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HomeScuba DivingHow Was A Sunken U.S. Civil War Submarine Recovered?

How Was A Sunken U.S. Civil War Submarine Recovered?

Ever read novels written by author Clive Cussler? A lot of them involve scuba diving and the recovery of sunken ships.

Cussler doesn’t limit his enthusiasm for sunken treasure to fiction, though. For the past several decades, he’s led expeditions to find lost ships of historical significance, the most famous of which was the discovery of the sunken Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley in May 1995 off the coast of South Carolina.

Since that discovery, recovering the submarine has been a joint effort of the U.S. Navy’s History and Heritage Command, South Carolina Hunley Commission, and the nonprofit “Friends of the Hunley.”

This week, the U.S. Navy issued a report describing the efforts to recover the submarine. In that report, there’s a detailed description of the dive operations undertaken by marine archaeologists and commercial divers. Here’s an excerpt:

“The dive team was divided into two groups, scientific divers from [Hunley Archaeological Team] and commercial divers from [Oceaneering International Inc.], with both groups operating simultaneously. . . . Initially, operations ran 12 hours a day, but increased to 24 hours in late July as the rigging phase commenced. Due to equipment restrictions, dives were limited to two divers per team at any one time. Each team generally conducted three dives per day during the initial phase of excavation, and six during the extended phase. All diving operations, with the exception of underwater photography, were conducted using surface-supplied air.

“Surface-supplied diving had numerous advantages over scuba. Hunley was located in 8–10 m (26–33 ft.) of water, depending on the tide. At this depth, divers could remain on the bottom for five hours and thirty minutes.

“A diver averaging one hour per scuba tank would have to return to the surface and change tanks six times, whereas a diver using surface-supplied air could remain on the bottom for the entire time. Each surface-supplied diver had an individual tending the umbilical hose. This link to the diver eliminated the possibility of being swept from the site by the current and drifting away without being noticed.”

There’s a whole lot more info about the equipment used for the dives, as well as how the archaeologists trained for the expedition in the report.

Additionally, the report covers the recovery of the Hunley, from the planning stages through execution. It also provides detailed descriptions of objects excavated from the seabed and provides in-depth analysis of the submersible’s hull condition at the time of recovery.

So if you’re an underwater treasure/shipwreck junkie, this report might be for you.

To read the full report, click here.

New Report Outlines How The Sunken U.S. Confederate Submarine Hunley Was Recovered (Photo credit: Friends Of The Hunley)
New Report Outlines How The Sunken U.S. Confederate Submarine Hunley Was Recovered (Photo credit: Friends Of The Hunley)
John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.


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