Diving and snorkeling fun in the Pensacola Bay Area
Snorkel in our emerald waters right off the beach or dive in to explore the world’s largest artificial reef, the USS Oriskany.
With an active scuba diving population since the 60s, the area was the best-kept secret in the diving world until the sinking of the USS Oriskany – the world’s largest artificial reef - in 2006. In 2008, the Pensacola Bay Area was featured in "The World's Best Diving & Resort" edition of Sport Diver magazine.
Other popular sites include USS Massachusetts, Antares and Pete II for underwater exploration, photography and even weddings. Water temperatures from the mid 80s in summer to the mid 60s in winter, when visibility is generally at its best, allow for year-round diving.
The USS Oriskany has quickly become the scuba world’s latest “must dive.” The retired 911-foot aircraft carrier sits upright on a sandy bottom 212 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico only 24 miles southeast of Pensacola Pass. Divers from as far as Australia, Japan, Sweden and Russia have returned from the depths singing the praises of the “Mighty O,” and CNN dubbed the wreck “the great carrier reef.” The USS Oriskany is accessible by divers at every skill level. Her “crown” or island can be approached at 78 feet in emerald-clear water where visibility averages 70 to 150-plus feet. From the island, divers can scan the flight deck sitting at 145 feet, a depth considered a technical dive. Couples wanting to make a big splash can have their wedding ceremony conducted on the navigation tower at 78 feet.
The USS Massachusetts has been a favorite dive site for more than 50 years. The wreck was dedicated as an underwater archaeological preserve in 1993 on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s launching. Sitting in just 25 feet of water 1.5 miles from shore, the wreck attracts bountiful marine life, including Goliath grouper, an eight-foot resident nurse shark, giant stingrays, sea turtles, king mackerel and a variety of baitfish. The USS Massachusetts also makes a stunning night dive.
The Antares, a 400-foot freighter, is 21 miles southeast of Pensacola Pass in 130 feet of water just west of the Oriskany. Populated with moray eels, red snapper, grouper, cobia and amberjack, the Antares is a favorite spear fishing spot. The massive freighter broke apart and was scattered by Hurricane Opal in 1995, which makes a trip to the Antares seem as if divers are exploring several wrecks at once.
Another local favorite is the Pete Tide II, a 180-foot oil field supply boat that was reefed in 1993. Only 12 miles south of Pensacola Pass, the Pete Tide II is intact and upright and is easy to penetrate, even for properly trained beginning wreck divers. In 100 feet of water, the wreck is broad, long and easy to anchor on. After spending 15 years on the bottom, the boat has attracted sea turtles, triggerfish, schools of red snapper and amberjack, and even the occasional mahi mahi, wahoo and blackfin tuna.
Learn more about the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail