Established in 1973, BUAR is the sole trustee of the Commonwealth's underwater cultural heritage. This nine-member state board is a statutory program of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA). BUAR has been administratively hosted by Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) since 1986.
Under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 6, sections 179-180, and Chapter 91, section 63, BUAR is charged with encouraging the discovery and reporting, as well as the preservation and protection, of underwater archaeological resources. Generally, those resources are defined as abandoned property, artifacts, treasure troves, and shipwrecks that have remained unclaimed for over 100 years, or exceed a value of $5,000, or are judged by BUAR to be of historical value. The Commonwealth holds title to these resources and retains regulatory authority over their use. BUAR's jurisdiction extends over the inland and coastal waters of the state.
No person may remove, displace, damage, or destroy any underwater archaeological resource except in conformity with permits issued by BUAR. To deal with certain types of artifact discoveries, the BUAR regulations provide an exemption from the permit process for isolated finds and exempted sites.
The purpose in creating an exempted shipwreck site is to preserve such sites for the continued enjoyment of the recreational diving community. Recreational diving activities, including casual artifact collection, on exempted shipwreck sites do not require a permit from BUAR. However, any major disruption of the site is prohibited. The List of Exempted Shipwrecks is open to modification. The recreational diving community is encouraged to protect these sites for the continued enjoyment of all.
BUAR may also establish underwater archaeological preserves. The purpose of these preserves is to recognize and protect those resources of substantial archaeological and/or historical value. While access for recreational, scientific, and historical purposes is guaranteed, collecting will not be allowed except for scientific or historical purposes, and the artifacts remain the permanent property of the Commonwealth.
BUAR provides specialized technical assistance in support of project planning and environmental compliance as part of the review process.
Public meetings are held on a bi-monthly basis, generally on the last Thursday of the month. Meetings are open to the public and are usually held in Boston. BUAR welcomes public comments and encourages the public to attend its meetings.
BUAR also provides educational programs for K-12 students, history and dive clubs, and other interested participants. A library/resource center, school visits, speakers, and volunteer opportunities are available.