The Florida diving scene is sizzling hot, from reefs to wrecks to incredible caves.
South Florida boasts some great scuba diving, with sites for every level, including beautiful reefs, natural and man-made wrecks, and a slew of technical diving opportunities. It’s also a great place for yacht divemasters and divers to improve their skills through additional training. Make a quick trip into central Florida and you’ll find some incredible cave diving as well.
John Gavin, an instructor of technical diving, has been diving for more than 20 years and has had the opportunity to dive sites all over the world. Originally, he didn’t intend to get into either wreck or technical diving. “There’s no way I’m going to go to the bottom of the ocean to explore shipwrecks in pitch black, 42-degree water, much less decompress on a dive for a longer time than it currently takes me to make a recreational dive,” he said. But over the past seven years, Gavin has made hundreds of technical dives, including spending time on the Andrea Doria off New York.
Gavin does the majority of his dives in South Florida and believes it’s one of the best places in the world to dive. “World-class diving in Florida is probably not recognized universally,” Gavin said, “but Florida is world-class diving for divers of every level and interest. You can dive reefs and wrecks, you can dive shallow or deep, you can dive with a charter group, small 6-pack, private boat, or beach dive. It is a unique geographic spot with diving ranging from a few feet on a shore dive to literally hundreds of feet on a wreck dive, all in the same vicinity.”
There are several wreck-diving sites, stretching from Jupiter through the Keys. The wrecks can be accessed by divers of all training levels, including technical divers. One of the deepest shipwrecks in South Florida is the Bulk Trader, located off Fort Lauderdale in approximately 320 feet of water. There are very few divers that visit the site because of the technical requirements.
There are also wrecks to visit in the 65-to 75-foot depth range. One of the top shipwreck diving sites in the world is the Spiegel Grove, located off Key Largo. The Spiegel Grove is a 510-foot U.S. Navy dock landing ship that was sunk as an artificial reef back in 2002. Unfortunately, when the vessel was sunk, she ended up on her starboard side instead of her keel. Numerous efforts were made to right the ship, including the use of two powerful tugs, but to no avail. Then the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Dennis crossed Cuba and the lower Florida Keys near Key West on its way to landfall in the Florida Panhandle in 2005. The hurricane’s underwater currents were so strong that Dennis shifted the Spiegel Grove from her starboard side to her keel, where she rests today.
Florida also boasts some of the best cave diving sites in North America — and arguably the world. Some of the sites include Ginnie Springs, The Devil’s Eye (part of Ginnie Springs), Morrison Springs, and Peacock Springs. Peacock Springs has six sinkholes and two major springs that make it one of the longest cave dive systems in North America. Gavin, who is also an experienced cave diver, said he has done the majority of his cave diving in Florida. “I originally took my cave training as a preparation for my 100-meter class,” he said. “Cave training will help you know yourself better. It’s pretty dark in a cave underwater with no lights, so having a calm demeanor is important.”
Most diving in South Florida from dive boats is typically done as drift dives on the reefs and tie-in dives on the wrecks. A divemaster will drop onto the wreck and tie off a line that divers use to get down to the wreck, then back up to the boat. Most technical diving, however, is done as a “hot drop” from the dive boat in which you drop through the water column to, ideally, land on the wreck. Gavin says this type of diving can be challenging.
“The diving execution is probably more technical or complex in Florida because we are doing hot drops with drift decompression diving. However, it is definitely more challenging from a preparation and survival standpoint in the Northeast, where you are diving in a colder and darker hostile environment where a mistake can cost you seriously,” Gavin said.
John Gavin is a Chatterton Underwater TDI/SDI instructor and can be reached at email@example.com.