter, with its minimum depth of 24 metres, is not suitable for snorkelling, but Ribolovac offers a more accessible exploration.

Ribolovac is a very popular dive in the Split area. It lies at a depth of 22 metres and its shallowest part reaches 13 metres. The vessel is about 15 metres long and 5 metres wide and is located about 50 metres from the shore, making snorkelling here straightforward. Here you'll encounter marine life such as fish, crabs, octopuses, sponges...

Snorkelling around wrecks requires respecting many rules

Snorkelling around wrecks requires respecting certain rules.

YACHTING.COM TIP:  Approaches to accessing a wreck whilst sailing a yacht can differ based on the specific circumstances and location, even when it comes to snorkelling.

  1. From the boat: Occasionally, it's possible to directly reach the wreck from your yacht, but these instances aren't common. In some cases, the wreck might be visible from the deck. Otherwise you can see the structure of the wreck and nearby marine life from the surface, or view the wreck holding your breath.
  2. If the wreck is a distance from your boat and not readily accessible, the site can be reached by dinghy. While snorkelling, ensure the dinghy is securely fastened or anchored to the yacht, and exercise additional caution when embarking and disembarking.
  3. In certain situations, it might be necessary to access the wreck from a neighbouring beach. Ensure the yacht is secured and make use of a taxi or a hire car to reach the beach.

8. Taranto wreck near Dubrovnik (depth: 10-40 m)

The Taranto wreck, located near Dubrovnik and just off the island of Vis, is a sunken Italian torpedo boat from World War II. The wreckage is situated at a perfect depth for snorkelling, ranging between 5 and 10 metres near the Grebenica Islands, making it a thriving hub for schools of fish. At a mere 10 metres depth, you will encounter the ship's bow and due to Taranto's 45 degree tilt, your dive will lead you down to the steam engine. The stern sits at a 40 metre depth, with the stern section lying another 12 metres deeper on the ocean floor. Snorkelers have an ideal chance to survey the remnants of the ship while enjoying the surrounding marine life. Near the wreckage, there are also two tractors, but these are only accessible to freedivers and divers.

The wreck provides a fascinating glimpse into history. The crystal clear waters around the Taranto wreck afford exceptional visibility, greatly enhancing the snorkelling experience.

9. Zeljko wreck (depth: 15-18 m)

Near Trogir lies the Zeljko, a 10 m long and 3.5 m wide plastic ship resting on a sandy seabed at an approximate depth of 15 m. Regular sightings of schools of fish around the wreck and its vicinity are quite common. Snorkelling near the wreck is quite straightforward, and it is also possible to get a good view of it from the surface.

10. Underwater museums

For our final category, we're not focusing directly on shipwrecks, but rather underwater museums, which offer outstanding opportunities for snorkelling. These museums present a unique and enjoyable approach, housing statues, cannons, and amphorae at relatively shallow depths, making them perfect for snorkellers. More than 10 underwater museums are scattered throughout Croatia, with the Lošinj Historical Underwater Park and Via Crucis being particular highlights.

The Lošinj park is an 11-station museum featuring replicas of statues, works of art, and ancient amphorae situated between 5 and 15 metres beneath the sea's surface. The museum offers a voyage through the history of the Croatian region. On the other hand, the Via Crucis Museum hosts 52 life-sized statues depicting the Stations of the Cross. These statues are ideally positioned at depths ranging from 4 to 12 metres.

Underwater museums can be found all over the world.

Underwater museums can be found all over the world.

Bear in mind that safety should always be your top priority when snorkelling around shipwrecks. Stay mindful of your surroundings and show respect to the marine environment. Savour the excitement of exploring these fascinating underwater sites, each of which offers a unique window into history and serves as a sanctuary for diverse marine life.

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FAQ: what you should know about wreck snorkelling