Panama City 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 the South.”

For 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’.

The Jetties at St. Andrews State Park offers the best beach dive available along the Emerald Coast. Depth on the channel side of the West Jetty hits 70’ in spots.

The rocks attract and hold a variety of sea life, including octopus, red snappers, redfish,  grouper and other tropical fish. If you time your dive to catch an incoming tide, it doesn’t get any better.

Most Famous Wreck

Divers will discover the Gulf of Mexico’s most famous wreck, the 465-ft. Empire Mica in Panama City Beach. Dubbed the “wreck capital of the south” by Skin Diver magazine, Panama City Beach is home to many historical wrecks and is the second most explored Florida dive destination. Explore the Grey Ghost, 110-ft. tug: the Chippewa, the 160-ft. coastal freighter; a 441-ft. World War II liberty ship; the 110-ft. tug Chickasaw; and the S.S. Tarpon, a 220-ft. World War II tug. From April through September is the optimum time of year for diving in the waters off Panama City Beach.

Artificial Reefs In The Area

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, The City of Atlantis, Twin Barges, and many more.

St. Andrews Jetties

The St. Andrews Park jetties are the perfect place for all level divers.

The shallow waters and no boat traffic provide a safe and exciting place to begin one’s diving experience.

The channel side of the Jetties offer depths of 70 feet and are ideal for drift dives night dives.

Top 5 Dives

  • USS Strength, a Naval mine sweeper. It’s 184 feet long with a 33-foot beam. It’s located 5.75 miles from the St. Andrews Pass in 75 feet of water. Decommissioned and used as a Navy dive salvage training site. The bow is broken and laid over the port side. The back three quarters is intact and sits on its keel. The highest superstructure is 55 feet.
  • Hovercraft, weighs 165 tons, is nearly 100 feet long and has a 48-foot beam. It is located about 6 nautical miles from the pass in 75 feet of water. The craft is made of aluminum and has little growth.
  • Accokeek, a 195-foot Navy tug boat located 12 nautical miles from the pass in 100 feet of water. The wheelhouse is at 65 feet. The vessel is fully intact and is sitting on its keel.
  • B. J. Putnam, a 180-ft supply vessel sitting at 105 feet. The supply boat had been converted for use as a processing platform. It was sunk in 1993. It holds a large variety of marine life, and is a good fishing and diving site for advanced divers.
  • Black Bart, a 185-foot oil field supply ship sits upright in about 75 feet of water. Her bow points due south. The bridge can be reached at 40 feet and the main deck is at 66 feet. The cargo holds are open for exploration. Divers can also explore the head (complete with toilets) and the galley which still has several appliances. The Black Bart is a popular spot for wreck training and for photography. . sits 6.75 nautical miles from the pass in 75 feet of water. The Blackbart is fully intact.There is an abundance of fish in and around the ship. Turtles have been spotted at times, along with catfish, flounder and grouper. The bottom is a bit silty; visibility is generally 30-45 feet at the main deck. Be sure to bring a dive light. One Halloween, a prankster chained a skeleton, complete with mask and snorkel, to the wheelhouse.

Florida Springs

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

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

Vortex Springs is a commercially operated scuba diving park. It has an “artificial” look to it, but it is a great place for dive training. There are two platforms for stationing and the depth ranges from 50’ at the cavern to 115’ at the entrance to the cave. 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.

Some can be explored over 200 feet deep and over a mile underground. Others can barely be seen with their small flow of water. Some are deep in the woods and covered in dense forest. Others are Florida state parks that are visited by thousands of people per day. The average temperature of a Florida spring is 72 degrees year round which makes it excellent for scuba diving, cave diving, and snorkeling. The springs are fed through Florida’s natural underground aquifer (a river that runs beneath Florida) dumping millions of gallons of water daily. The limestone rock filters the water making it crystal clear.