Editor’s note: Marc Burke is an avid diver and founder of ScubaSchedules.com. In this guest post he shares tips about Florida scuba dive spots and safety.
Written By Marc Burke, PhD, NAUI Rescue Diver, founder of ScubaSchedules.com
If You Like to Scuba Dive, Then Florida is the Place to Be
From the Panhandle in the north, where you can dive the wreck of the massive aircraft carrier, the USS Oriskany, to the Florida Keys in the south, where you’ll find the 3rd largest natural reef in the word, Florida has some of the best and most varied scuba diving sites in the world.
And in the middle? Cold springs, dozens of them, where you can swim in crystal clear waters, sometimes with graceful manatees, the mermaids of Blue Spring. Then there’s the famous Blue Heron Bridge dive in West Palm Beach, famous for its “muck diving” and photography opportunities. And if you like sharks and turtles, don’t miss out on a lazy drift dive in Jupiter, where the Lemon Shark migration takes place each spring. Oh and the Goliath Grouper aggregation. Don’t miss out on that.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most scuba divers flock to south Florida, and in particular, the Florida Keys, where the weather is at its warmest, and so is the water! In Key Largo, popular dive sites include the beautiful Molasses and French Reefs, then further south, two of the Keys most famous underwater wrecks, the Spiegel Grove and the USS Vandenberg, just off the coast of Key West.
If you’re not a diver, that’s ok, snorkeling and “free diving” are also catered to by many of the local charters, and if you just fancy the boat ride, most charters will allow non-diving partners to tag along as “bubble watchers” at a much reduced price.
Search All Dives in Florida
In my experience, probably the most difficult problem for new divers, especially visitors and vacationers not familiar with Florida scuba diving sites, is knowing where to start looking for a suitable dive charter.
That’s why I decided to set up a website to act as a giant “dive calendar” for Florida locals and holiday makers alike that would help divers figure out which charter boats were going out each day.
On ScubaSchedules.com you just pick your region in Florida, and then the dates you’d like to dive. All the dive charters for the day are then displayed.
It turns out that more than half of the diving in the state of Florida takes place in the Keys alone. There are so many dive charters in fact, that I had to divide the Keys into two separate regions with separate calendars for:
Each region also shows a map with the most popular dive locations, and allows divers to vote and comment on them. It also shows surf and weather predictions for the area. Starting in 2018, divers will also be able to make scuba diving bookings and reservations directly from the site.
Some charter operations specialize in large boats with snacks and shade, other private “six-pack” boats are smaller, faster, and cater to those divers who want to go to specific locations. Private charters and “night dives” are also available.
Whatever your preferred diving style, it’s important that you be prepared—and certified for the dive you’re booking. Wrecks like the Vandenberg are deep and can have swift currents. For these types of dives “advanced” certification will be required and given the depth, and Nitrox certification may be preferred.
Finally, be prepared for the weather, especially during the height of the summer. Coastal breezes often fool visitors into thinking that sun burn and dehydration won’t be a problem. These considerations can definitely be a factor in cases of decompression sickness. Don’t get caught out. And if you’re on a relaxing vacation, remember that boozing the night before you scuba dive is never a good idea.
With all of that said, and despite the significant damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017, scuba diving in Florida is as popular as ever. Be prepared, carry your surface marker, and you’ll be sure to have a great time in the water.
And don’t worry too much about the sharks. Most of them are as friendly as the rest of the locals you’ll find here in Florida.