July 14, 2020

South African Maritime History

As a country on the Southern tip of the continent, South Africa has a rich maritime history and culture that exists across a coastline of approximately 3000km. This is evident from the knowledge within indigenous coastal communities that have had a long coexistence with the ocean. We have also learnt from various ancient world travellers who have collected antiques such as archaeologists and historians. 

In promoting a National Maritime Awareness Programme, SAIMI believes that it is through the richness of our maritime history that we can explore the unending possibilities that the ocean offers us in terms of careers, tradition, sustainability and recreation. The approach to maritime history and heritage provides us as a nation with a maritime identity, unique for our purposes and an investment to share with the world.

To find out more about our diverse maritime history please refer to the contributions from various stakeholders who have invested in crafting our maritime heritage and history.


Preserving African Maritime History

The Institutes’ aim is to create awareness around the historical significance of African Maritime records whilst preserving, interpreting and advancing our maritime heritage.

Chronicling Our Underwater Heritage 

The heritage legislation in South Africa has recognised the importance of protecting maritime culture for many years, and national legislation has included the protection of shipwrecks as early as 1979.  Heritage is the full range of our inherited traditions, monuments, objects, and culture. Most important, it is the range of contemporary activities, meanings, and behaviours that we draw from them.

It is both tangible and intangible, in the sense that ideas and memories – of songs, recipes, language, dances, archival documents, oral histories, the stories of indigenous cultures that have lived and used the oceans for centuries and many other elements of who we are and how we identify ourselves – are as important as historic shipwrecks, historical buildings and prehistoric archaeological sites.

For more information about the Maritime Heritage Institute click HERE


The Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) Unit at the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) has taken a unique position on the management of South Africa’s MUCH resources. Whereas the perception of underwater cultural heritage as being solely shipwrecks has predominated globally, the MUCH Unit has worked hard to expand the focus to non-traditional, locally applicable examples of MUCH resources that reflect South African’s historical relationship with water. The Unit has used external funding to develop MUCH and bring it into the heritage mainstream and has made significant strides towards showcasing this resource as a shared and universal inheritance. By broadening the scope of the MUCH, the Unit has been able to address its key strategic objective of raising awareness of an aspect of heritage often hidden beneath the water’s surface.

For more information about the South African Heritage Resources Agency click HERE