Official Guide to Scuba Diving Florida

Florida is the number one place for scuba diving in the United States. The entire state was once a prehistoric reef that has been covered over for the most part.

But many places have eroded and opened up, so there are caves and cenotes even in the center of the state that are prime places for some freshwater scuba diving in Florida.Christ of the Abyss

Not only are there some amazing natural reefs, Florida is one of the leading places for artificial reef programs, and there are hundreds of these around the state as well that are fascinating places to explore.

There is also the world’s largest freshwater reserves here that add to the endless opportunities for some of the best diving in the world.

Being a peninsula, Florida is surrounded by water on three sides, which makes the amount of dive locations seem endless. The beaches are pristine and so full of life and activities that you will want to spend your whole time at any one of them.

There are also places you can find where there are very few, if any other people and you can have the time to relax and decompress.

Of course, you can not spend all of your time underwater, so when not scuba diving, Florida has some of the best entertainment of the whole US.

We have listed here a few places that are ideal for divers of all skill levels. Click on their image or link if you want more information about that location, and it will take you to the more comprehensive location guides!


Where should you dive in Florida?

florida manatee


The Keys

On the southern end of the state are the Keys – perhaps the most famous section of the state. It is an archipelago made up of over 1,400 Cays (Keys) – most of which are uninhabited – that extend from the Gulf of Mexico to near Miami.

The Keys are broken into four groups, the Upper Keys, the Middle Keys, the Lower Keys and the Outlying Islands. The Outlying Islands are accessible by boat only, and are great for finding the more isolated beaches.


The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle is one of the best places in the world for exploring historic shipwrecks. There is also a huge amount of freshwater underground which provides some of the best scuba diving Florida has to offer.

The cities and beaches in this area are the most popular for people that head here for spring break from college and other vacationers. The beaches are fantastic, the cities lively and full of nightlife and offer many things to do when you are not diving.


The Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast is considered by many to be the best scuba diving in Florida. In the Gulf of Mexico, the water here is warm and inviting.

There are so many species is marine life here that you will never tire of seeing what new thing will be popping up at any minute. The natural and artificial reefs here are so colorful and healthy, giving you amazing opportunities to see and photograph some of the best sea life around.

Unless you happen to be here during a hurricane, the visibility is spectacular, and the water calm, which makes diving here ideal for people of all skill levels. Be sure to head to either Venice or Sarasota to find dive centers.



The best caves, cenotes and springs to dive in Florida

devils den
Cave diving in Florida is one of the best experiences in a lifetime. Grottos or sinkholes can be found in freshwater that create so elaborate cave systems.

Each system has its own unique ecosystem, with fossils and other things you will not see anywhere else.

1. Devil’s Den

This is considered to be the state’s only underground prehistoric spring, and is one of the most popular places to scuba dive in Florida. The water stays a very comfortable 72°F (22°C), so in the winter when the ambient air is much colder steam rises from the sinkhole.

This is what lends to how it got the name. Located near the small town of Williston, this is and ideal place to see wonderful fossils and artifacts that only exist in the caves.

While some of the caves are closed to diving, there are a number of swim-throughs, air pockets and other places to explore.

2. Blue Grotto virgil at blue grotto

Located near Devil’s Den in the Williston area, it gets to a depth of 100ft, and is great diving for people of all skill levels.

At the 30ft mark there is a dive bell that is supplied with compressed air where you can actually take off your regulator and chat with your buddy!

Once you get down deeper, you will be fascinated with the amazing rock formations and fossils.

3. Crystal River’s King Spring

This site has numerous caverns, many of which are relatively shallow, starting at just 30ft. These limestone formations are amazing to explore, and you can expect to be joined in your dive by the docile manatee.

This gentle giant with its whiskered face is one of the main attractions of the area. As part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, this pristine area is home to a lot of marine life, including the striped sheephead and so much more.

Other sites that have some spectacular cave diving, especially for those with advanced diving skills, are Peacock Springs, Ginnie Springs and Leon Sinks, which is thought to be the worlds most extensive cave system.

It is located near Tallahassee. Some of these require cave diving certification, so be sure to check before heading out.


Other Great Diving Locations around Florida

shark diving in florida

1. Copenhagen Wreck

Located off Pompano Beach, this ship ran aground about a half mile offshore in 1900. Hauling coal to Havana and did not realize an amazing rock ledge extended that far out to sea.

Now the 325ft freighter has been turned into a Florida Archaeological Preserve, and has become a spectacular place to see myriads of colorful marine life.

2. Islamorada

This site includes not one but two shipwrecks. The Eagle is a 269ft Dutch freighter that went down in a hurricane in 1985, while the drug running Cannabis Cruiser was sunk as the Coast Guard was attempting to capture it.

They both lie in about 100ft of water, and are home to some amazing fish, such as giant jewfish, tarpon, snapper and goliath grouper. Holes have been cut into the Eagle so divers can explore the interior. It is a great site to spend the day.

3. West Palm Beach

As home to world’s second-largest ocean current, this is the absolutely best place to drift dive. The current can flow as fast as 70 miles a day just one mile offshore.

There are natural coral reefs that you can drift along – one of them, Breakers Reef, is 2 miles long – giving you ample opportunity to see some of the spiny lobsters, pelagics, eels and so much more along with the spectacularly colorful coral and sponges.
sharks in west palm beach
There is also a collection of wrecks that are close enough to allow you more time exploring and catching sight of a lot of beautiful fish.

Sea turtles are also easy to spot, as they have made West Palm their home.

Sharks and sailfish are also known to frequent this area, and you may be able to see whales on occasion.

4. Fort Lauderdale

Not only is this one of the most popular spots for vacationers, dubbed the “Venice of America” because of the many canals, but it is a favorite place to scuba dive in Florida.

Along with dozens of wrecks that have been used to create an amazing artificial reef system, but three retired oil platforms have been sunk here.

Called the Tenneco Towers, these along with the wrecks, has been made into the largest artificial reef system in Southern Florida.

You could expect to see not only snappers, grunts and more of the usual fish, but might even spot an occasional bull shark. There is also the Florida Barrier Reef which is an amazing natural reef.

It is the third largest in the world. The beautiful sponges and colorful coral are simply breathtaking, and reminiscent of the Caribbean.

5. Gunsmoke

Located in St. Petersburg, this ship was once a shrimp boat but was then used to smuggle marijuana.

Apparently some unlucky folks happened on the scene while the crew was unloading their goods, so the crew shot one man and brought his body on board.

They took the other three to a place further inland before killing them. Meanwhile, the ship began to drift. Some time later it was found floating along, still with the bales of marijuana and the man’s body.

Such a colorful past has made this a popular wreck for divers of all skill levels.

6. St. Augustine

Near this city is a dive site that is very unique. In about 110ft of water there lies 33 decommissioned Navy A-6 attack bombers.

It is an amazing sight to see! Also in this area there is a beautiful limestone ledge known as Nine Mile North where you can spot some of the most amazing marine life around.

7. Neptune Memorial Reef

This is one of the most unique and interesting places to scuba dive in Florida. It is an artificial reef that sits off the coast of Miami that is part of a more artistic project.

Statues and other pieces of art have been used to create what looks like an underwater city. What really adds to the character of this reef is that cremated remains of people mixed with cement are often used in the reef.

No doubt from former divers that want to be a permanent part of the ocean! The amazing coral, sponges and fish make a wonderful tribute, and this underwater city is where many of them have taken up residency.


Critter highlights:

lobster in florida keys

Scuba diving Florida is one of the most exciting things you can do, and the wide diversity of marine life that you can expect to see here is simply amazing.

Not only will you see all of the usual suspects, but there will probably be some great surprises in store for you here. Be sure to take a camera so you can get a selfie with a few of them.

With all of the artificial reefs you will find myriads of colorful corals and sponges and all of the macro species that you could imagine.

florida grouper

Larger fish swim in, around, under and through the shipwrecks and other structures. The freshwater diving offers a very different array of colorful fish, many of them very friendly to swim with.

Here are just a few critters you’ll see:

-The gentle giant manatees, or sea cows, are one of the most popular to swim with.
-Barracuda, Oceanic Jacks and Silversides are common in all the regions.

-A variety of turtles including the Hawksbill, green and loggerhead Turtle.

-Groupers, including the Goliath grouper, snapper and flounder love the wrecks.

-Eagle rays, stingrays, reef octopus, lobsters and moray eels abound, especially around the many reefs.

Nurse sharks, dolphins and other larger species are always a thrill.

-In your freshwater dives you can expect to see American freshwater eels, Koi, carp, river catfish and Cobia.

-Don’t forget the awesome shark dives in WPB and Jupiter, where you will get up close and personal with bull sharks, lemon sharks, hammerheads and more.

There are many many more incredible species you will run into, as well as huge numbers of common species and schools, and lets not forget the countless species of healthy corals.

With the many natural as well as artificial reefs, there are a vast range of colors that will amaze you.


Best times to visit:

dolphins
Scuba diving around Florida can easily be a year-round venture. However, some times of the year are a bit better than others.

In Florida, April through October is when the water temperatures are at the most comfortable and the visibility is the most optimum.

Weather conditions are best during this time, which makes it ideal for not only getting to sites but for enjoying the beach and other activities with your head above water.

Hurricane season tends to run from June to November, so be sure to check weather forecasts before heading out.


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