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Jacksonville Area Diving
 

Jacksonville Area Diving

What's diving like in the Jacksonville area?

Few 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 nutrients. This 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 area summer visibilities range 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 bottom 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 limits typical visibilities within a few miles of shore. The point where this ends varies, but by 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 local 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. (The Spiegel Grove and, I believe, one or two other recent placements are now longer).

The web 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 areas).

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 boat?

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 will bring them to our attention.

Legal disclaimer: We receive no consideration of any kind for mentioning any of these operations and explicitly do not warrant them, their competency, or any related opinions or information (prices, times, etc.) in any way.

We are merely letting you know we've heard they exist so you can research them for yourself. (Our apologies for having to put you through reading this disclaimer; but the scorge of certain tort lawyers forces everyone these days to defend themselves).

We've heard that the arrangement Altantic Pro Dive had chartering the 28-foot power catamaran "Sweet Lips" has ended; at least for now. That boat always was primarily a fishing charter. Apparently they're staying so booked with fishing right now that Atlantic was unable to get availability for their effort. This may change later but it's gone for now.

The only 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. Trips out 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 cert.

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.

If anyone knows of additional public dive boat options, please contact the WebMaster with details so we can help those divers without a private boat connectionl get in the local waters.

What 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.

Recent visibility 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. Augustine area.

 

 


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