Marine Archaeology and Scuba Diving in Sweden – A Case of Cooperation and Polarity

by Carl Olof Cederlund

When scuba diving and scuba diving equipment was introduced to the general public (in Sweden starting in the 1950s) it changed the basic conditions of scientific interest in cultural, archaeological remains under water. Scuba diving equipment made it possible for a growing number of individuals to go down and study the under water world, and also the cultural remains existing there.

[animation]This is a situation which has now existed for more than forty years, and which contains a spectrum of different issues of great importance to marine archaeology, and also to the more general evaluations of cultural resources in the remains of human culture under water.

Before this period one could visit the underwater world, but then only in heavy diving suits, or even diving bells. This was an activity which was restricted to a few professional individuals working with this kind of diving.

For marine archaeology, scuba diving by the layman is a kind of inseparable partner or necessity. Scuba divers are the only other large group in society today which visits and studies the under water world to any degree. As a group, they have been growing considerably since the middle of the 20th century and will in all probability continue to do so in the future.

Professional heavy divers, and scientific and military divers, are today relatively small groups in comparison with the number of scuba divers.

Because of this there exists a case both for cooperation, and also for polarity between scuba divers and scientists and others who deal professionally with the subject of marine archaeology. This situation has several facets. The scuba divers carry with them the capacity both to retrieve and report important information, as well as to create a threat to the preservation of cultural remains under water – as they may through negligence or even ill will destroy or damage such remains. A third issue is the marine archaeologists' interest in preventing damaging and in communicating with the scuba divers in order to raise their awareness of the value of cultural remains under water, and ways to preserve them.

In this paper I want to depict and characterize some of the factors which have been governing the relations between scuba diving and marine archaeology in Sweden since about 1960 when diving started to establish itself in society.

The organizations of and the number of scuba divers in Sweden

It is difficult to give a true picture of the number of scuba divers in Sweden and how the activity has developed in the last forty years. This has to do with the fact that scuba diving is not the kind of phenomenon that is recorded by society, but is instead to a high degree a free activity – into which individuals can integrate without reporting to society in one way or another. One way to get a grasp of scuba diving and its extent in Swedish society is to study the development of scuba diving organizations, and the number of participants and diving certifications granted by them.

Swedish scuba diving today consists of two movements: the one created by the Swedish Skin­divers' Organization (Svenska Sportdykarförbundet; SSDF), and the one created by the two diving education organizations, Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). These three bodies have developed differently, and not in correlation, a fact which to a certain degree characterizes this movement as a whole.

The Swedish Skin-divers' Organization was founded in 1958 as an initiative by a small group of professionals working with diving in the Swedish navy, and engaged in the early phase of military scuba diving. The reason for establishing it was to organize the scuba divers in Sweden, and to develop safety rules for them as well as to publish a journal for the members of the organization, "Sportdykaren" (in English "The Skin Diver"). During the decades following its establishment, the most important tasks of the organization have been to develop education in scuba diving, and to promote diving safety. In 1960, the organization became part of the international organization "Confederation Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques" (CMAS). In 1966, it was a member of the "National Organization of Sports of Sweden" – "Riksidrottsförbundet" from which it receives yearly subsidies.

The SSDF is an organization created to work for the interests of scuba divers, with a special emphasis on under water sports. As part of society it is one of the organizations with a goal of enhancing and developing youth and interest in sports in society, in other words it is part of an idealistic movement.

In 1980 and 1996/97, the two other organizations were established in Sweden with the aim of creating education and training for scuba divers. The first of these organizations was the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), established in Sweden in 1980, and the second one was the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), established in Sweden in 1996/97. Both of these organizations are of American origin and are commercial enterprise organizations with the aim of creating differentiated diving training through a program of courses. Their programs are designed to make diving more easily accessible, and more adapted to the young and modern consumer. The program is designed for use internationally with modifications specific to the respective community.

Just before PADI was established in Sweden, the organization for Swedish Scuba Diving Schools, "Sveriges Dykarskolors förbund" (SDR) was also introduced. This organization had several aims among which were the development of basic education and training in scuba diving; training of diving instructors; coordination of the enterprises within this line of business; pursuing the interests of the group in front of authorities, media etc; and also other issues of interest for these schools.

At this time also came the introduction of many diving schools and centres, as well as shops for diving equipment etc. This development was integrated in several ways into the PADI movement after it was established. Around 70 diving schools today are connected to PADI.

PADI and NAUI engage in different ways with marine archaeological course arrangements organized by other bodies, but they do not have the type of engagement in the issue that the SSDF developed, which is a more idealistic approach.

In other words – since 1980, a new sector has developed within the world of scuba diving in Sweden, besides the SSDF. This new sector contains two commercially based systems of diving education enacted through several diving schools and centres. Following the American concept of the two organizations, a very effective set of courses for the training of basic scuba diving, as well as for different kinds of specialization within the same field has developed.

The number of scuba divers in Sweden and the volume of scuba diving

Scuba diving as developed in Sweden has mainly been growing within the SSDF, PADI and NAUI organizations. There have also been individuals diving just by themselves, but these are apparently relatively few, at least since the introduction of the professional training centres. Some divers are also trained abroad and may dive at centres in other countries. These divers are not counted here.

It is still difficult to get a complete picture of the number of scuba divers and the volume of diving through time since the early 60s in Sweden. The situation was completely dominated by the SSDF up to the latter part of the 1970s. In the middle of the 1970s this organization listed about 9000 organized scuba divers, which was supposed to be about 90 % of all scuba divers in Sweden at that time. Most of these individuals were living in the three main city areas of Sweden, the Stockholm area, the Gothenburg area and the Malmö area (Enström 1976).

Ten years later the situation had changed. According to an investigation at that time there existed a much bigger total number of scuba divers in the country, but only half of these, about 15,000 divers, belonged to the SSDF. According to the same source, Swedish scuba divers at this time performed between 50,000 and 100,000 dives per year (Kn 1981:02, s 27 f).

During the 1990s there have been several investigations concerning scuba diving in Sweden. If one summarizes these investigations, one may conclude that the number of people educated as scuba divers has grown sharply since the 1950s, and that this group today can be counted in the tens of thousands of individuals. According to a Norwegian investigation from 1996, concerning the development of scuba diving from 1981 to 1995, altogether 68,400 scuba divers in Sweden had diving certificates (oral and written documentation from PADI Norway AS). According to another investigation in 1998, done by the opinion research institute TEMO, there existed all in all about 130,000 scuba divers in Sweden (TEMO 1998. Sportdykare. Sjösäkerhetsrådet. April 1998. T14074).

It is important to note that it is impossible to identify the number of scuba divers in Sweden exactly with the extent of scuba diving activity taking place. According to one investigation done by the SSDF in 1991, few individuals engaged in scuba diving are active longer than ten years, and the amount of diving diminished strongly during the first five years after a diving certificate had been granted (TEMO 1998. Sportdykare. Sjösäkerhetsrådet. April 1998. T-14074). (Tänkvärda enkätsvar. Sportdykaren 4 / 91, s 12 f). In other words, there must exist a rather high “turnover” of scuba divers as "older" ones leave the activity and newly certified ones come in.

If one instead tries to calculate the amount of scuba diving done in Sweden through evaluation of the number of scuba dives performed, one may reach a more accurate estimate. According to one investigation done in order to analyse diving death accidents among scuba divers in the Nordic countries, these divers in 1997, in the Nordic area, performed nearly one million scuba dives. This was a number, which had expanded four times during the preceding ten years, from 1987. This diving rate can be compared with the number of certified divers per year during the same years, rising from around 11,000 thousand per year in the Nordic countries together in 1987, to around 18,000 certified divers in 1997, since the curves for these two developments rise in a more or less parallel way (Örnhagen 1998).

If one looks at Sweden only, the above mentioned Norwegian investigation calculated that Swedish scuba divers in 1995 performed about 91,600 dives, which was three times more than what had been done in 1990.

One may conclude that at least 90,000 dives were performed in Sweden annually at the end of the 1990s; and that this is the result of an uneven, but steady growth of scuba diving since the end of the 1950s. The fact that there has been an expansion for 40 years is no proof that it will continue to expand, but it could be taken as an indication that this is long-term trend, and that the expansion will continue.

Of the active scuba divers in Sweden more than a third have marine archaeology as their main diving interest, according to the study done by the SSDF in 1991 (Sportdykaren 4 / 1991. Unsigned article: Tänkvärda enkätsvar, s 12 f). This in turn might indicate that at least around 30,000 of the annual scuba dives in Sweden may be aimed at visiting or studying archaeological remains under water – supposedly mainly older shipwrecks are the focus of this scuba diving interest. I am not counting here the dives made by those from other countries in Swedish waters, which also might figure to some extent.

The relationship between scuba diving and marine archaeology

There is one special reason for presenting estimates concerning the number of scuba divers and the amount of scuba diving in Sweden. This is the fact that there are strong connections between these dives and marine archaeology. These connections have taken different shapes.

One way to study the interaction between scuba diving and marine archaeology is to study the scuba diving press over time, where many events illustrating this interaction are presented. Another is to analyze the yearly activity reports from SSDF, and also the programs and courses offered in marine archaeology and related subjects by the organizations in this field.

The engagement with marine archaeology in the Swedish Skindivers' Organization (SSDF)

From the very beginning the SSDF engaged strongly in cooperation with museums and other bodies in order to cover the area of marine archaeology for its members. Many were the articles on such subjects in the journal of the organization from the beginning. Quite early a cooperation with the Swedish National Maritime Museum was started in order to arrange and integrate courses and other cooperative arrangements. Also a continuous coordination and information group was created which met several times a year during the 1960s and 1970s. The museum started an active information service for scuba divers, and established registration systems for the recording of old wrecks and similar finds. There were arranged courses in marine archaeology for scuba divers starting in the first half of the 1960s. The museum also arranged exhibitions with marine archaeological themes, showing finds which scuba divers had salvaged.

This was during the time when old ship wrecks were still unprotected by the Ancient Monuments Act. An addition to the Act was established in Sweden in 1967 giving legal protection to the remains of ships which had foundered a hundred years ago or more. Other types of archaeological remains formally already had such protection if they were also situated under water.

During the preparations by the Swedish department of justice, the SSDF was assigned the task, together with many state and other organizations, to provide their opinion on these legal amendments. In 1966, the SSDF had organized a special section for under water archaeology to meet the interests of its members in this subject. A series of courses on the subject of marine archaeology was staged in cooperation with the the Swedish National Maritime Museum and the SSDF from 1967 to 1972. Also in other parts of the country, museums took up cooperation with scuba divers and arranged courses and exhibitions on the theme of marine archaeology.

During the 1970s, the SSDF took over much of the course activity and created a series of courses to be held mostly outside the main city areas. There were often copies on tape of the courses held in Stockholm with the slides accompanying them. During the decades to come, the SSDF presented new course programs in marine archaeology for sale or distribution to the diving clubs and their members. The last one was presented in the mid 1990s and contained both a file with written material and an extensive videotape with illustrations of the different themes in the course. The course material had been developed at the foundation Fotevikens Maritima Centrum (Ahlm, M., & Rosborn, S., 1996). In earlier cases such course material had been developed at the SSDF, or by individual instructors connected to it.

Also during the 1980s and 1990s one can follow the interest of SSDF in integrating marine archaeology into its program as a part of the education of its members.

Marine archaeology within the PADI and NAUI organizations

When the first of the commercial scuba diving training enterprises (PADI) was established in Sweden in 1980, this also changed the scene for scuba diving in general. PADI was followed in the mid 1990s by the NAUI organization. Parallel to the introduction of the two organizations was also the establishment of diving schools and dive centres in cooperation with the schools, buying and using their course material. Also several new and bigger shops for diving gear appeared now.

PADI and NAUI did not engage in marine archaeology in the same way as the SSDF had done and continues to do.

In their commercial dive training program is included information about the laws protecting marine archaeological remains. A special wreck diving course has been developed, which is sold to their schools and centres. This course is aimed at giving the participants the capacity and knowledge to plan and perform wreck diving. One of the aims is that they will be able to characterize the historical value of a wreck, the social and legal conditions surrounding it, and also to argue the reasons in favour of and against raising artefacts from a wreck. When relevant they should also be aware of the role of archaeology in connection with wreck diving (See as one example the PADI “Wreck Diver Specialty Course”).

According to the representative of NAUI in Stockholm this organization does not have the same commercial approach to skin diving training as PADI, but is more of a commercially based organization of interests. In this respect, NAUI is located somewhere between SSDF and PADI.

NAUI's activity program is in principle similar to the one of PADI. It also sells a basic diving course and several speciality courses to diving schools and centers. The schools and centers for both organizations may have a diving club as part of their organization. This club is then aimed at arranging diving activities to get newly educated skin divers going on their diving. The clubs may also arrange diving trips such as wreck diving.

Skin diving magazines

In 1983, three years after the introduction of PADI in Sweden, a new diving magazine, "DYK", was introduced. It was a commercial publication owned by private publishers, and differed in that capacity from the journal of SSDF, the “Sportdykaren". Ten years later another diving magazine was started, with the name of "Undervattens-magasinet, UVM". In the late 1990s, this magazine was bought by and integrated into the journal DYK.

The two new magazines have used a great deal of space for marine archaeological subjects. Articles about wreck diving and different marine archaeological subjects appeared together with those on, for example, marine biology. It seems that articles illustrating different wreck diving destinations were becoming more common during the 1990s than earlier. Especially evident in these magazines was also the large amount of advertising about diving schools, centres, diving trips, wreck diving and safaris, diving gear, etc. Information for the consumer on these subjects is now very widespread. There is no question that there is a strong commercial approach apparent in both of these journals, and that wreck diving is one of the special attractions offered to the readers of the journals.

What do we know about "wreck diving"?

It is quite evident that wreck diving and other related diving activities constitute a large part of the scuba diving in Sweden. A tentative estimation is that every year tens of thousands of such dives are made in Swedish waters.

On the other hand, we know very little about what this really means for marine archaeology and for archaeological remains in the underwater landscape. The special location of marine archaeological remains under water today gives our approach to them special qualities:

  • Besides a few which have special ideological attributions, and thus are given special interest – these remains are generally held in low esteem (as bearers of "symbolic or cultural values") by general society. They are often so situated that one cannot experience them or engage in them if one is not a diver.
  • The risk of damage is great due to their location out of the sight of society in general. Different types of intentional or unintentional damage are taking place without any attempt to follow or hinder the perpetrators.
  • Societies for the care of ancient monuments have difficulty regarding marine archaeological remains and environments as objects which need surveillance, care and maintenance, in the same way that material cultural values in the landscape above water do. The latter are easily visible, for example in the shape of mounds, monuments or old buildings.
  • We have very little information about what impressions the tens of thousands of scuba divers have regarding archaeological remains under water, and especially old ship wrecks which are one type of favourite diving goal (an examination of these impressions is under way as an examination thesis in marine archaeology at Södertörns Högskola, and I am very curious to see the results, as this is a subject of which we know very little).
  • We also know relatively little about how wreck diving is performed today, and how this may affect valuable archaeological remains. We do know that in some cases there have been hundreds or even thousands of dives per season on easily accessible wreck sites. This must in the long run wear down the ship remains, and possibly also damage and partially destroy them.

It is certain that we know very little of the general situation concerning these matters. The only thing which seems clear is that the more accessible an old wreck is by road and from land, the bigger the risk that it is visited by many scuba divers, with predictable effects.

We also have very little information about the ways in which archaeological remains today are affected by the scuba diving around them. In some cases we know that there has been devastating damage on wrecks which have been subject to extensive scuba diving. In a handful of cases, Swedish authorities have prohibited diving on old wrecks which have been extensively damaged by such diving. (An investigation is also under way in on this case at Södertörns Högskola, which will study and evaluate the extent and type of material damage on one of those wrecks, the big flute ship Anna Maria, sunk in 1709 in Dalarö harbour, and today under a diving prohibition due to earlier damaging.)


As stated in the introduction, we know that scuba divers are of great value to marine archaeology. Representatives of this group are very important observers and recorders of the under water landscape. They have also been valuable partners for a long time in innumerable marine archaeological field expeditions and other tasks. The interest of members of this group in marine archaeology and the individual initiatives that have been taken are very positive and have created excellent opportunities for positive cooperation. We also know that there is a lot of idealistic interest in marine archaeology among scuba divers.

All the same one cannot just ignore the fact that scuba diving has been and probably will continue to be a growing business, and that the commercial trend within it is also growing. Scuba diving in Sweden is driven more and more by commercial aims. This is something which could be positive in several aspects. On the other hand, it might also mean that marine archeological, cultural values under water will be at risk through the wear and tear and damages which occur as scuba divers make more frequent and more extensive wreck dives.

Hopefully, a cooperative solution is possible, in which commercial diving tourism and institutions trying to protect cultural values in the under water environment find ways to cooperate on a larger scale. This is something which both sides could gain from. It is really a question of finding ways to combine the different aims and interests on each side of the matter.

There is great potential in marine archaeological diving tourism in several respects. This applies both to diving as a tourist activity and as an activity which can enhance the value of submerged cultural resources and make them more accessible and better known. This potential can, if realized, be to the advantage of both the protectors of cultural values and to scuba diving enterprises and organizations. And it can also work for the protection of archaeological remains under water.

A well-organized program of marine archaeological diving tourism with the aim of combining the archaeological and historical knowledge of archaeologists and museum experts with the commercial interests of diving enterprises may benefit both parties. Wreck diving, performed in well-organized and professional ways, with well-prepared information for the divers, and professional guides trained in marine archaeology, might in the long run work for the protection and preservation of marine archaeological remains, instead of allowing them down to be worn down or damaged.

In such a system, the museums also have an important role as procurers of information in the form of exhibitions, courses and lectures, and the distribution of informational material of different kinds.

Following along those lines, the different parties could increase their own revenue and also work for the preservation of submerged cultural resources. In this way, we can stop or change a situation which, if it develops further along the lines it is following today, may very well result in a cultural catastrophe. I am referring to the effects of a massive wearing down and destruction of irreplaceable cultural assets which are today still preserved as archaeological remains of different kinds in the under water world. This under water world is a restricted environment where these remains are still largely invisible to most people. This is a condition which might change in the future, with the development of under water and recording techniques.


by associate professor Carl Olof Cederlund
Södertörns Högskola (South Stockholm University College)
Box 4101
SE-141 04 Huddinge
Fax : +46-8-58588250


Ahlm, M., & Rosborn, S., 1996. (red.) Marinarkeologiskt Utbildningsmaterial. Stiftelsen Fotevikens Maritima Centrum.

Enström, E., 1976. Sportdykaren som marinarkeolog. Rapport. Maritimhistoriskt symposium. (Edited by C.O. Cederlund an U. Wessling.) Luleå, s 154 f.

Kn 1981:02., 1985. Sportdykning. Säkerhet-utbildning. Rapport av Kommittén (Kn 1981:02) för undersökning av allvarliga olyckshändelser. Stockholm.

PADI Wreck Diver Specialty Course Instructor Outline.

Sportdykaren 4 / 1991. Unsigned article: Tänkvärda enkätsvar. s 12 f.

TEMO. 1998. Sportdykare. Sjösäkerhetsrådet. April 1998. T-14074

Örnhagen, H., 1998. The DAN EUROPE Award lecture. Accident statistic in recreational Diving and a suggestion for an improvement. DAN EUROPE NEWS.


This presentation is a summary of one part of a research project under way at the Södertörns Högskola by the author. It will be presented under the title Marinarkeologin i forskning och forskning. En studie av den svenska utvecklingen. (Engl.: “Marine archaeology in Science and Society. A study of the Swedish development”. This text published in print in The Marine Archaeology of the Baltic Sea Area, vol 3, 2000. Published on Nordic Underwater Archaeology Oct '00

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