Within a few miles of Panama City Beach’s sugar-white sand beaches lies over 50 artificial reefs, ships and barges, as well as hundreds of natural limestone reefs, making it a premier diving destination for all skill levels. Visitors looking to dive for the first time can train at Red Alert Diving, a full-service dive center and aquatic training facility that offers dives in both their heated pool and a range of open-water courses. The more experienced diver can find endless excitement as the surrounding waters are home to some of the Gulf of Mexico’s most famed ship wrecks, including the 185-foot Black Bart, the 184-foot Navy Mind Sweeper-USS Strength, the 441-foot World War II Liberty Ship and the 465-foot Empire Mica.

Another ship was added to the list when the El Dorado cruise liner, damaged by Hurricane Michael, was sunk to create a new artificial reef just 12 miles off the coast of Panama City Beach. The Bay County and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission worked together for months to prepare the ship to serve as a home for the vast array of sea life found in the destination’s emerald green waters such as sea turtles, goliath grouper, redfish, bottlenose dolphin and octopus.

Local dive shops aided in getting the El Dorado out to see and deployed. Panama City Diving did all of the preparatory dives to survey sites and find the perfect area. They also attached lines and modified the wreck so dive boats can safely attach to it without damaging the structure. Panama City Dive Center towed the ship to the deployment site, a job which took hours.

With 360 days of sunshine annually, Panama City Beach offers a variety of year-round dive charters that cater to various levels of difficulty and individual preferences. Whether visitors are looking for a simple snorkel tour or wanting to experience the best beach dive along the Emerald Coast at St. Andrews State Park with depths hitting up to 70 feet; Diver’s Den, The Dive Locker, DownTime Dive ChartersPanama City Diving and Panama City Dive Center all offer experts dedicated to creating the ultimate underwater experience.