Women and Protected Wrecks

Women and Protected Wrecks

Women and Protected Wrecks: Examining Engagement

The Maritime Archaeology Trust received a grant from Historic England (HE) to investigate the engagement of women with Protected Wreck (PW) sites and the potential impact this has, and is, having on the understanding and enjoyment of PWs.

The Women and Protected Wrecks project was inspired by statistics including those from June 2021 (HE):

  • Of the 32 Principal Licensees for Protected Wreck sites only one is female (3%);
  • Of other licences issued, such as visitor licences, of 74 only 8 of these (10%) had been issued to women.

To date, there has not been any detailed consideration of the composition of PW teams and those involved in PWs more widely in terms of gender. There is also a dearth of stories related to women and PW ships and shipping histories.

The project used a combination of desk-based research, a survey and direct interviews to gather baseline data to better understand how women are and have been, involved with the investigation of PW sites. It included a brief review of online data on wider maritime archaeological team composition, both professional and avocational to be able to place women and PWs within the wider maritime archaeological context.

The 50th anniversary of the PWA provides a milestone to consider women’s involvement. It has developed important baseline information on which to consider potential reasons why so few women are PW licensees and relatively low numbers are involved in PWs and looks to future actions to address this situation.

Some of the headline statistics found during desk-based research show that: 

  • The number of female Protected Wreck (PW) licensees is now at 6%, while numbers within PW teams exhibit a consistent trend of being 80% male and 20% female;  
  • Other statistics from across the sector included: within professional maritime archaeology (largely commercial and charity sector) there were 56% women and 44% men; University teaching staff are 65% male: 35% female; membership-based organisations are 63% male: 37% female; at Trustee, Board and Patron level in organisations it is 70% male: 30% female;  
  • Those speaking at maritime archaeological conferences are 80% male: 20% female, and within maritime archaeological publication the proportion of female authors is 20%, and within just UK PWs publication that falls to 13%;   
  • The percentages of women involved in UK diving is around 30% female: 70% male.   

Addressing the underrepresentation of women in maritime archaeology, including work with protected wrecks, requires concerted efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within the field. This includes implementing policies and initiatives to support women’s participation and advancement, fostering mentorship and networking opportunities, and challenging gender stereotypes and biases. By creating a more inclusive and supportive environment, the field of maritime archaeology can benefit from contributions of a diverse range of talents and perspectives.  


The full report from the project can be accessed here


If you are interested in other stories about women and maritime check out our blog posts:

Women in maritime history

A celebration of women in maritime

And take a look at this booklet on Women’s Maritime Heritage Stories by Maggie Fogg.