Nautical Archaeology Degree Programs & Schools

Jul 14, 2020

Overview of Nautical Archaeology Degree Programs & Schools

Are you interested in the untold stories of shipwrecks and artifacts that are hidden underwater? If so, you may want to consider pursuing a degree in nautical archaeology. Topics commonly covered throughout these programs typically deal with the preservation of historical artifacts, cultural anthropology, and marine policy principles. Students can expect to spend time both inside and outside of the classroom gaining valuable theoretical and practical knowledge.

Admission to Nautical Archaeology Programs

Nautical archaeology isn't a widely offered area of study, so admission can be competitive. Admission requirements differ depending on the particular program you select, but having a high school diploma or successful GED completion is almost always necessary. While in high school, it's a good idea to take a well-rounded course load that focuses on math, science, and English. Furthermore, in addition to letters of recommendation and personal essays, many institutions ask that you send SAT/ACT scores.

Nautical Archaeology Program Coursework

Each program that focuses on nautical archaeology offers a unique variety of required coursework. However, there are some common classes that most institutions deliver. Obtaining a deep understanding of artifact exploration is critical in the course offerings that are described below.

Introduction to Archaeology

This course gives a broad overview of the concepts and methods used to study archaeological findings. Students explore the evolution of human history dating back to ancient times. Early civilizations and social structures are discussed as they pertain to the findings of archaeological discovery.


Topics include geological and chemical components that make up the world's oceans. The oceanic structural formation is explored in great detail and students learn about specific marine properties and distributions. The biology behind sea life is introduced, and organism structures are studied. This course often requires a lab component as well.

Maritime Methods

While studying Maritime Methods, students do a deep dive into the practical applications of nautical exploration. This includes ships, ports, and other artifacts that have settled beneath the water level. Examples of topics covered include exploration tools, techniques, and excavation. Students learn how to interpret data in meaningful ways.

Nautical Field Study

Most programs value the knowledge student's gain through hands-on experience, so maritime fieldwork courses are often required. While completing fieldwork, students will go on site to local--or global--ocean labs and/or historical locations. Through direct visits and coursework, important research methods are covered, and sampling techniques are put into practice.

Coastal Environments

It's important for nautical archaeologists to have a thorough understanding of various beach and coastal environments, so this course discusses geographical structures (such as coral reefs, hypothermal vents, and tectonic plates). Marine geological mapping is covered so that students have an opportunity learn about important tools and techniques. While in this class, there is also an exploration of the effects of natural and environmental changes that have impacted coastal environments.

How to Choose a Nautical Archaeology Program

When selecting which nautical archaeology program is the right fit for you, there are some important factors to consider. Keep your long-term career and educational goals in mind. Focusing on what you would like to accomplish in the future will help you determine if pursuing a full bachelor's degree in the maritime underwater discovery field is the best choice for you, or if a specialized certificate is will be more useful. For example, the University of West Florida offers a Bachelor of Arts in Maritime Studies, and the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island both offer minors that focus on underwater archaeology. Additionally, the University of Hawaii and Indiana University have certificates that focus on underwater research.

In this field, real-world experience is crucial, so it's a good idea to choose a program that provides you with fieldwork and internship opportunities. As most underwater archaeologists have master's degrees, students should consider which undergraduate program best prepares them for postgraduate study.

Nautical Archaeology Career Options

According to, archaeologists from all specialties had a combined median salary of $52,351 in 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines archaeologists and anthropologists into one category, which is predicted to experience a 10% employment increase between 2018-2028. However, a degree in nautical archaeology may serve as a stepping stone into a variety of fields. A sampling of other career options includes the following:

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