Beach has long been known as the most popular place for diving in North Florida
and it is second only to the Florida Keys as the most visited dive destination
in Florida Skin Diver magazine calls Panama City Beach the “Wreck Capitol of
beginners or experienced divers, Panama City Beach offers an abundance of
excellent dive sites. Within miles of the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches there
are over 50 artificial reefs, including ships, barges, bridge spans and
hundreds of natural limestone reefs, ranging in depths of 18’ to 110’.
A program of artificial reef building was initiated by the Panama City Marine Institute in the 1970s. Panama City Beach is home to some of the most diverse marine life on the Florida Panhandle. Explore the breeding grounds of a variety of fish, corals and sea life. Swim among exotic and beautiful sea life in the warm, clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Divers can explore the multitude of artificial reef sites including: The LOSS Project, Stage I, Stage II, fifteen 160-ft. long and 35-ft. high bridge spans, Twin Barges, and many more
This is the
undiscovered Florida. A place where water and life begin from a source that
bubbles up directly from the ground. Florida Springs flow the purest, clearest,
and freshest water in the world with underwater views that are absolutely
breathtaking. Ponce De Leon once thought Florida Springs were the “fountain of
youth” when he first discovered them. There are over 600 freshwater springs
throughout central and northern Florida.
On the rare
day when the Gulf of Mexico is not what you want to dive, within a short
driving distance of Panama City Beach are Morrison and Vortex Springs.
Morrison Springs is in a beautiful, cypress swamp setting. The water is very blue and clear, with excellent visibility except in times of high water. The water temperature is about 67 degrees. There is a dive platform halfway across the 250’ diameter pool that is about 25 feet deep. Scuba divers can be seen congregating here before they enter the cave. The large entrance has a large cypress log across it. The log is at a depth of 25-30 feet, and the cave entrance is another 60 feet further down. According to accounts, the cave extends over 300 feet deep.
Learn more about Morrison Springs Here
Vortex Springs is a commercially operated scuba diving park and is a great place for dive training. There are two platforms for stationing and the depth is 50’ at the cavern entrance to the cavern. Vortex Springs also has a dive shop where you can get air fills, rental gear and snacks. The water temperature is around 67 degrees and the visibility is always great.
Gulf Coast Dive Sites
Inshorsitese - These sites are good for training and check out dives and for divers holding an "Open Water" certification. Depths are between 40' to the tops of the sites and 80' to the sand with alot to see in between.
After being decommissioned in 1967, the Strength was assigned to the Navy's Salvage Diver School who sank and re-floated the ship several times for training. In 1987 the Strength was sunk for the last time in an explosive test conducted by the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center at Panama City. The ship is 184 feet in length with a 33-foot beam. At her sinking, she came to rest on her side in about 76 feet of water. The ship was pushed upright by Hurricane Opal in 1995.
A popular dive site in Panama City, the 185-foot oil field supply ship sits upright and fully intact in about 75 feet of water. The bridge can be reached at 45 feet and the main deck is at 70 feet. The cargo holds are open for exploration. The Black Bart is a popular spot for wreck training and for photography
Panama City's newest dive site, the Red Sea was a 120' freighter intentionally sunk during the Summer of 2009. She has several decks and numerous swim-throughs that are both fun and safe to explore. She is upright in 75' of water, to the sand but just 40' below the surface. Many reef fish have already taken up residence.
Panama City Divers will invariably end up on a bridge span at some point in their marine adventures. After all there are 14 of them from the old Hathaway Bridge. Essentially these are the steel super structure of the old bridge. Very much like a rail road trestle. They are all generally 110' long 35' high and 25' wide. Their regular structure makes them very easy to navigate and stay oriented on. The large amount of fish present keep them exciting and the "salvage" opportunities are always fun as fisherman lose many anchors on these sites. Spans are scattered all over offshore Panama City from shallow to offshore and are often referred to by numbers 1-14. Numbers 15 and on are not from the Hathaway Bridge. Spans 1, 2, 5, 6, 12, and 14 are in the "inshore" area.
The Navy decommissioned one of their LCACs and donated it to the local dive community. It sits on the bottom upside down in 72'
Another boon from the Navy to Panama City divers, stage 2 is an old Navy platform, similar to an oil rig without the drilling. As time and storms began to take their toll on the structure is was demolished to 20' below the water's surface. The site consists of a jumble of steel legs and pipes from 50' to 30' and in all directions. Bring a compass to return to the correct tie-in spot!
Offshore Sites- These sites are great for more experienced divers and typically range from 65' at their tops to 100' to the sand. Advanced certification and nitrox are recommended for these trips.
A 143 foot Navy tug boat located 12 nautical miles from the pass in 110 feet of water. The wheelhouse is at 65 feet. The vessel is fully intact and is sitting on its keel. Scuba divers might be greeted by a large resident goliath grouper hanging out around the bow and wheelhouse.
Originally deployed to lay side by side, these tug boats have been tossed about by passing storms. They are both upright and laying on top of each other! Divers should bring a camera as these two are very dramatic to photograph and hold a large amount of marine life. Max depth is 100' the wreck starts at 60'.
The Chippewa was moored at the selected site about 11 miles south-southwest of the St. Andrews Jetties. A network of 37 explosive charges were set off and on February 8, 1990, the Chippewa sank to the sandy bottom in nearly 100 feet of water. The wreck is upright and in beautiful condition. Most ships' decks are stripped before deployment, but the Chippewa has all it's deck equipment intact. There are davits, wenches, levers, stairs and companionways to explore, so be sure to bring a light. The large, open cabin is reached at 50 feet and the main deck at 70 feet. The broken mast lies on the port side. The Chippewa is one of the largest ships deployed by the Bay County Artificial Reef Program.sed.
A 180-ft supply vessel sitting at 110 feet. The supply boat had been converted for use as a processing platform. The wheelhouse has become separated from the main structure and now lays in the sand to the side. It holds a large variety of marine life, and is a good fishing and diving site for advanced divers.
Hathaway spans 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and the newer DuPont Spans 1, 2, and 3 are all in the offshore area. The DuPont Spans are somewhat larger than the Hathaway Spans and have 4 large holes cut into the road bed allowing divers a glimpse of what might be hiding underneath. All three of the spans are near the Twin Tugs and Accokeek areas.
About eight miles out from the St. Andrews Jetties lies the wreck of the tug Commander. The 65-foot, steel-hulled tug sits upright and intact on a white sandy bottom at 96 feet. The Commander has large schools of fish and divers can usually spot amberjack and groupers. This a great spot for photography. Sadly the mooring ball originally deployed here (and on all the other Panama City dive sites) was stolen some time ago and there are no plans to replace them at this time.
One of Panama City's natural shipwrecks, the Tarpon now lies about nine miles southwest of the St. Andrews jetties in 90-95 feet of water. She rests on a hard bottom, parallel to the shoreline. The smokestack, part of the stern, and the bow are intact. Thousands of beer bottles are scattered around the area. The stern anchor and her builder's plaque have been recovered. In 1997, the Tarpon was designated Florida's Sixth Underwater Archaeological Preserve, making it unlawful to remove artifacts. Leave those beer bottles on the bottom!
Similar to stage 2, stage 1 is a massive version. This site covers more than an acre! Divers will find the top supports in 60' and can follow them down to the sand in 110' The legs are largely intact and standing upright. Due to its massive size divers need to be mindful of their location relative to the line and gas supply.