Marine Salvage Equipment and How It’s Used to Find Shipwrecks

Understanding the science behind recovered wrecks and marine salvage.

By Michael Bernzweig

Millions and millions of dollars worth of gold, silver, and other valuables has been lost at sea over the centuries.  Luckily, today, marine salvage equipment has become much more advanced allowing underwater treasure hunters to find these ship and plane wrecks, along with the riches and stories they hide, and return them to the surface with increasing ease.

One of the most significant developments in underwater treasure hunting and marine salvage has been Remote Operated Vehicles or ROVs.  Equipped with high resolution cameras, lights, manipulator arms, and even metal detectors, ROVs are able to accomplish many of the things a human diver can, including safe retrieval of the wreck and it’s treasures.  Plus, they’re able to reach depths no human could ever feasibly go even with the most advanced SCUBA equipment available.  As a result, new areas of the ocean floor we previously thought were off limits can now be explored with the help of these remotely operated vehicles.

 In addition to ROVs, most marine search and salvage operations also employ a boat towed metal detector and/or a magnetometer.  Boat towed metal detectors are able to find any metal object while magnetometers are only able to detect iron and steel items.  However, magnetometers can locate targets at much greater depths than metal detectors so it can be useful in many situations to have both on board.

As the metal detector is towed behind the boat the entire area where the shipwreck is thought to be is carefully covered.  When potential targets are found, pingers are deployed to mark them for further exploration by the divers and the ROV.  Each pinger can be programmed to have it’s own signal so it can be quickly found with the pinger receiver.  This also allows for several pingers to be deployed in one area so the potential targets can be marked more accurately.

If you’re one of those adventurous people who’ve always wanted to see what was underneath the surface of the sea, you may be ready to become the next underwater treasure hunter.  The first step?  Finding the right equipment.  A common way to begin is by getting a good underwater metal detector to take SCUBA diving.  You can learn a lot this way including:

  • how to research a potential area to explore
  • how to use an underwater metal detector
  • safe, ethical underwater treasure recovery practices and techniques

As you go, if you find you’d like to learn more, try to meet and work with some marine search and salvage professionals.  Message boards and local treasure hunting groups can be an excellent way to find others in the field willing to share their knowledge and maybe even let you come along on a dive to see how the more advanced equipment is used.  From there, if you’ve still got the bug to find a shipwreck yourself you’ve simply got to get out there with a boat towed metal detector and your ROV and start searching for all that treasure buried underwater just waiting to be found!



About the author: Michael Bernzweig manages in Southborough, MA. He has written extensively on the subject of metal detecting since the mid 1980’s. He has traveled world-wide in his pursuit of educating, exploring and advising others in the proper use of metal detectors. Outside of the business he enjoys mentoring students, being involved in the community and spending time with his family.

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