Do you know PCB is the Wreck Capital of the South? Our interactive map for scuba diving Panama City Beach contains almost 150 dive locations with over 50 wrecks sunk as artificial reefs and eight feature dive sites you have to try! We’ll give scuba lovers everywhere the low down on why they have to blow bubbles on the Florida Panhandle.
Apart from diving, Panama City Beach boasts white sand beaches, outstanding seafood, and the largest population of bottlenose dolphins in the world. It’s a beautiful destination for a weekend drive or a week-long trip. Below is our dive map for Panama City Beach. The individual pins contain more information about the dive sites. Although we strive for accuracy, this map is for information purposes only and not intended for navigation.
Best Panama City Beach Dive Sites
Panama City Beach features some of the most amazing dive sites on the Gulf Coast. From the freshly sunk pleasure cruiser El Dorado to the historic SS Tarpon, there’s plenty to see under the sea down in PCB. Without further ado, here’s our list of the best Panama City Beach dive sites (aka featured sites) from shallowest to deepest.
St Andrew’s Park Jetties Dive Site – Shore Dive
Shore diving in Panama City Beach starts with the St Andrew’s Park Jetties for good reasons. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the beach, and soon you’re in the water. The beach-side is shallow, with no boat traffic. Make sure you bring your dive flag if you cross over to the channel side. You’ll find plenty of tropical fish living in the rocks of the jetties. The visibility and current are much better during high slack tide, which is the ideal time for this dive. St Andrew’s Park jetties are also one of the best places for snorkeling in Panama City Beach.
Llcat Hovercraft Dive Site – Depth 74′
A 100′ long Navy hovercraft sank in 1985. The twin aluminum pontoons are still in good shape and rise 10′ off the ocean floor. Although the hovercraft is unusual, it probably wouldn’t be a feature dive site, except it’s so close to the Black Bart. It’s still fun to swim laps around the structure and float up and down the stairs.
USS Strength Dive Site – Depth 77′
A 184′ long Navy minesweeper tender with a 33′ beam sunk in 1987 as a dive salvage training site. Storms broke the bow, and it lays off the port side of the wreck. The rest of the boat remains intact and sits upright, rising 20′ off the bottom.
The Black Bart Dive Site- Depth 79′
The Black Bart is a 180′ vessel sunk in 1993 as an artificial reef. Christened Vulcano del Golfo in 1977, the site commemorates Charles’ Black Bart’ Bartholomew, Navy Supervisor of Salvage Captain, who died while diving off Panama City Beach in 1990. His exploits include heading up the recovery of the Space Shuttle Challenger and leading the Navy’s cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which is poetic since the Black Bart is an oil rig supply ship.
The structure of this site makes it extraordinary. At 40′ down, divers can investigate the wheelhouse. The deck is at 66′ down with entrances into the cargo holds. The ship’s head (toilet) sits outside the wreck on the sand replete with a jovial skull. There’s also plenty of sealife coming to visit from the nearby Warsaw Reef.
SS Tarpon Dive Site- Depth 95′
The SS Tarpon is a historic shipwreck. She sank in 1937 and took the lives of 18 crew members, including her captain – Willis G. Barrow. Remarkably, one crew member, Adley Baker, survived by swimming the 9 miles to shore in gale-force winds. It was a 25-hour ordeal, but he lived to tell the tale.
Grey Ghost Dive Site- Depth 105′
The Grey Ghost is an extended offshore dive, taking 6-8 hours to reach. She’s only a 105′ vessel, but what makes this dive spectacular is the vast assortment of aquatic life. She came to rest at the edge of a natural reef that augmented with drops of fiberglass boats and scrap steel, making this spot an ideal fish habitat.
El Dorado Dive Site – Depth 106′
The El Dorado is Panama City Beach’s newest wreck. Hurricane Michael blew the ship ashore in October of 2018. She sat derelict off the Hathaway Bridge as a constant reminder of the storm’s deadly wrath through winter and spring. In May of 2019, she started her life as a premier dive site.
She is a three-story high vessel with an unbelievable amount of sea life already finding a home there. As of our last trip, you could still see the “Happy Holidays” unknown townsfolk painted onto her deck for all the cars to see passing over the bridge.
Inshore Scuba Diving in Panama City Beach
Our definition of inshore diving is less than 8 miles from St Andrew’s Pass and generally safe of open water divers. Notable dives here include the Red Sea, a 125′ tug boat installed in 2009, and the historic wreck of the E.E. Simpson Tug that sank in 1929. Other interesting sites include Stage 2 (a Navy platform that was demolished in 1984), the Fountainbleau Boxcars (two boxcars and associated reef material), and a pair of Voodoo jets anchored in Seltzer Reef. Below is our table of inshore dive sites in Panama City Beach with associated bottom depths.
|St Andrews Park Jetties||20|
|Spanish Shanty Barge||20|
|B & B Reef||43|
|MC Comick Barge||60|
|Hathaway Span #1||72|
|Hathaway Span #2||70|
|Hathaway Span #12||72|
|Liberty Ship-USS Grierson||72|
|Midway Site Boxcars||72|
|Hathaway Span #5||73|
|Hathaway Span #6||73|
|Red Sea Tugboat||74|
|Hathaway Span #14||75|
|The Black Bart||79|
Offshore Scuba Diving in Panama City Beach
Our threshold for offshore diving is more than 8 miles from St Andrew’s Pass. Due to the depths and the open water, these sites require advanced certification, and nitrox cert would be a good idea (the nearest hyperbaric chamber in Florida is Fort Myers). Due to the distances involved, these trips don’t run every day. You’ll want to check with the dive shop to see when the next trip is running, or plan a trip with your well-qualified friends, and they might be able to put one on the schedule for you.
Notable dives here are the USS Accokeek (the ship that sunk over and over again in Panama City Beach since it was used for salvage practice), the Chippewa (a 200′ + WWII tug boat), and the Hathaway and Dupont Bridge Spans. If you’ve never dove a bridge span, you should try it at least once. The steel girders make perfect fish habitat (if you look super close, you will see loads of little blennies poking their heads out) and super fun buoyancy exercises. Below is our table of offshore dive sites in Panama City Beach with associated bottom depths.
|Dupont Bridge Span #1||90|
|Dupont Bridge Span #2||90|
|Dupont Bridge Span #3||90|
|Hathaway Span #13||96|
|Fami Tug #1||100|
|Fami Tug #2||100|
|Hathaway Span #3A||100|
|Hathaway Span #3||100|
|Hathaway Span #4||101|
|BJ Putnam Reef||106|
|Hathaway Span #7||111|
|Hathaway Span #8||113|
|Hathaway Span #9||113|
|Hathaway Span #10||114|
Scuba Diving Panama City Beach Reefs
There is quite an extensive collection of artificial reef material deployed around Panama City Beach. Materials range from bridge pilings to old piers to specially designed reef habitat. Most of these sites wouldn’t attract divers on their own, but when you see a sunken ship surrounded by reef modules, you can bet there will be lots of fish down there.
One of the premier reef dives is Warsaw Reef. It’s a natural hole with concrete rubble and tire bundles. The fish love it and regularly travel between the hole and nearby wrecks like the Black Bart.
Check out our favorite underwater camera, the Sealife DC 2000
How Has Hurricane Michael Affected Diving in Panama City Beach?
In October of 2018, Panama City Beach took a direct hit from Hurricane Michael, a category 4 storm. With maximum sustained winds 154 mph and over 10 ft storm surge, it was the strongest storm on record to make landfall in the Panhandle. Over 650 artificial reef patches experienced hurricane-force winds.
Members of the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association and Florida Wildlife Commission generated a report assessing the impact to the reefs. They discovered that the reef adjacent to the Varmar (not shown on our dive map because it’s off Mexico Beach) experienced the most impact since it was in 25′ of water, with only 35% of the reef material remaining in the original reef patch. However, the artificial reefs in moderate and deep water remained undisturbed. Below is a graphic from that report showing the path of the hurricane through the reefs and wrecks of Panama City Beach.
What to Expect When You Scuba Dive Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is one of the best drive and dive weekends you can take from the South. You can dive Sunday morning, drive home in time for bed, and not have to worry about your no-fly timeline.
You can expect visibility between 30′-50′ with water temperatures ranging from the 60s in winter and 80s in summer. You should bring gloves for the sharp edges on the wrecks, a dive knife in case you run into some fishing line, and a safety sausage since you’re on a boat trip.
Seas around Panama City Beach depend more on the wave interval than the absolute size. Long interval waves create rollers, while short interval waves make the boat rock up and down and divers hard to spot in the water.
Things to do in Panama City Beach for Non-Divers
Panama City Beach is a haven for divers and non-divers alike. You’ll never want for things to do on your surface interval or feel guilty for taking your family to PCB while you went diving. You can even work a diving trip into a romantic weekend in Panama City Beach or a larger romantic Florida getaway, especially if your partner is certified too.
The snow-white sugar sand of St Andrew’s Park and Shell Island are picture-perfect beautiful. Dolphin cruises abound, and there are even attractions like Pier Park, Shipwreck Island, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not for land lovers. At night, you’ll find some of the best fresh seafood around (the she-crab soup at Firefly is legit the best we have EVER had!!) and golden sunsets over the turquoise blue water.
Wrapping up our Panama City Beach Dive Guide
Panama City Beach is a seriously good vacation destination and dive destination wrapped into one. The fact that you can drive here from so many places makes it that much better. Divers of all experience levels will find plenty of reasons to keep coming back again and again, and their families will love them for it.
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