Friday, July 19, 2024

Scuba Diving Key West: 4 Incredible Dive Sites Not To Miss Out On


Scuba Diving Key West is part of our Top Dive Sites of the World

The southernmost part of the continental US Key West is famous for several things, including outstanding diving. A scuba diving Key West trip is on almost every diver’s agenda due to the phenomenal reefs and wrecks that lie in the waters off Key West.

With a subtropical climate, gorgeous weather, and lots to do outside of the water – no wonder Ernest Hemingway chose to reside in key west. The archipelago is a little bit of paradise tucked away at the southern tip of the US.

You can visit and dive Key West all year round, although the weather can be more unpredictable in the winter months with choppier seas and wind. The water temperature drops in the winter to 75f/23c, necessitating a thicker wetsuit. During the summer months, conditions are ideal above and below water, with water temperatures hitting a balmy 85f/29c. If you love diving, then you can’t go wrong with planning and taking a Scuba Diving Key West trip.


Sambos Reef

A collection of reefs separated by large sand patches, the Sambo; Reef system is one of the prettiest to see in the keys. The reef system has there parts Eastern, Western, and Middle Sambo. The Sambo reef system is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Due to this protection, Sambo reefs are home to a wide range of marine fauna and flora and a healthy coral population.

The reefs offer something for every level of diver. Elkhorn and brain coral can be found on the reef, as well as turtles and a vast array of reef fishes. Glancing towards the sandy patch, nurse sharks can often be seen snoozing on the sand.

Eastern Sambo is the deepest of the three, with a maximum depth of 87ft/~29m. the reef makes for an exciting dive, which lots of stuff to see. Bear in mind a portion of this dive is completely closed off for research purposes, and you need a special permit to enter it. You can see yellow buoys clearly mark off the area.

Lying between the Western and Eastern Sambo, Middle Sambo makes for an excellent dive for beginners. The site has a beautiful reef and averages around 35ft/10.5m in depth. Swimming around Middle Sambo, you can encounter lots of critters, lobsters, and the occasional tarpon lurking around.

Western Sambo is another shallower dive with a maximum depth of 30ft/10m. the reef is host t a wide variety of coral, including brain, elkhorn, boulder, sheet, and branch coral. The site is extensive, and you can do several dives here. One of the more interesting parts of Western Sambo is the area known as Cannonball Cut. Here you can find lots of spiny lobsters lurking under outcrops and the wreck of a tugboat. If you are Planning a Scuba Diving Key West trip, you won’t go wrong adding Sambo reefs to your itinerary.

You can see Elkhorn Coral while Scuba Diving Key West
You can see Elkhorn Coral while Scuba Diving Key West

Joe’s Tug

Another popular wreck dive in the Keys Joe’s tug is open to all levels of divers. The wreck lies upright at 65ft/19.5m. The 75ft/22.5m shrimp boat initially sank in 1986 but was raised and cleaned up and prepared to be an artificial harbor before it was sunk again. Sadly, the wreck suffered damage by hurricanes. The wheelhouse was torn off by Hurricane George, while in 1999, Hurricane Irene broke the ship in half.

With a shallow depth, the wreck is ideal for every level of diver. While not the most exciting wreck for wreck diving fans who love nothing more than penetrating deep into the bowels of sunken vessels, Joe’s Tug is still an amazing dive due to the wide range of marine life to be found on her.

There is plenty of corals and sponges encrusting the wreck, and as you swim around, you can encounter crabs, lobster, and lots of other critters. The wreck is also home to large morays and barracudas.

Cayman Salvage Master

Another artificial reef and one of the best scuba diving key west dive sites, the Cayman Salvage Master, is another interesting wreck dive site and one of the best opportunities to dive the Goliath groupers and large morays that inhabit the wreck.

The 180ft/56m vessel initially sunk in the Key West navy harbor but was refloated, cleaned up, and prepared to be an artificial reef. Destined to be a deep reef lying in over 300ft/90m of water, fate had other ideas. On the way to her final resting place, one of the cables towing her snapped, and she went down in only 92ft/28m of water, and a new wreck was born.

Lying upright, the deck of the Cayman Salvage Master is at 60ft/18m. the currents at the wreck are unpredictable and can be sufficiently strong to make her undiveable. However, once you get onto the wreck, you are greeted with a rich marine environment and interesting marine history. If you want to explore the wreckage a little, you can find the engine room at a depth of 80ft/24m. due to the conditions, the wreck is only open to advanced and technical divers.

A large number of species have made the Cayman Salvage Master their home. Diving the wreck, you can encounter octopus, silversides, large morays, as well as loggerhead turtles and goliath groupers. If you upland on visiting the Cayman Salvage Master on your next Scuba diving Key West trip, it is advisable to go with someone familiar with the wreck since it can be a challenging dive.

Scuba Diving Key West Legend The Vandenberg

You can see the Vandenberg artificial reef while Scuba Diving Key West
You can see the Vandenberg artificial reef while Scuba Diving Key West

The Jewel in the crown of scuba diving in Key West is the now legendary Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. This mammoth missile tracking ship was sunk in 2009 to create the second-largest artificial reef in the world.

The numbers around the Vandenberg are truly mesmerizing. She measures a whopping 522ft/160m  and lies totally upright on the seafloor at 165ft/50m. while the main deck of the wreck is as t 100ft/30m, the best action is on the radar dishes mounted on the superstructures around 60ft/18m.

During her service, the Vandenberg was equipped with cutting-age radars to track, amongst other things, space capsules for the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs. These dishes dotted about the superstructure are fascinating to explore and make for some incredible photo opportunities at the Vandenberg.

Since her sinking, the wreck has become a host to a large number of marine species, including Goliath groupers, Nassau groupers, barracudas, and sharks. These can be found along with the usual smaller marine life like octopuses, damselfish wrasses, and parrotfish.

As you can imagine, it takes time to explore the Vandenberg for a wreck her size. So, if you plan on diving the wreck on your next scuba diving Key West trip, make sure to pencil in your schedule several dives on this world-famous wreck diving site!

Click here for more Top Dive Sites of the World

Brought To You By

Suunto - Conquer New Territory #suuntodive

Our Top Dive Sites of the World guide is brought to you by Suunto. We recommend that you use a Suunto Dive Computer when scuba diving or freediving at one of these dive sites. Suunto is the world’s leading dive computer designer and manufacturer providing diving instruments for recreational, technical, and freediving.  You can find out more at

Sam Helmy
Sam Helmy
Sam Helmy is a TDI/SDI Instructor Trainer, and PADI Staff and Trimix Instructor. Diving for 28 years, a dive pro for 14, I have traveled extensively chasing my passion for diving. I am passionate about everything diving, with a keen interest in exploration, Sharks and big stuff, Photography and Decompression theory. Diving is definitely the one and only passion that has stayed with me my whole life! Sam is a Staff Writer for