Boat Diving is excellent along the Gulf Coast. Whatever your interest are, photography, spear fishing or just sightseeing, there are hundreds of sites just waiting for you. Whether it’s Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Pensacola, Destin or Panama City Beach, we can help you with booking a trip and recommendations on dive charters along the gulf coast. Take advantage of our knowledge of the area to help you have an enjoyable and safe dive experience.
The Whiskey Wreck
The Whiskey Wreck is located due south of Bahama Bob’s Beach Shore Cafe, 601 West Beach Boulevard, Gulf Shores, AL 36547. A relatively easy walk-in dive, day or night, this 200 foot long wreck is found in fifteen to twenty feet of water just outside the sandbar off the beach. Though there is not much left of the wreck covering an area of about 300 yards, two or three feet of the sides will reveal themselves on an irregular basis making this elusive wreck a joy when it is found by adventurous dives willing to make the effort. Expect visibility to be in the range of 5 to 25 feet depending on wave action and the presence of organic material suspended in the water.
Often referred to as, “The Jetties”, Alabama Point or Perdido Pass is a popular walk-in dive site enjoyed often by many local divers. The public entrance to this area is located on the southeast side of the pass. There is no charge for entrance, but the walk to the water can be a bit of a workout. Experience indicates that the best diving is accomplished beginning a couple of hours prior to high tide. Divers should be aware of the high volume of boat traffic in the area and the large number of fishermen that are present. Divers must have a Diver Down Buoy and should always carry a Surface Maker Buoy to deploy prior to surfacing if they are coming up anywhere near the channel.
Obviously, visibility is very dependent on the tide and can be to be up to 25’ on a good day, or night. Both types of diving are done year round with winter being much less crowded. Depths will range from 5 to 20’. Flounder are taken in this area regularly as are sheepshead and occasionally grouper. Stone crab are often found here and during the season be prepared to grab some claws. (license needed) There is a substantial variety species found here at any given time and gives the knowledgeable diver much to see.
Fort Pickens Jetties
Fort Pickens is located near Pensacola/Pensacola Beach, on the west end of Santa Rosa Island. As scuba divers we are most interested in the part of this facility located at the western most point of the island. As you enter the park, continue west to the end of the road and turn left and drive along the seawall. As you near the ninety-degree curve there are parking cutouts on the left just before and after the curve as well as parallel parking on the right along the right side adjacent to the seawall before the stairs that go over the wall. Just past the curve there is a restroom/changing facility.
Diving this location is best accomplished near the end of a rising tide. Divers should plan to arrive at the site an hour or two prior to high tide. As usual, check the conditions prior to gearing up to assure a safe dive. Once geared up you want to enter about forty feet east of the larger and westernmost group of visible rocks. You can take a compass reading on the black tower across the bay, north. This will make navigation simple; north out and south back in.
As you enter the water and descend along the bottom, you will come upon rocks that cover the bottom at around fifteen feet of depth. This rock pile covers the sloping bottom down to about forty-five feet. It covers a good sized area, but there is a barren sand “chute” running down between this rock pile and the rock jetty to the west which you could see partially above the surface right at the beach. There is also barren sand if you go too far east. The term “barren sand” is used here only for navigational reference. If you take the time to look you can find plenty to see in the “barren sand”. One favorite it the mantis shrimp. Look for perfectly round holes that are it’s home. If you are lucky and move slowly you may get to see their oblong stem eyes peering at you over the edge of the hole. If you don’t swim close enough to spook it back down into its hole, watch those peculiar eyes rotate around the hole as it follows you.
But to see the most, swim slowly just above the main rock pile. Look at the life on the rocks, and be sure to look into holes and crevices. The variety of life is amazing. Depending on the time of year and particular day, you can see high concentrations of fish including blennies, wrasses, spade fish, porcupine fish, sheepshead, flounder, sting rays, torpedo rays, juvenile snapper and trigger fish, just to name a few. An occasional young shark may even pass through, and sometimes you can hear the dolphin whistles from dolphins passing by further out in the channel. Multiple species of anemones, soft corals, various crabs, rays, and occasional sea horses can also be seen. Look for octopus, but unless you make a night dive they will probably just be peering out of a hole.
If you swim out past the north end of the large rock pile the bottom flattens out and becomes sand bottom. Structure is relatively little, but there are old tires, pipes, the “rocket launcher”, various other types of rubble, and even the odd toilet bowl or two out there. All of these will have things living in them.
Visibility is highly variable, ranging from less than five feet to more than 80 feet on a really good day. 10 to 25 ft visibility is the common range. It is important to be mindful of the tides and current, and pay attention to your compass if visibility is low. Always remember that generally speaking the return direction is south. Regardless of the visibility, if you are looking, you will see something of interest. Day or night, Fort Pickens is a fine place to dive!
Portofino Artificial Reefs Accessible From Shore
Another Site we often visit is called Park East, aka “Portofino”. This site is also part of the national seashore and an easy walk-in dive. After crossing the toll bridge to Pensacola Beach continue east past the last condominium on the left, Portofino. As you enter the park the parking areas are lettered. When you reach “H”, park near the entrance. As you cross the dunes to the beach you will see two post in the dunes behind you. Enter the water and as you swim out keep the two posts lined up. About 100 yards out the reef structures begin in clusters of threes at a depth of 13’. Each structure consists of two or three circular concrete “wheels” supported by a tube sunk into the sand. Visibility varies with wave action and the amount of organic material suspended in the water. Expect to see a variety of species including sergeant majors, blennies, wrasses, spadefish, flounder, and octopus.
Navarre Artificial Reefs
The next site we find to be a joy to dive is the Navarre dive/snorkel reefs are located across the bridge from the town of Navarre. It can also be reached from Pensacola Beach and going east along Santa Rosa Island to Navarre. This site is made up of 3 separate, easily accessed dive sites. After crossing the bridge from Navarre you will come to a four way stop. Turn left (or go straight if coming from Pensacola Beach). Go to the second pavilion and park. As you face toward the beach walk down the boardwalk on the far left over the dunes. When you step into the water with the posts in the dunes lined up you will find the first structures about 25 yards off shore. This site is similar to the Portofino site with 40 structures extending in groups of 3’s into the gulf. Depth is about 13’ and, in addition to what you would see at Portofino we often see turtles at the Navarre site. On the opposite, sound side of the island there are 2 sites. One of them has depths to 13’ with 30 structures and the other has a depth of 20 feet and about 50 structures. These are all easy shore dives that offer the opportunity to see a good variety and concentration of life.
St. Andrews Jetties – Panama City Beach
The jetties at St. Andrews State park is the largest and probably best beach dive on the gulf coast. It is a little more work than some other sites but well worth the effort.
After entering the park follow the signs to the jetties. Park on the east side of the parking lot. You will see the line of rocks running along the channel with a large lagoon created between the rocks and the beach by the parking lot. You can enter by gearing up and walking and or swimming across this shallow lagoon and then swim thorough the small break you will see in the rocks, giving just enough room to swim through to the channel side where the action is. Once on the east side you will find the rocks slope quickly to a depth of around 25 feet, but gets deeper as you swim toward the gulf to the south, eventually getting to around 50 feet.
Like all “pass” areas into the gulf, a lot of tidal water has to come through this small opening to the bay so be sure to time you dive with high tide to minimize currents and maximize visibility. The variety and concentration of life is amazing. If you haven’t dived these jetties you owe it to yourself to add this dive to your log book. You will go back!
Round Island Divers