The waters off the coast of Pensacola, FL are home to an integral piece of the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail — the USS Oriskany. First launched in 1945 and used throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Oriskany was put to bed in 2006 along the Gulf of Mexico’s sea floor, trading artillery for SCUBA suits in her retirement. Divers flock from around the world to find themselves amongst the schools of fish, turtles, sharks, and other marine creatures that call this ghostly vessel home.
What Makes It Great
Nicknamed the “Great Carrier Reef,” the USS Oriskany is the largest artificial reef in the world. The temperate waters of the Gulf of Mexico help make this dive a pleasure at any point in the year, with water temperatures varying between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the opportunities for marine encounters are unmatched in the area. Goliath grouper, cobia, triggerfish, and other game fish are common sites, as creatures of the more exotic variety, such as barracuda, angel fish, rays, and sea turtles. The luckiest of divers will catch a glimpse of a mola mola or whale shark.
At 911 ft. long, the Oriskany offers divers of all skill level the chance to experience the incredible. The top of the structure begins at around 80 ft. below the surface, and continues down onto the ocean floor at a depth of just over 200 ft. The ship’s location provides two essential ingredients for an unbelievable diving experience: calm waters and plenty of sea life. And though the Oriskany is farther from shore and therefore a deeper dive than its Shipwreck Trail sister, the USS Massachusetts, the Oriskany is generally agreed to be a more placid dive.
Who is Going to Love It
Expert and novice divers alike will find the USS Oriskany to their liking, and while some local dive shops do require divers be certified diving masters, others are happy to take on those with a SCUBA certification and a willingness to follow the team’s own dive masters and instructors. Visibility is typically between 60-100 ft., further aiding in an enjoyable experience. The mildness of the current, excellent wildlife viewing, and varying depths of this reef make the Oriskany a dive to remember.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Guidelines for diving the USS Oriskany are simple, safety-based recommendations that every SCUBA certified diver should adhere to. Bring a dive buddy, hold on to the anchor during accents and descents, and strongly consider going with someone who is well-versed in the area. Some operators require that divers also bring safety buoys in addition to their usual gear. Recreational divers should stay above 130 ft., and even masters should stick close to their buddy. And, as always, respect the space, promising to leave the experience intact for the next diver. As the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources wisely requests, “take only pictures, leave only bubbles.”