Panama City Beach boasts an array of artificial reefs and sunken ships teeming with marine life, perfect for the ultimate diving trip. The nearby Naval Support Activity is the largest diving facility in the world and trains military divers from all branches. This underlying heartbeat of local dive culture makes diving one of the top Panama City Beach attractions.
You'll have your pick of dive shops in Panama City Beach with expertise in recreational dive certifications, tech diving, freediving, spearfishing, and just about any specialty you can dream up. More than a few outfits are either employed or owned by retired Navy dive instructors with unparalleled knowledge and safety standards.
Panama City Beach is a top destination for seasoned dive pros and beginners. Here's why you should add diving in Panama City Beach to your bucket list.
Panama City Beach Diving Spots
Panama City Beach has an extensive network of sunken ships, barges, and bridges at various depths to suit all experience levels.
The Empire Mica, a 465-foot-long British Ocean tanker built in 1941 that was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Panama City Beach during World War II, is a popular dive destination requiring a whole day trip to reach the site.
Other wrecks in the area include the USS Strength, a decommissioned 184-foot Naval minesweeper located in 75 feet of water just under six miles from the St. Andrews Pass, the Red Sea, a 125-foot tug boat sitting upright in 75 feet of water – but just 40 feet below the surface, and the Accokeek, located 12 nautical miles from the pass in about 100 feet of water.
The Black Bart is a popular training site for wreck diving and a great place to test your underwater photography skills. The fully intact 185-foot vessel sits upright in about 75 feet of water, but the best part is that the cargo holds are open for exploration!
Fifteen sunken bridge spans measuring 160 feet long and 35 feet high provide shelter to various fish, coral, and sea life. The jetties at St. Andrews State Park provide a safe, easy, and exciting place for beginners to experience the wonderful world of SCUBA.
See Panama City Beach Dolphins & More Marine Life
The waters around Panama City Beach provide a healthy ecosystem supporting abundant marine life. Bottlenose dolphin sightings are standard on boat trips in and out of the pass. Goliath groupers are enormous and breathtaking to experience darting through wrecks, too large to remain completely elusive.
Angelfish, amberjacks, crabs, and spiny lobsters are common reef residents. You may spot a sea turtle hiding on the sea floor underneath sunken ships. Other common sightings include electric blue damselfish, blennies, redfish, flounder, needlefish, rays, and wrasses. And if you find yourself hovering in the loving embrace of a giant bait ball, you’ll have achieved Zen indeed.
Dive Shops in Panama City Beach
Several local dive outfits provide a one-stop shop for all your diving needs. You can book a dive charter, sign up for a class, and rent or buy gear at these shops.
Red Alert Diving (aka RAD) has a rockstar staff that includes former military technical divers, a world champion freediver, and a team with decades of experience to help you reach your diving goals. From PADI certifications to first aid courses for SCUBA divers, the crew at RAD covers a vast array of topics for divers of all levels. They even have a Seal Team to prepare aspiring young divers ages eight and up for the Open Water Certification. Diving for the whole family – that's RAD!
Another popular dive outlet, Dive Locker, offers courses ranging from Discover SCUBA, with no experience necessary, all the way up to Dive Master certification. With private and group sessions available, beginners can get their basic Open Water Certification in just three days. For more experienced divers wanting to move to the next level, the Master SCUBA diver course is available from some of the area's top PADI instructors.
Diver's Den offers daily dive charters and can accommodate 18 divers on their 40-foot dive boat. They offer custom spearfishing and dive trips for more experienced (not to mention stealthy!) divers.
When to Go Diving in Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach is one of the best dive destinations in the South, with good reason. Water temps are typically warm enough for year-round diving (ranging from 60 F in winter to around 84 F in the summer) with good visibility ranging from 30-50 feet. The optimal months for diving in Panama City Beach are from April to September. During peak summer, you can usually get away with wearing a short wetsuit, depending on your depth.
A few tips to remember: wear gloves to protect your hands from the sharp metal edges on wreck dives, carry a dive knife if you encounter a fishing line, and bring a fully charged camera with a waterproof housing to capture all of your underwater memories!