United States Diving
The U.S.A’ s impressive array of dive destinations caters for every diver preference, whether you like world-class Bahamas shark diving or Hawaiian manta night dives, giant Californian kelp forests or Florida’s manatees. You can even go wreck diving from the metropolis of New York.
Diving in the United States
With dive sites ranging from the balmy tropical waters of Hawaii and Florida Keys to the immense kelp forests of California and the beautifully preserved shipwrecks of the east coast, the U.S.A. offers divers and an impressive variety of dive experiences. The major differences are between the four cardinal points, the south being home to warm tropical waters, coral reefs, manatees and beautiful caves. In the north, on the other hand, the waters are cooler but atmospheric kelp forests are a big draw for underwater photographers and macro enthusiasts. The east coast also varies from north to south but is best known for its many shipwrecks from numerous historical eras. Even the buzzing metropolis of New York and Boston offer an impressive number of wrecks within recreational limits.
Dive centers are plentiful due to the popularity of diving in the United States of America and usually located around the bigger coastal towns and cities. There are fewer dive resorts than dive centers but around the more tropical regions such as Hawaii, Florida Keys and the Bahamas dive resorts do offer packages for holidaymakers. Because most of the best dive sites are a short trip from land, diving liveaboards are less common, with the singular exception of Hawaii where divers will find week-long trips out to dive sites that day boats cannot reach.
Best time to dive
The best time to dive in the United States of America varies slightly depending on your interests, location and tolerance to cooler waters. The summer is generally warm and with good visibility on the west coast from south to north. In the south of the U.S.A., most of the year the water is warm although the climate can be wetter from May to October which offers quieter dive resorts and still very good diving throughout.
On the east coast again it is good throughout if a little wetter, the south is similar all over. The north, on the other hand, is cooler and the main diving season runs from June to October in New York, Boston and New Jersey. Outside of the main season, the water is much colder but those prepared to brave it will often find they have the dive sites to themselves.
Types of diving
Diving in the United States of America is for the most part done either from the shore or by day boat. Most of the dive sites are in the ocean although there are some lake and river dives. In Illinois, divers can try their hand at underwater archaeology in the quarries of Mermet Springs and Haigh which make for excellent freshwater diving. Quarry diving is also popular inland where several quarries have artificial reefs placed in them for divers to enjoy.
Fresh water dives are also possible in Florida Springs where divers can spend time with the warm water loving manatees who spend their days here. Also in Florida, closer to the swamplands advanced divers looking to take a cave diving course will find Peacock Springs allows them to attain their qualification in the fresh water spring caves. These caves span thousands of feet and are warm most of the year, at around 22 degrees centigrade. For wreck divers, Florida’s Fort Lauderdale has a line of wreck sites including three former oil platforms open to divers.
In California there are both shore and boat dives available all along the coast. Local dive centers will take divers to best spots for entry and exit or out to the sea lion colonies by small day boat. Day boats are also a firm favourite in the Bahamas and Hawaii although many of the best shark beaches are close to shore boat makes access much easier. Liveaboards are only really found in the more tropical weather regions as the weather and position of most dive sites makes shore or day boats more convenient.
What to see
Given the vastness of the area covered by the U.S.A. it should come as no surprise that the marine life found here is extremely varied. In the southern parts, tropical climes and currents bring sharks in great number with the Bahamas being particularly famous for its concentration of tiger and nurse sharks. Hammerheads, lemon sharks and mantas can be seen in the south as well.
Florida stands out in marine life as is home to a very special creature, the manatee, gentle giants that congregate in the springs in great numbers to enjoy the fresh waters. These beautiful ‘cows of the sea’ are wonderful to spend time with especially in the balmy waters found here. Florida is also a great place to see mantas in the summer months and turtles year round.
To the west, California enjoys a wealth of marine life supported by the vast kelp forests that line the coast. From the surface, sea otters dive down to catch fish as do the playful sea lions who thoroughly enjoy the company of divers. In the depths of the kelp forest huge sea bass patrol and rays glide through eerie thickets. There is the chance to see bigger pelagics with numerous whales migrating past and dolphins as well. From spring until late October it is also possible to see eagle rays flying gracefully past and keep an eye out in the summer months for the world’s biggest mammal as migrating blue whales pass by in substantial numbers.
Best places to dive
The Hawaiian Islands offer some of the best diving options in the USA. With Manta night dives and chances to see migrating whales the dive centers here can offer all divers an experience to remember. Liveaboard options are also available around these islands.
The Florida Keys is a popular dive destination offering plenty of dive options from popular places such as Key Largo and Islamorada. Another big pull to Florida has to be the presence of scores of huge manatees which enjoy the hot fresh water springs found here. The area itself is also very beautiful with unusual shapes carved out of the limestone topography and cathedral-like caverns all in crystal clear fresh waters. The diving is fairly easy despite being in flowing water and there is the option to snorkel with the manatees as well.
Catalina Island, West Coast
Already a popular tourist island on land, Catalina has a spectacular show on offer under the water as well. Colonies of cheeky sea lions give divers hours of fun playing with the ‘dogs of the sea’. Turtles, rays, angel sharks and lobster can be found poking their heads out of the rocky reefs too. The water here has excellent visibility considering how far north it is with 10 meters plus in many places.
The dangerous shipping waters around Carolina have left divers a treasure chest of wrecks from every era after the 1500s, over 5000 ships are thought to have been wrecked here. There are several WWII shipwrecks including warships and U-boats including the U-701 a German submarine which, although it was extensively looted remains in excellent condition to this day. There is also the wreck of the WWII ships the City of Atlanta and the E.M. Clark which were torpedoed by U-boats in the area. These sites are open for divers to explore often accompanied by curious sand tiger sharks.
Dutch Springs, Pennsylvania
A full fledged underwater playground made for divers, this fresh water site has a sunken plane, truck and shipwreck which have been made into artificial reefs. This is a great place to learn to dive with excellent conditions and safe platforms for practicing skills. Many dive centers in the area use this as their main dive site for dive courses. The visibility is fairly good for fresh water and the area offers freediving training as well as scuba.
Other popular dive areas include Puget Sound, Seattle and Monterey Bay, California.