For scuba divers in search of unique underwater adventures, Panama City Beach is the place to be. Underneath its emerald green waters lies a treasure trove of natural and man-made sites spread across the northern Gulf of Mexico. Within just a few miles of Panama City Beach, divers will find more than 50 artificial reefs, sunken ships and barges, as well as hundreds of natural limestone reefs, but perhaps the greatest draw — and one that appeals to all ages — is the impressive array of marine life accessible around these dive sites, consisting of a vast array of fish from amberjack to goliath grouper. Here are five of the top wrecks and reefs to seek out in Panama City Beach:
This former luxury cruise liner, damaged during Hurricane Michael in October 2018, is the newest wreck to join the area’s list of artificial reefs. The 157-foot vessel was sunk approximately 12 miles off the coast of Panama City Beach at a depth of 103 feet. Bay County officials along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission worked together for months to prepare the ship to serve as a home for everything from sea turtles and octopi to redfish and dolphin. The site is expected to accommodate intermediate and advanced divers.
Located six miles off shore, this old oil field supply ship serves as a memorial to Capt. Charles Bartholomew, the U.S. Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage in Panama City. Sunk in the early 1990s, it sits upright on the bottom in 75 to 80 feet of water with the top of its wheel house in 45 feet of water. The Black Bart is known as a good site for photography and wreck training.
This former U.S. Navy minesweeper is one of the most inviting wrecks along the Gulf Coast. Sunk in 1987, the 184-foot ship is located about six miles off the coast and sits in two separate pieces at the bottom with plenty of fish and shells to find while on your dive.
Built in 1941, this 465-foot ocean tanker was torpedoed by a German U boat, and one of its propellers now sits at Captain Anderson’s restaurant in Panama City Beach and is located off the coast of Port St. Joe in about 115 feet of water.
This 441-foot World War II Liberty Ship is located in about 100 feet of water about 10 miles off shore. Locals describe this site as one best suited to advanced divers or less experienced divers accompanied by a professional guide.