Why lounge on the beach when you can go underwater? Greater Fort Lauderdale has the largest collection of warm-water wrecks in the Western world along with natural reefs and upwards of 76 artificial reefs for scuba divers of all experience levels to explore.

Take it from Florida native Laura Parke, a master scuba instructor, who offers private diving and snorkeling lessons as well as guided tours anywhere between Palm Beach and Hollywood.

Parke, owner of Private Scuba Lessons, started diving in the area back in 1969 when she was only 10 years old. Since then, she estimates she’s done at least 5,000 dives in Greater Fort Lauderdale, as well as other parts of the Sunshine State and the Caribbean. 

Considering she’s been diving most of her life, she said she doesn’t really have a favorite dive spot, adding, “Epic once-in-a-lifetime underwater events can happen anywhere.” Under the surface in Greater Fort Lauderdale, she’s encountered marine life up close, though at a safe distance, everything from sea turtles to octopuses.

So what makes Greater Fort Lauderdale different from other popular diving regions? Shore diving, Parke said. Here, you don’t always need a boat to access picture-worthy diving or snorkeling spots, many of which feature natural and/or artificial coral reefs, including shipwrecks found a short swim from the shore.

For instance, right off Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, known as “Florida’s Beach Diving Capital,” a living coral reef is situated within 100 yards from the shoreline. And somewhere between Lauderdale-By-The-Sea and Pompano Beach lies the SS Copenhagen, a sunken 1900 British cargo steamer that is now a popular shallow wreck destination for both divers and snorkelers. 

What’s another cool diving spot? The Wreck Trek off of Fort Lauderdale, Parke said. The proximity between three deep shipwrecks — Jay Scutti, Tracey, and Merci Jesus — allows divers to see more in one underwater trip. 

Though Parke, who is also a registered nurse, now instructs students from all skill levels, even beginners, on safety and proper diving and snorkeling techniques, she first learned how to dive from her military father, an Air Force pilot. 

“His way of providing only the best for his family was to teach us himself,” said Parke, who learned how to dive alongside her older brothers at their family pool in Miami. 

She did scuba recreationally for years until she saw a need for better instructors in the area, and started offering lessons and tours herself in 2002. 

“I knew I’d be good at it,” she said, adding, “There needed to be more women in our industry.” 

After decades of diving, Parke’s favorite part of the recreational water activity, she said, is seeing things she’s never seen before. And with so many accessible reefs and wreck off our shores, there’s always something new to see and explore. 

See below for more Greater Fort Lauderdale diving spots and where you can learn how to dive.

A man snorkeling with a school of yellow fish with black stripes

WHERE TO DIVE

Shipwreck Park
Where:
Pompano Beach
Depth: 60 to 130 feet
Skill Level: Advanced open water

Divers can explore the 324-foot-long 1967 Lady Luck (formerly the Newton Creek) and the 103-foot-long tugboat 1970 Okinawa. There is also public art to be found throughout the wrecks, including a newly added pirate’s treasure chest. The park is a nonprofit raising money to go towards acquiring vessels as well as spreading awareness of the need to save our coral reefs. So divers can enjoy their time underwater and feel good about it, too. 954-786-4607, shipwreckparkpompano.org

S.S. Copenhagen
Where:
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea
Depth: 15 to 30 feet
Skill Level: Open water diver or snorkeler

In the vicinity of Shipwreck Park, the S.S. Copenhagen wreck is a shallow dive that even snorkelers can partake in. The British cargo steamer struck a reef in 1900 and was used as target practice by Navy pilots during World War II. Today, more than 10,000 divers a year swim on the lookout for spiny lobsters, tropical fish, and other marine life.

Guy Harvey
Where:
Fort Lauderdale
Depth: 100 to 144 feet
Skill Level: Advanced open water

Fans of marine artist Guy Harvey will have to make a trip to this 185-foot-long wreck. In 1997, he created a mural along the freighter before sinking it. Originally known as the Lady Kimberly, the ship was built in 1957, and spent the last decade of her career sailing the Caribbean.

Ancient Mariner
Where:
Deerfield Beach
Depth: 50 to 70 feet
Skill Level: Open water diver

Due to the Ancient Mariner’s close proximity to a coral reef, fish of all kinds swim back and forth between the cutter and the reef. This includes a Goliath Grouper known to guard the wreckage. The 165-foot-long Ancient Mariner has had many lives, first as the Coast Guard cutter Nemesis in 1934, a sub-chaser in World War II, the floating restaurant Livingstone Landing, and now a diving hotspot.

Miss Dania Beach
Where:
Hollywood
Depth: 70 feet
Skill Level: Open water diver

Sunk in 2004 in honor of a local businessman who purchased the ship, the 126-foot former Royal Canadian navy vessel has new duties as the home of spadefish, grunts, jacks, and Goliath Grouper. Divers can swim through ports and cracks of the ship to get an inside look or check out the propeller and enormous anchor chain.

Separated Rocks
Where:
Deerfield Beach
Depth: 30 to 40 feet
Skill Level: Open water diver

Rainbow-hued parrot fish abound at this dive site, the perfect spot for beginner divers who want to enjoy low currents and high visibility. Divers will also find rock islands covered with corals, and you may come across a lobster diving on the hunt. Two angel statues stand guard, a tribute to fallen divers.

Hog Heaven
Where:
Fort Lauderdale
Depth: 70 feet
Skill Level: Open water diver

This isn’t an ordinary wreck for divers. When the barge was sunk in 1986, it flipped and landed upside down. This makes for a more interesting dive, and the schools of Hogfish who visit the artificial reef seem to think so, too. Just north of the wreck is what’s called the “Jungle Gym”. The Pacific Reef Lighthouse was sunk the same year and attracts snapper, spotted goatfish, grunts, nurse sharks, and Goliath Grouper.

LEARN TO DIVE

Private Scuba Lessons
Laura Parke, a master scuba diving instructor and RN, provides exclusive private scuba and snorkel lessons with personal, caring instruction as well as private underwater tours for beginning to advanced divers and snorkelers. 
Private Scuba Lessons- 417 SW 15th St. in Fort Lauderdale; 954-547-4818

Aquanauts Scuba Academy
Training of all kinds happens here, from water safety, lifeguard training, and scuba diving. Get a feel for scuba with the Discover Scuba Experience. Then take it to the next level with basic open water certification, adventure scuba, EANx diver, drift diver, night diver, deep diver, and more.  
Aquanauts Scuba Academy- 801 NE 33rd St. in Fort Lauderdale; 877-278-2824

Force-E Scuba Center
A scuba shop with monthly events (including ladies-only dives every first Friday). The instructors also lead certification classes in open water, advanced open water, rescue, specialty courses, and youth programs. Force-E Scuba Center- 1312 N. Federal Highway in Pompano Beach; 954-943-3483

Lauderdale Diver
Open since 1978, this dive shop offers dive trips, equipment services, and courses including PADI open water certification, advanced open water certification, emergency first response, rescue diver, master diver, and PADI divemaster. 
Lauderdale Diver- 1334 SE 17th St. Causeway in Fort Lauderdale; 954-467-2822

Parrot Island Scuba Adventures
Get certified with the group or continue your diving education with advanced, rescue and divemaster training. Then join for diving trips to sites around Greater Fort Lauderdale. 
Parrot Island Scuba Adventures- 2974 NE 14th St. in Pompano Beach; 954-942-7333

Pineapple Scuba
Fall in love with scuba diving, then get certified. This scuba school offers certification in open water (group and accelerated), advanced adventure, and a refresher course if you’re out of practice. Pineapple Scuba- 2935 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; 954-514-7235

Scuba Network
The business plans dive trips near and far with two locations, sells gear for your dive needs, and provides scuba-certified, advanced, and specialty training, technical dive training, and professional dive training. 
Scuba Network- 760 S. Federal Highway in Deerfield Beach, 954-422-9982; 3000 E Commercial Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, 954-491-7793