Types of Diving in Pensacola
Pensacola and Perdido Key have hundreds of dive sites literally to enjoy. There are several types of diving: wrecks, natural bottom, and artificial reefs.
Dive a Wreck in Pensacola
Just off the coast of northwest Florida are many ships purposely sunk for diving. From the largest artificial wreck in the world - an aircraft carrier named the USS Oriskany- to the Joe Patti barge in 50 feet of water, Pensacola has shipwrecks for different skill levels and depths.
Included in the list of wrecks are several historic shipwrecks like the brass wreck, which sank in the 1800s. There's no doubt that scuba divers love to dive on wrecks. According to Brady Hale with Ocean Strike Team, "there's something about that connection to history or seeing a huge ship under the surface that gets my heartbeat pumping and a big smile on my face."
These artificial reefs are a habit for fish too. You get to dive around incredible structures and see the amazing fish life. The fish you may see are your usual suspects of tropical fish, including angelfish, butterfly fish, gobies, blennies, and batfish, as well as your sport fish like amberjack, red snapper, grouper, and too many others to count!
To start, here are a few wrecks to wet your dive appetite:
- USS Oriskany - The Great Carrier Reef - The largest purposefully sunk wreck in the world at 911 feet long. Recreational diving is on the town, which starts at 86 feet, and the flight deck starts the technical diving range at 148 feet and continues to the sand at 212 feet. This wreck dive is perfect for advanced or technical divers.
- San Pablo (aka the Russian Freighter) - There's a top-secret story behind this fantastic wreck. She sits in 86 feet of water, and the wreckage scatters over 300 feet of seabed. Three huge boilers rise out of the sand to meet you as you descend.
- Tug Ocean Wind - Fully intact, this tug is a beautiful dive to 82 feet.
Avocet - This wreck is perfect for spearfishing or wreck enthusiasts. It's deep at 115 feet and brings in big game fish, including red snapper, African pompano, trigger, and cobia.
- Antares - This huge 300-foot freighter was broken up by a hurricane a week after it sank. The high bow points toward the surface and the ship's ribs are exposed and laid on the sand. Impressive is the word for this wreck.
- Pete Tide II - This 180 feet steel ship sits upright and intact in 100 ft of water. Great dive for beginners and advanced alike
- YDT-14 and YDT-15 - Two identical sister ships sunk about 100 yards apart. They are 132 feet navy dive tenders. The '14 is more intact, whereas the '15 is a bit more broken up. Both are amazing dives.
- Joe Patti Barge - This memorial reef is a 175-foot barge with metal art bolted to the top. Sit down and "have a beer" at the FloraBama bar (complete with steel beer mugs), fly with the Blue Angels, and see lots of other underwater art.
- Brass Wreck - One of our historical wrecks. A lot is unknown about the brass wreck. The wreck is believed to be a 19th-century schooner. It got its name from the thousands of brass pins holding the iron ribs together.
- Nicklebein Barge - This collapsed barge is 117 feet long and sits in about 122 feet. Great wreck for lionfish hunting and sightseeing.
Natural bottom dive sites are limestone ledges that run in various directions. Think of an underwater sinkhole. The gulf bottom used to be completely flat. The limestone under the sand is like swiss cheese, with holes, and when those parts collapsed, they formed ledges and bowls. Sometimes they are only a couple of feet deep and stretch for 100 yards; others are 4 to 10 feet deep, bowl-shaped, and several hundred feet in diameter. As ledges and bowls connect, the limestone collapse, creating what looks like a coral reef. It acts like a reef where fish can hide from bigger fish, and sponges attach and grow.
There is lots of activity on our natural bottom to see and explore, pick a direction, and follow the natural bottom! The depths of natural bottom sites differ depending on the gulf's area. Some sites are as shallow as 60 feet and 2 miles from the coast, and others are 100-130 feet and 20 miles out. According to Brady Hale with Ocean Strike Team, "We typically dive natural bottom sites as live boat diving, which means the boat is not anchored, but follows the diver's bubbles and picks them up as they surface."
Typically, our part of the Gulf of Mexico is sandy and flat. Pensacola is too far north to have actual coral reefs that build up relief on the bottom, so to attract more fish, we create Artificial Reefs. Artificial reefs fall into two categories: Manufactured reefs and bridge rubble.
Manufactured Reefs are concrete structures that marine biologists and marine engineers design to be stable in the water and provide a habitat for fish. Artificial reefs are perfect locations for spearfishing.
Most of these reefs are pyramids 8-10 feet tall or super pyramids 20 feet tall. The inside is hollow with holes on the sides where fish can escape the mouths of bigger fish trying to eat them. These sites can include up to 40 pyramids and are close enough to each other that you can see and swim to each one.
Bridge Rubble is unique to the Pensacola area, and only a few places have this type of artificial reef structure.
Brady with Ocean Strike Team says, "If I had to choose one type of diving as my favorite, bridge rubble sites would be top of the list."
Bridge rubble is not a small pile of rocks, but huge bridge spans and 3-lane highway roads spread out and dumped on each other like lincoln logs. Some rubble reaches 60 feet above the sea floor like a towering pinnacle creating swim-throughs and hidden pockets that you can dive into, over and around, stretching for miles.
The bridge rubble is full of life and includes some of the most fantastic diving you will ever see. Sea life abounds on the debris, including fish, sea turtles, and sharks. Many divers attest that bridge rubble has become their favorite type of diving.
Off the coast of Pensacola are several different sites, some underwater for 15 years and others recently deployed. Our bridge rubble sites are growing each season, and there is always a new spot to explore.
The Pensacola Bay area's unique dive sites are perfect for divers, making Pensacola a fantastic dive destination.