There are an estimated 1,000 shipwrecks off the Florida Keys

City of Washington shipwreck

Shipwrecks lie scattered along the treacherous coral reefs and buried in the sandy shallows a few miles off the Florida Keys. Many of these wrecks have tales to tell. They can tell us about individuals who came before us, why they were here, and their difficulty in navigating these waters.

There are many reasons why these ships lie broken on the ocean floor, including an inability to accurately determine position, inaccurate nautical charts, lack of navigational aids such as lighthouses and buoys, unpredictable currents, lack of wind, storms, and human error.

And while we may tend to think of historic wrecks first, not all of the shipwrecks are old. Shipwrecks still occur in modern times despite dramatic improvements in propulsion and navigation. The City of Washington and Benwood are examples of modern vessels that came to grief in the Keys.

Fourteen of the sanctuary’s historic sites are listed in the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. Sanctuary scientists and partners are continually documenting and researching ships that rest on the ocean floor.

If you happen upon a shipwreck site or an historical object, it is okay to look, but do not disturb anything. If you think the site has yet to be discovered, contact Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and let staff know where you found the site. This will allow the sanctuary to investigate further.

More Shipwreck Facts