Ceramics on the wreck of the Josephine Willis, lost off Kent in 1856

Unpath’d Waters

Lead institution: Historic England

Unpath’d Waters is a ground-breaking 3-year research project that aims to unite the UK’s maritime collections. We are one of five Towards a National Collection projects awarded £14.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The UK has a rich maritime heritage, stretching back over 23,000 years. It’s impossible to tell the story of our islands without talking about our relationship with the sea.

This maritime past is becoming increasingly important. People are more aware of our exploitation of the sea and topics such as colonialism, slavery and immigration. Unpath’d Waters therefore aims to increase

interaction with the UK’s maritime heritage by making it easier to research and easier for the public to discover and share stories in new ways.

Working with agreed values the project is structured around seven work packages. In order to bring together maritime collections split between many locations we have developed a shared and cross-searchable online catalogue of marine data across the UK. This catalogue is now freely and openly available via the Unpath’d Waters Portal. The Portal includes the same information displayed in existing online search systems, without duplicating it. For the first time, marine records of all four UK nations can be searched in one portal.

In order to make submerged and museum-displayed wrecks exciting by creating new ways of imagining, understanding and valuing them Maritime Archaeology Trust (MAT) has developed the Needles Voyager an innovative way to digitally explore the fascinating world of shipwrecks and maritime sites that can be found off the west of the Isle of Wight.

Staff using Bangor University’s research vessel ‘Prince Madog’ collected high resolution multibeam sonar data from over 150 wreck/obstruction sites that are listed on the UK Hydrographic Office database, including 60 sites in the Bristol Channel, 26 sites off the coast of South Wales and 63 located between the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland.

Unpath’d Waters project is also looking at new audiences for maritime heritage and new and exciting ways of reaching them. Working together with communities we currently co-design a Virtual Reality environment to create an immersive experience. This will allow users to explore, question and enjoy the world of maritime heritage above and below the water. The Unpath’d Navigator will access and display multiple heritage datasets and display them in a virtual environment. We are also beginning to work on designing user-generated ‘curated voyages’ through our data. We are reaching out to other Unpath’d Waters work packages, who work on computer simulations, underwater bathymetry and 3D modelling, to display this content in our virtual system.

Unpath’d Waters will give the public access to Doggerland by creating a computer simulation. We’ll create software which allows users to see the development of the landscape over long time periods and appreciate what it would have been like to live in Doggerland.

In order to help us overcome some of the critical challenges we face as we continue our transition into the digital age, we’re working with advances in artificial intelligence to help link disparate datasets together, to delve within them to make data discoverable, to make the process of moving from data to knowledge easier and to have fun and explore new ways we can engage with our amazing shared heritage – discovering new ways of linking, viewing and interacting.

Sonar image indicating the presence of a relatively intact vessel.
Ceramics on the wreck of the Josephine Willis, lost off Kent in 1856
A team of divers carefully photograph and document artifacts underwater
Remains of the underwater Thunderdome in Turks & Caicos Islands

We are collaborating with:

The Principal Investigator (Historic England) is responsible for the overall leadership of Unpath’d Waters. Co-Investigators are responsible for delivery of a specific package of research work for Unpath’d Waters.


  • Archaeology Data Service, University of York
  • The Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton.
  • University of Portsmouth
  • The Centre for Applied Marine Sciences, Bangor University
  • The School of Simulation and Visualisation at Glasgow School of Art
  • Museum of London Archaeology
  • Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN)
  • School of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Ulster University
  • National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
  • Historic Environment Scotland
  • School of History, University of St Andrews
  • School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, University of Bradford


Collaborators are working with one or more of the Co-Investigators to deliver specific elements of research.

  • Maritime Archaeology Trust
  • Mary Rose Trust
  • The Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
  • Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW)
  • Wessex Archaeology


Partners provide specialist expertise and/or data to the project.

  • Cadw (Welsh heritage dept)
  • Manx National Heritage
  • Department for Communities (Northern Ireland)
  • Marine Management Organisation
  • Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Heritage & Education Centre
  • Protected Wreck Association
  • British Geological Survey
  • Lloyd’s Register
  • UK Hydrographic Office

Funded by