Many hundreds of shipwrecks lie scattered along the coral reefs in the waters of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Some are readily apparent to snorkelers and divers while others are buried in the sand or overgrown with coral. Each shipwreck tells a story about the lives of people who came before us and their communities and cultures. Careful study of shipwrecks can reveal how a ship succumbed to the perils of Florida Keys waters.

There are many reasons why these ships lie broken on the ocean floor. Mariners in the past were unable to accurately determine their position, they lacked accurate nautical charts, and had few, if any, navigational aids such as lighthouses and buoys. Human error and poor decision making often factored into shipwreck events. Combining the above factors with the dynamic oceanic environment of unpredictable currents, variable winds, and strong storms led to disaster. Despite technological advances in marine navigation, transportation, oceanography, and weather forecasting, shipwrecks still occur. Today we recognize ship groundings as causing significant damage to the environment.

Help Protect Artifacts

One of the goals of the National Marine Sanctuary System is to provide opportunities for people to learn about our nation's maritime heritage through experiencing it themselves. Historical sites within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are open to diving and snorkeling. Please help conserve our maritime heritage and do not damage or remove historical resources. If you discover a historical resource within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, do not disturb it. Instead, make note of where you found it and then provide this information to sanctuary staff. Be a good steward; take only pictures and leave only bubbles. Learn more about responsible diving practices here.

Diver swimming over a shipwreck covered in sea fans


An 1800's Scottish steamer in 20–30 feet of water near Elbow Reef.

Fish swimming among the large wooden remains of a shipwreck

Brick Wreck

Largely buried in Hawk Channel's muddy sediment three-quarters of a mile seaward of Vaca Key, this shipwreck is known for the brick cargo it once carried.

A low-profile shipwreck surrounded by seagrass

Bronze Pin Wreck

Resting in the sand and seagrass flats on the northern edge of Hawk Channel in 14 feet of water off Grassy Key.

Metal shipwreck structure with many soft corals growing on it

Hannah M. Bell

The remains of the 300-foot-long steamship Hannah M. Bell rest in 20 feet of water at Elbow Reef.

Diver swimming past wreckage with marine life attached.

Hen and Chickens Brick Wreck

Named because of its resting place near Hen and Chickens Reef with its bow rising to within 10 feet of the surface.

Shipwreck artifacts on the seafloor


The namesake of Looe Key, a British warship that mistakenly came too close to the reef in 1744.

Diver taking notes about a shipwreck

Marker 39 Wreck

An unidentified wooden shipwreck near an area known as the Triangles, in Hawk Channel offshore of Marker 39 near Key Largo.

Sandy bottom with the remains of a ship sticking out of the sand

Menemon Sanford

A paddlewheel passenger steamship that grounded in 1862 on a coral reef near Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, off of Key Largo.

Large ballast stones covered with coral and sea fans

Mystery Wreck

This unnamed wreck lies on a sandy floor within 8 feet of the water's surface, almost two miles seaward of Vaca Key.

A diver on a deep water shipwreck using lights to take photo and video

Queen of Nassau

A ferry that sank in 230 feet of water off of Islamorada in 1926.

Diver measuring large vertical iron ribs from a shipwreck buried in sand

Rib Wreck

The Rib Wreck gets its name from iron reinforcing frames that project from the sand covering the site, approximately one-half mile southwest of Key Colony Beach in the Middle Florida Keys.

Diver swimming over a large historic anchor on a shipwreck site


The remains of a wooden-hulled sailing vessel lying at the tip of a reef known as Turtle Rocks.

remains of a shipwreck extend above the seafloor and are covered in sea fans


This steamer served in the Gulf of Mexico during the U.S. Civil War but later ran aground on Key Largo's Elbow Reef.

Stone ballast pile covered with sea fans

USS Alligator

One of five schooners built for the suppression of slavery and piracy, Alligator was escorting merchant ships north when it ran aground on an uncharted reef, today known as "Alligator Reef".

A painting of a steamship with a single stack and two masts on a blue ocean


The victim of a 1919 hurricane that resulted in the largest loss of life from a single shipwreck in Keys history.

Panorama of shipwreck and parts on the seafloor with the blue ocean behind

Winch Hole

Remains of a wooden-hulled sailing vessel whose signature artifact is a windlass used to raise the vessel's anchors.