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Guidelines for developing underwater slates

Shipwrecks and other submerged cultural resources are of great interest to divers. However, in order to appreciate fully the historical value of those sites, divers need to be provided with an interpretative tool: an underwater guide. Typically, without guidance, divers are disoriented on a wreck and are likely to underestimate the complexity and significance of a shipwreck site. Equipped with an underwater guide to the site, divers will have an educational, informative and ultimately more enjoyable dive. A properly designed, informative underwater guide will not only help divers interpret the site but will also add a unique historical perspective to their diving experience.

Necessary components of a slate

  • Indiana University has helped develop several underwater slates in conjunction with establishment of underwater shipwreck parks. Our experience suggests that for a slate to perform its function as an interpretative tool, the slate needs to be easily handled underwater and, unlike a brochure, it should contain mostly graphical information with easily understood and limited amount of text.

  • Generally, an underwater guide is a two-sided, laminated 8 1/2 by 11-inch slate. It is convenient to handle underwater yet large enough to contain all the necessary components of a slate.

  • A site plan with north arrow is a major component of a slate and should be the centerpiece of any underwater guide. The site plan needs to be detailed enough to be informative yet clear enough to be readable. Furthermore, it should depict significant archeological features as well as associated biological components of the site but should not contain a visitation trail around the site. Underwater site trails tend to encourage repeated visitations to particular areas thus making them more susceptible to damage.

  • A map of the wreck's geographic location with GPS coordinates.

  • Safety and diver etiquette message: "Take only photos, leave only bubbles."

  • Jurisdictional logo.

  • Copyright information.

  • Illustration of the wrecking process and, if possible, archival images of the vessel before she sank to help divers visualize the ship before and after the wrecking event.

  • Text should contain all the relevant historical information regarding the ship.The basic archeological data should be augmented by description of the site's biological components. It has been demonstrated that text written for eighth grade reading level is the most suitable for reading information underwater.