Scuba Diving in Florida Keys

The Florida Keys offers some of the most spectacular scuba diving in the United States. Located on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula extending to 90 miles north of Cuba, most of the waters are protected by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Within this area of 2,800 square nautical miles is the only living coral reef in North America and the 3rd largest in the world. The National Marine Sanctuary was created in 1972 to protect the cultural value of the coastal waters.

Diving in the Keys is excellent year round; however the hurricane season of June-October can make the waters choppy and a tad murky. During the winter months (October-March) water temps are in the mid 70s and you need a wetsuit. The remainder of the year, the water is considerably warmer and while you might not need a wetsuit to tolerate the temperature, it’s recommended that you wear one to protect yourself from skin abrasions and jellyfish.

With regards to dive gear, there are many different shops located throughout the Keys that rent gear, from the tanks and weights to wetsuits and masks, snorkels, and fins. Although, if you are afraid of catching people cooties, you would probably prefer to bring your own wetsuit and mask along for the trip. Just as there are many shops located in the Keys that offer rental gear, there are many more that take people out on dive excursions. Prices vary, but the degree of customer service and amenities tends to be better than those who charge less. There are generally 2 different types of boats: 6-pack and Big boats. A 6-pack boat means that there are 6 or less divers on board, and they are not subject to inspection. Big boats can carry more divers, but are subject to Coast Guard implemented inspections. The Big Boats tend to be the safer option since they are required to have a specified amount of safety gear including life rafts, certified fuel tanks, and annual inspections of the safety equipment.

Regardless of your skill-set with diving, the Florida Keys offers you a dive experience to meet your level. Many dive shops offer Resort courses, which include 4 hours of training after which you go for a dive in the company of the instructor (less than 40 ft. water), and afterwards you can go on as many dives as you wish in shallow water as long as you are accompanied by your instructor. For more advanced divers, there are classes for levels going up as far as Divemaster or instructor. For these types of classes, reservations are recommended.
Creative Commons License Photo credit: Thespis377

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