Jacksonville Area Diving
What's diving like in the Jacksonville area?
divers think of Jacksonville when they think of great Florida diving.
But the diving here is often surprisingly good. We think it is one
of the better kept secrets around. The area water is rich with
does meaning that average visibilities are lower than the
average visibility in South Florida or the keys. But it also means
richer sea life in greater abundance.
In today's Florida Keys diving, a school of even 100 fish bigger
than juveniles has become unusual. Offshore Jacksonville, it is
still not uncommon to see
schools of thousands of grunts or baitfish which can totally obscure
a wreck from 30 feet away.
A newly-placed wreck in Miami or farther south may
be down for years; yet you can still easily read painted letters
on the hull. A wreck which has been down half that length of time
in Jacksonville often has its painted signs completely obscured
by inches of thick growth.
As with any ocean location,
storms or unseasonable thermoclines can trash the temperatures
or take visibility down to zero. But typical
from 40 to
100 feet with bottom temps in the low 80's at sport diving depths.
Typical winter visibilities might be more like 15 to 40 feet with
temps in the mid-to-high 50's.
The St. Johns River
exits into the ocean at the Mayport Jetties on the southeast
side of Jacksonville, carrying with it a dark
brown natural, tannin-stained color and its associated poor
visibility. This staining
within a few miles of shore. The point where this ends varies,
9 miles out the visibilities are unaffected.
There is a great deal of diving variety within sport diving depths.
In the nearer-shore area quadrants like 9-Mile, depths typically
vary from 68 to 85 feet on the sand. Shallower training depths
in the 60 foot range can be found on the upper decks and bridges
of some wrecks. The very productive hunting
areas more like 20 miles offshore typically range from 90 to 105
feet in depth. Jacksonville diving extends all the way to the Gulf
Stream (whose track varies from 60 to 90 miles or so
offshore) at which depths range from 120+ feet to as deep as you
care to go.
Currents are not unusual
offshore. It's usually a good idea to keep your discipline in
coming back up the anchor line. Carrying a safety sausage or
similar signaling device is pretty much standard here since the
public dive boats are usually tied in or anchored. Thus if you
miss the anchor line and the boat, they cannot pull up to come
get you until the rest of their divers are back
on the boat; by which time you may be far enough away that a
sausage is very helpful.
The Jacksonville area has some natural limestone offshore ledges.
Fortunately it also has a very active artificial reef building
program. The annual Greater
Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament brings
millions of dollars of spending to the area each year. (The tournament
has had to cap the number of entries at 1,000 boats each of
the last few years)!
The tournament's impact
on the local economy has helped maintain shared goals of reef
building between the city, the
sportfishing club, and area divers. The city and the Jacksonville
Offshore Sport Fishing Club typically arrange for the reef material
and the funding for transporting it offshore. Volunteer divers
of the Jacksonville Reef Research
Team (a volunteer group originally
founded by our dive club) perform the underwater
engineering surveys required for reef permitting by the EPA.
As a result, there are
large numbers of dive sites offshore Jacksonville. Until a few
years ago, the 615 feet long old Dry Docks reef was the largest
offshore artificial reef on the Eastern coast of the United States.
Spiegel Grove and, I believe, one or two other recent placements
are now longer).
site of the TISIRI organization, a group promoting offshore
reef development and
usage, has a
number of photos and videos from offshore Jacksonville and nearby
(their site includes reef areas from the St. Augustine and Flagler
If your tastes run to fresh water diving, there are large numbers
of inland spring dives within a 2 to 3 hour drive from the area.
Where I can I book a public dive
Here are the public dive boats we know of which are currently
running the Jacksonville area. We'll be glad to list more if anyone
them to our
We receive no consideration of any kind for mentioning any
operations and explicitly do
not warrant them, their competency, or any
related opinions or information (prices, times, etc.) in
are merely letting you know we've heard they exist so you can
research them for
through reading this disclaimer; but the scourge of some
tort lawyers forces everyone these days to defend themselves
One current public dive boat option we're aware of
involves chartering a whole boat as a group
of up to 4 divers. The St.
Augustine dive shop "The
Dive Source" is located at 2450 Florida
SR 16, #2 near the twin off-price malls near the intersection
of I-95 and 16. They operate a pair of 26-foot Grady White power
catamarans; each running twin gas outboards. The shop provides
a Dive Master.
For local area dives
out to 30 miles offshore, the cost is $900 for the divers for
up to 3-tank diving. Two rental tanks of air or Nitrox are included
if required and a 3rd tank is available for an additional charge.
to 60 miles offshore cost $1,200
for the same up-to-4 divers.
All divers are required to hold either Advanced or Open Water
certs. All snorkelers are required to hold a Level 1 Free Driver
Their boats do not leave
from one specific marina. They instead trailer the boats to a
marina that works for the objectives of the divers chartering
the trip. For example many of their offshore St. Augustine trips
leave from St. Augustine's City Marina but they do offer leaving from a Jacksonville marina
if the charterers want that option. They can also work out costs for dives off of South Florida or even the
West Coast of Florida. For more information call The Dive Source at (904) 829-3483.
recently became aware of an operation called "Florida
Man Fishing Charters". They handle both fishing and
diving charters. Their web site says when their boat is configured
for diving, it has room for over 25 tanks and an over-sized
dive ladder. The boat is equipped with a large
cabin containing a full, private head. For more
information check their
website or call (813) 246-3474.
We intend to get up with this operation
next week and will add boat details and typical dive costs to this write-up.
Another operation is called "Due
East Chartering Service" run by Capt. Randy Marshall.
We're not aware
of him having a regular website yet but he can be reached on FaceBook.
You can call him
at (904) 866-2592. We'll attempt to contact Capt. Randy soon and will post
as soon as
If anyone knows of additional
public dive boat options, please contact our WebMaster with details
so we can help those divers without a private boat connectionl
are the current dive conditions offshore Jacksonville?
Unfortunately the NOAA
Station 41012 sea buoy, formerly found 40 miles ENE of St.
Augustine, was a victim of US Government budget cuts and was removed.
It was an excellent resource and is badly missed. We can only hope
that it will return someday.
The closest current
subsitute is probably the National Weather Service's NE Florida
Marine Weather page.
and subsurface conditions can also be found on our home
page when useful dive reports are available.
For additional information,
check our Dive
Links web page.
You may also want to
check the Florida East Coast Spearfishing forum on Spearboard.com.
This is a spearfishing web site whose posters are great
about mentioning bottom temps, visibility, current
information and game sightings. The forum
usually has recent postings about dives in the Jacksonville
or nearby St.