Panama City, Florida is a scuba divers delight. There are several opportunities for shore based diving as well as offshore diving on shipwrecks and various natural and artificial reefs.
There are several spots that a diver can walk into from land in the Panama City area, primarily area. There are shore dive available to check out the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.
Saint Andrews State Park in the East end of Panama City’s Beaches has a long set of rock jetties. The jetties are best dove on a peak high tide as the incoming Gulf water is clearer than the Bay Water and the time between rising and falling tides is key due to possible strong currents from the incoming/outgoing water. Many species of snapper, grouper (including goliath), spade fish, angel fish, flounder, red fish and baitfish are commonly seen. Depths are less than 10′ on the kiddie pool side and slope as deep as 60′ once you cross over the rocks. Dive flags are the law and for your own safety as many boaters travel through the pass. There is also a convenience store in the park. It used to offer basic dive services but no longer does so come prepared!
Panama City Beach is known as one of the top dive destinations in Florida, second only to the Florida Keys. The Gulf of Mexico has been dubbed the “Wreck Capital of the South” by Skin Diver magazine.
Red Sea: Panama City’s newest dive site, the Red Sea was a 120′ freighter intentionally sunk June 24, 2009. She is upright in about 75′ of water, to the sand but just 40′ below the surface. Many reef fish have already taken up residence.
USS Accokeek: The Naval Dive School used the Accokeek for salvage and ordinance training beginning in 1987. After being sunk and re-floated repeatedly, the veteran tug was packed with explosives and sunk in 100′ of water on July 9, 2000. Accokeek, a 295-foot Navy tug boat located 12 nautical miles from the pass in 100 feet of water. The wheelhouse is at 65 feet. The vessel is fully intact and is sitting on its keel. Loran C coordinates: 13888.7, 46935.0
S.S. Tarpon: The S.S. Tarpon is a 130’ steamer built in 1887. She sank in 1937 in about 95’ of water. The S.S. Tarpon was designated as Florida’s 6th Underwater Archaeological Preserve, making it unlawful to remove anything from this wreck. If you look closely you may see bottles the ship carried down with her as she sunk. You may look, but you can not take anything from this wreck.
Empire Mica: The Empire Mica was an Ocean Tanker built in 1941. She is 479’ long and she lies in 115’ of water. The tanker was torpedoed in June of 1942 by a German U Boat. The propeller of the Empire Mica is now located at Captain Anderson’s Restaurant.
Hathaway Bridge Spans: The Hathaway bridge was originally built in 1929. The spans were from the old bridge that connected Panama City to Panama City Beach. There are 14 Hathaway bridge spans. The spans were sunk in 1988.
Dupont Bridge Spans: The spans were from the bridge that connected Panama City to Tyndall AFB. The bridge was originally built from 1927-1929. Three of the spans were sunk in 2008. The spans are 180′ long, 25′ wide and 35′ high. DuPont Bridge Span # 1 was sunk October 30, 2008 next to a pile of pipe and the fish are already migrating to the bridge span and it should make a nice fishing reef. coordinates are: 29'58.902 N 85'51.128 W
E.E. Simpson Tug: The E.E. Simpson Tug boat was built in 1877. The tug was 93’ in length with a 20’ beam. On October 26, 1929 the E.E. Simpson was asked to help a fishing schooner that had run aground while trying to enter the St. Andrews bay. The E.E. Simpson worked for more than a day trying to free the fishing schooner. The fierce wind and pounding waves were too much for the Simpson and eventually carried her to the bottom next to the fishing schooner. Today she lies in about 20’ of water, ½ mile offshore of the East Pass. It is best to dive this spot at low tide. An abundance of aquatic life lives in and around the E.E. Simpson. Sea turtles, stingray, baitfish, stone crab, and squid are just some of the occupants that call the E.E. Simpson their home.
Chippewa: The Chippewa was a 205′ tug boat. It was commissioned by the US Navy in February 1943. In 1989 the tug was assigned to the Navy’s Experimental Dive Unit for salvage and ordinance training. The boat was sunk in February 1990 in nearly 100′ of water.
Black Bart: This artificial reef is a memorial to Captain Charles Bartholomew who was the Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage in Panama City. The wreck was sunk in the early 1990’s. The Black Bart is a 185’ oil field supply ship. It sits upright in about 75’ of water. The top of the wheel house sits in about 45’ of water. This wreck is a great wreck for photography and wreck training. Black Bart, a 185-foot oil field supply ship sits upright in about 75 feet of water. Her bow points due south. The bridge can be reached at 40 feet and the main deck is at 66 feet. The cargo holds are open for exploration. Divers can also explore the head (complete with toilets) and the galley which still has several appliances. The Black Bart is a popular spot for wreck training and for photography. There is an abundance of fish in and around the ship. Turtles have been spotted at times, along with catfish, flounder and grouper. The bottom is a bit silty; visibility is generally 20-25 feet at the main deck. Be sure to bring a dive light. One Halloween, a prankster chained a skeleton, complete with mask and snorkel, to the wheelhouse. No word on whether the skeleton is still there. Loran C coordinates: 14030.1, 46972.
Grey Ghost: The 105 foot long ex-Navy ocean going tug Grey Ghost was sunk 22 miles offshore by Panama City Marine Institute’s Artificial Reef Program in coordination with Bay County and a federal grant on July 12, 1978. She landed on her port side in 105 to 110 feet of water and due to her location on the edge of a natural reef, she immediately attracted a huge variety of aquatic life.
USS Strength: The USS Strength is a 185’ Navy Admirable Class Minesweeper. The ship was given to the Navy Salvage Diver School. She was sunk in 1987. The bow is broken and lies on its side, which makes the USS Strength a very interesting dive. The deck lays in about 60’ of water with the bottom located in about 80’ of water. It's 184 feet long with a 33-foot beam. It's located 5.75 miles from the St. Andrews Pass in 75 feet of water. Decommissioned and used as a Navy dive salvage training site. The bow is broken and laid over the port side. The back three quarters is intact and sits on its keel. The highest superstructure is 55 feet. Loran C coordinates: 14076.8, 46943.9.
Hovercraft: It weighs 165 tons, is nearly 100 feet long and has a 48-foot beam. It is located about 6 nautical miles from the pass in 75 feet of water. The craft is made of aluminum and has little growth. Loran C coordinates: 14038.6, 46976.8.
B. J. Putnam: A 180-ft supply vessel sitting at 105 feet. The supply boat had been converted for use as a processing platform. It was sunk in 1993. It holds a large variety of marine life and is a good fishing and diving site for advanced divers. Loran C coordinates: 13991.6, 46909.1.