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When we visited the Florida Keys, we took full advantage of this living coral barrier reef. The Keys aren’t just for those who enjoy entertainment and nightlife.
It’s also an amazing place of beauty beneath the water. We got our scuba certification in the Florida Keys and want to share our process with you so you can see the brilliant colors of the coral reef and marine life.
Let’s dive into the deep end of this unique skill!
Where Are the Florida Keys?
The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago in the far south of the Sunshine State. The islands lie in a southwest arc and divide the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico.
Key Largo lies near the top of the Upper Keys, with Key West at the southernmost point in the continental United States. You can take a selfie by a popular buoy roadside attraction that states this title. At its closest point, Key West is only about 93 miles from Cuba.
What Are the Florida Keys Known For?
The Florida Keys are known for snorkeling, boating, fishing, scuba diving, cruises, and wildlife encounters. You can take a dolphin cruise or paddleboard out and watch the sunset. You can go snorkeling or scuba diving near a coral reef or watch sea turtles nest on the beaches.
The tropical climate means tourists visit year-round. The turquoise waters and sandy beaches are places of water recreation or relaxation. So no matter what outdoor experience you want, the Florida Keys can provide a memorable vacation.
Why Is Scuba Diving Popular in the Florida Keys?
Many people get their scuba certification in the Florida Keys because of the abundant coral reefs. It’s home to our country’s only living coral barrier reef.
Beginning to expert divers enjoy finding underwater treasures of wildlife, shipwrecks, and more. Plus, getting your scuba certification in the Florida Keys is convenient. Let us walk you through the process.
How We Got Our Scuba Certification in the Florida Keys
This is our experience, but anyone can follow this process. We first decided which program to go with and then signed up online. We got our PADI Open Water Diver certification.
The first portion is online and requires you to pass a test. We finished the online part and took our test before arriving in the Florida Keys.
The next part you complete in person, where you learn the skills you need in a pool and then in the ocean.
Next, we got our certification through Captain Hook’s. Our instructor’s name was Henry, and he was awesome! He’s been diving for over 20 years and had a great balance of teaching and making us laugh.
It was a pleasure to learn from him! We learned and practiced the required skills in the pool and then did two days of diving in the ocean.
About Captain Hook’s
Captain Hook’s is a certified PADI five-star training facility. What’s unique about it is that almost all of its dive training is done on a private or semi-private basis. So they pay attention to what their students need and tailor their instruction.
Captain Hook’s offers tons of different courses too. You can sign up for a “Discover Scuba Experience” if you don’t have time to complete the certification process.
There’s also an “Open Water Diver Course,” “Advanced Open Water Diver Course,” “Rescue Diver Course,” “Scuba Refresher Course,” and more.
Is PADI or SSI Better?
We chose to go with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) when we got our scuba certification in the Florida Keys because it’s more widely known.
You can dive in other countries with a PADI certification. PADI operates in 186 countries and territories with a global network of more than 6,600 dive centers and resorts. Even though it costs more, we felt that it was worth it.
The other option is SSI — Scuba Schools International. It’s a much smaller, though still reputable, dive organization. SSI offers cheaper scuba certifications with free online studies. If you want a scuba certification, you can also borrow materials from your dive shop.
So it really comes down to how much you want to pay for the instruction. PADI will be the better bet if you prefer a professional level. SSI may work better if you just want to get your scuba certification in the Florida Keys for a few dives.
How Long Does It Take to Get Dive Certified?
You can take as long as you like to complete the dive certification. The Open Water Diver course can take as little as four days, or you can do it over a year.
At Captain Hook’s, the “Open Water Diver” course starts at $679 and is offered at Big Pine Key, Dive Key West, and Marathon Key, Florida.
Once you get your scuba certification, you can scuba dive unsupervised with a partner, rent or purchase scuba diving gear, book excursions with dive boats, and get air fills at local dive shops.
Is Scuba Diving Safe?
If you know what you’re doing, scuba diving is safe. Although it comes with inherent risks, if you’re dive certified, you know the dangers and how to overcome challenges you may face.
Scuba diving is just like any other recreational activity. ATV riding, skiing, surfing, and even hiking all have risks. But if you know how to prepare and understand safety precautions, you’ll be as safe as you can.
The most severe risks associated with scuba diving include arterial air embolism and decompression sickness. Air embolism occurs when air bubbles enter the bloodstream and block blood flow to the lungs. Decompression sickness occurs when you ascend too quickly. As a result, nitrogen bubbles form in the blood.
Always be comfortable with your diving gear before you set out. If you have any fear, you shouldn’t dive. Be aware of your surroundings.
Just like you should know if an area has mountain lions or bears when hiking, you should know if an area has sharks or poisonous creatures when scuba diving.
Where Are the Best Scuba Diving Locations in the Florida Keys?
If you decide to get your scuba certification in the Florida Keys, you can enjoy some amazing dive locations. The Keys have plenty of ideal options for beginner up to expert divers in our country’s only living coral barrier reef. Here are some of our favorites.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is a beautiful state park where divers can experience the colorful, living coral reef offshore.
You can also see the submerged Christ of the Abyss, an 8.5-foot-tall statue of Jesus Christ. If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent it at the park. Canoeing, kayaking, and glass bottom boat tours are also common.
USS Spiegel Grove Wreck
If you want to visit a shipwreck, plan a dive off the shore of Key Largo, where you’ll see the USS Spiegel Grove wreck.
The ship measures 500 feet long and lies about 6 miles offshore. This is best for advanced divers. You can dive 60 to 100 feet or more to explore this incredible sight.
Keep in Mind: Looking to bring your RV along with you to the Florida Keys? Then consider staying at one of these Florida Keys RV Parks
Also located in Key Largo is Molasses Reef. You can easily access this location, which offers divers beautiful teal waters perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving.
You’ll likely encounter sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, and reef sharks. The critically endangered goliath grouper also lives in these waters. Molasses Reef is protected since it sits in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The historic Sombrero Reef lighthouse, standing 140 feet high, helps you identify this popular coral reef. You can see elkhorn, starlet, pillar, and other types of coral here.
Plus, beautiful, colorful tropical fish like princess parrotfish and angelfish also make Sombrero Reef their home. If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent from Tilden’s Scuba Center or A Deep Blue Dive.
If you venture farther down the Florida Keys, Looe Key is an ideal destination for scuba diving, with depths between 7 to 30 feet. You can book a scuba trip through Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center.
You’ll likely see plenty of tropical fish and the critically endangered goliath grouper. Looe Key lies southwest of Bahia Honda State Park.
When Is the Best Time to Scuba Dive in the Florida Keys?
The main time of year to avoid is hurricane season. But with the tropical climate of the Florida Keys, you’ll find diving opportunities year-round.
The winter is cooler, with water temperatures around 60 to 70 degrees. So if you want to choose a specific season to visit, aim for March, April, or May when the spring breakers and snowbirds have left and the temperature is ideal.
Keep in Mind: If you live somewhere where hurricanes are common, make sure you Understand the Different Hurricane Levels!
Get Your Scuba Certification in the Florida Keys and Enjoy Underwater Beauty
Our nation’s beauty isn’t just above the ground. The canyons of the Southwest, the towering peaks of the Rockies, and the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are incredible. But there’s a whole other world beneath the ocean.
Check out the coral reefs and stunning marine life the next time you head to Florida. Get your scuba certification in the Florida Keys and try something new!
Have you ever wanted to go scuba diving in the Keys?