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Shipshape Shipwreck

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So you're looking for a lost treasure ship on the bottom of the ocean. Good thing that the ocean is a perfect preservative. Oh, it might have some barnacles and coral here and there, maybe some parts have collapsed, but that may have happened when it was sunk. Heck, it probably still has tattered sails! It'll be sitting slightly to one side, but still mostly upright.

Not so in the real world. In the real world, water, particularly salt water, and especially warm salt water, as seen in most pirate-frequented areas, wreaks havoc on anything immersed in it for too long. Just look at the continued decay of the RMS Titanic or ships sunk during World War II. A wooden ship in salt water would be shipworm bait in no time flat.

Note that, as the Real Life section shows, this trope isn't entirely implausible; in the right conditions, ships really can be found in remarkable condition, even after centuries of submersion.

Often an excuse for a Gangplank Galleon; ubiquitous in the Derelict Graveyard. Can also be a Ghost Ship or an example of Ragnarök Proofing.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Doraemon:
    • In the very first episode of the 2005 anime, "The Fishing Pond in My Studying Room", Doraemon and Nobita try to escape from a shark in the ocean and find a sunken ship to hide in. The wrecked ship is noticeably battered but is sitting perfectly upright.
    • One such wreck appears in the underwater-set Doraemon film, Doraemon: Nobita and the Castle of the Undersea Devil, where the gang explores... and comes across the skeleton of the deceased captain which gives Gian and Suneo a Jump Scare.
  • Space Battleship Yamato is about HIJMS Yamato which, despite exploding, being blown into two pieces, and being thoroughly and definitively sunk by around twenty bomb and torpedo hits off Okinawa in 1945, remains in good enough condition to be converted into a space battleship centuries later. The remake quietly glossed over this plot point, and implied the Yamato was a completely new-built warship disguised as a derelict wreck.
  • In episode 40b of Tamagotchi, Mermaid Lovelin hides in a mostly-intact sunken ship twice to avoid being attacked by an octopus.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Happy Heroes and the City of Mystery episode 1, the Supermen's Skill Balls have fallen into the ocean, and Careful S. and Kalo go underwater to retrieve them. They find them in a sunken shipwreck.
  • In the Motu Patlu episode "Mermaid", there is a shipwreck visible in the background in one scene. The ship is mostly intact and standing upright.

    Comic Books 
  • Tintin: Downplayed in Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure, where the wreck of the Unicorn is in passable condition, three hundred years after it sank. Only the figurehead (and three-hundred-year-old rum) is removed from the wreck.
  • Athena Voltaire: In Athena Voltaire and the Isle of the Dead, the wreck of the Devil's Hand is reasonably intact despite having sunk in the Atlantic over a hundred years ago. The damage to the ship (dynamite is required to access the hold) is attributed to the people who sank it, rather than the ocean.
  • In The Death of Luthor, Supergirl and her merfolk friends Jerro and Lori look for a rare isotope beneath a long-sunken Viking ship which looks relatively fine despite spending hundreds of years underwater (one broken mast and some holes in the hull is the only visible damage).
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Vol 1: In "The Curse of Montezuma" Diana recovers a sunken Conquistador's ship, the only damage to the long sunken ship, which she was recovering in 1947, was the hole in the side that sunk it and while the sails were missing the rigging was all still intact.
    • Wonder Woman: Black and Gold: While searching for the remains belonging to the marine ghost attacking Amazons in the waters off their shore Diana finds the mostly preserved vessel the Champman children were abducted to and then abandoned on, along with the children's' carefully tended remains set leaning against the railing in an embrace. It all crumbles once she gets Eleanor laid to rest.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Goonies, One-Eyed Willie's 350-year-old pirate ship actually sails out onto the open seas at the end. While the ship is not submerged, it has been sitting in water for three centuries in a wet, brackish cavern with lots of moisture dripping from stalactites. Aside from the skeleton of Willie, the ship and even its sails appear to be in fairly good condition.
  • Raise the Titanic! operates on the assumption that the ship was still in one piece, when Science Marches On and we now know it's in two very disparate fragments. While the ship sinking in one piece was the dominant theory at the time the film and its source novel were created, it's much harder to excuse how the ship is in nearly pristine condition, with all masts, rigging and even the glass skylight dome depicted as surviving perfectly intact after almost 70 years at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Largely justified in Assault on a Queen. The protagonists find a sunken German U-boat while hunting for treasure. Eric, a former U-boat captain, explains that the captain would have sent the crew off and then scuttled the sub by filling the ballast tanks and letting it sink to the bottom; Going Down with the Ship. As the U-boat is designed to operate underwater, it has suffered little damage from sitting on the seabed; although they do comment that they were lucky none of the valves had failed and flooded the boat. By emptying the ballast tanks, they are able to refloat the U-boat and tow it to shore, where they spend considerable time cleaning barnacles and other crud off the hull and replacing all the components (gaskets, batteries, etc.) that have perished in the last 20 years.

  • The ghost ships in Going Postal essentially work on the assumption that Water Is Air and the ships sink to a depth they can "float" at, instead of all the way to the bottom. However, they do eventually disintegrate.
  • Mermaids (2001): In Rani's Sea Spell, Rani's family goes to visit Miriam's mother, who still lives in the same shipwreck where Miriam grew up. After decades at the bottom of the sea, the ship is still intact, besides holes the merfolk use as doors. The roof finally caves in during a party, but Rani uses the sea-spell to repair the damage, making the shipwreck shipshape again.

    Video Games 
  • Death in the Water sees you exploring a few of these while passing a naval graveyard in the trenches. All of them are infested by hostile marine creatures who wants you dead.
  • In Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, there's a pirate ship sitting in lava.
  • In Final Fantasy X, the Al Bhed retrieve the Global Airship from the bottom of the sea, where it's been for a thousand years. And they get it working. The continued existence of lots of Machina a millenium after the production thereof was banned implies that the ancients really built to last.
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge has Guybrush doing some deep-sea diving to recover the surprisingly-intact figurehead of a surprisingly-intact sunken ship in order to trade said figurehead for a Plot Coupon.
  • In Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising, Antaeus Cruiser 00 is in remarkably good condition after spending 20 years on the ocean bed. It manages to surface and set sailing just fine despite the long rest. Thankfully, nothing essential got damaged too badly, so after a visit in a dry dock the ship is at (or at least, near) full operational capacity, though they are signs she never gets as good as new. 00's sister ship, 04 isn't as lucky. She doesn't wake from her nap on the ocean bed. They justify this through the use of advanced nanotechnology. Both 00 and 04 have creation engines on board with trillions of the little things, which would have repaired 04, too, if it had received the signal.
  • In Dark Cloud, there is the Shipwreck. Despite having been sunk one hundred years prior, it looks like if it were lifted to the surface, had a certain large hole patched up, and given new sails, you could use it to sail the high seas.
  • Risk of Rain has a starship variation of this. You have to escape on the exact same spacecraft you crashed in. Which is not just a fighter but a massive freighter ship, cargo and all. And you're just one guy, possibly with no knowledge of ships or even technology at all. So unless they make them really hardy so as to survive a crash complete with cargo scattering, this trope is in full effect.
  • The Fallout 3 expansion Point Lookout has a Chinese spy sub that has to be entered to complete a side quest. The sub is still airtight after sinking over a century ago.
  • The seas in Minecraft are littered with shipwrecks, some of which are still mostly intact after lying deep in the seabed. They even have chests containing usable treasure maps and food that is edible as if it was produced yesterday.
  • Jolly Roger Bay, the third course in Super Mario 64 where Mario has to make a sunken ship rise to the ocean surface to gain a Power Star. The warp painting leading to the course is that of a sunken ship.
  • Tomb Raider II features the Maria Doria, a sunken luxury ship containing a MacGuffin, which you explore to find the Seraph over four levels. Despite having been submerged for at least thirty years, and having been torn to pieces, with some sections of the ship upside down, and others in underground caverns, much of the ship is in good enough shape to have breathable air kept within the ship's interior, sometimes with only a bit of glass between it and the ocean depths. Switches still function to open doors within the ship, and the engine room still is functional enough to keep fires burning through vents.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The Vasa, a fine example of royal idiocy, sank in the harbor in 1627. Said harbor is in the Baltic, an in-water sea that's brackish rather than seawater salty and is therefore free of the shipworm. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and is on display.
  • Endurance, the ship that brought Ernest Shackleton and his men to the Antarctic before sinking after being trapped and critically damaged by pack ice, was rediscovered in 2022 in the Weddell Sea. Thanks to the extremely cold water, Endurance was remarkably well-preserved. However, as a testament to the great endurance of life, photographs of the wreck show a variety of hardy sea creatures - including anemones, crinoids, sponges, starfish and a squat lobster - living aboard the ship as its 'new crew'.
  • If a steel ship lands upright on the seafloor they often stay relatively intact. A ship is simply much likelier to face structural collapse if it's on its side because it's not meant to hold itself together at that angle.
  • Thanks to mitigating factors including a shorter time frame and the cooler waters of the English Channel, a Sherman tank known to have fallen into the ocean during the D-Day invasion was salvaged for the 50th-anniversary commemoration. It cleaned up nicely enough to run under its own power, and fire live rounds. For "decades of seawater" levels of "clean-up".
  • The Dead Sea, on the other hand, is so salty that it preserves things due to the fact that very few things that would eat away at wrecks survive. A relatively recent expedition unearthed an ancient wooden ship in almost perfect condition.
  • The Great Lakes are fresh water so the wrecks of ships, even those of wooden sailing ships a couple of centuries old, are amazingly well-preserved.
  • The Black Sea has two distinctive layers. The deeper layer is very anoxic and nothing can live in it. Ancient ships that sunk near or under that layer — as well as signs of settlements from when the Sea was a freshwater lake — were found almost perfectly preserved.
  • HMS Terror, one of two ships that disappeared in the Canadian Arctic as part of Sir John Franklin's lost expedition, was discovered in near-pristine condition over a century-and-a-half later owing to being preserved by the freezing Arctic waters. The ship's condition is so good that divers have found plates and cutlery still in their shelves, and the ship itself can hypothetically be raised and made sailable again. (The other Franklin ship, HMS Erebus, has also been found but is badly busted up, presumably from being crushed by pack ice.)

Alternative Title(s): Ship Shape