14 Shipwrecks In The Florida Keys For Snorkeling
The clear waters of Florida Keys feature not only vibrant healthy reefs but also several shipwrecks. In total, there is an estimated 1000 wreckages in the area. Most of them rest in deeper waters and can be seen while diving only, but there are many that rest shallow enough to be accessible for snorkelers and freedivers too. If you are interested in visiting these unique spots, here is a list of 14 snorkeling shipwrecks in the Florida Keys!
Table of Contents
- What is the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail?
- Biscayne National Park Shipwrecks
- Key Largo Shipwrecks
- Wrecks near Islamorada
- Shipwrecks off Marathon
- Key West Wrecks
What is the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail?
The Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail Is a line of wreck diving and snorkeling sites from Key Largo to Key West. It was established by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with the aim of encouraging divers and snorkelers to discover the area’s maritime history.
Most shipwrecks in the Florida Keys ran aground on the area’s reefs due to bad weather or orientational mistakes, while some were intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs where marine life can settle and thrive. The wreckages are resting in various depths between 12 and 120 ft (3.6-36m) meaning that snorkelers and divers at all levels can find some interesting Florida Keys shipwrecks to explore.
Biscayne National Park Shipwrecks
Biscayne National Park snorkeling spots include several wrecks. In total, sick wreckages can be found on the Maritime Heritage Trail and three of them are accessible/visible for snorkelers too.
The best snorkeling shipwreck in Biscayne National Park is the Mandalay, on the eastern part of the National Park. This 112 ft (34 m) long steel-hulled schooner was built in 1928, then it was turned into a cruise ship. It ran aground on New Year’s Day in 1966 on Long Reef while heading back to Miami from the Bahamas.
The remains of it are spread out in about 12 ft/3.6m deep water making it an easy snorkeling for beginners too. The area is home to a variety of soft corals and schools of colorful Florida reef fish.
Lying also on Long Reef south of the Mandalay, Lugano is a little deeper wreck (20-30ft/6.1-9.1m) but still enjoyable for snorkelers too given calm and clear water conditions.
An interesting fact is that the Lugano was the largest vessel that ever wrecked in the Keys; this 350ft (106m) long British Steamer wrecked in Biscayne National Park due to rough seas while en route to Havana from Miami in March 1913.
The wreck of Lugano is in good condition; its outline is visible, and its remains created an artificial reef that attracts fantastic aquatic life to the area.
SS Erl King
The third Florida Keys shipwreck resting in the waters of Biscayne is situated at a depth of 18ft/5.4m. This 306 ft (93.2m) cargo ship ran aground first at Tennessee Reef in January 1881, but it was rescued at that time.
Its second incident was less fortunate; the Erl King sank ten years later on Long Reef, in December 1891 on its voyage from Swansea to New Orleans. The remains of it are mostly concrete objects that were one concrete mix filled barrels.
Key Largo Shipwrecks
While Key Largo is most famous for the underwater Jesus statue and its incredible coral reefs, you will find there a good number of shipwrecks too to explore!
City of Washington
The City of Washington was a cargo ship operating between Cuba, Mexico and New York. She served as a carrier during the Spanish-American War, then it was used for coal transportation. In 1917, she sank on Elbow Reef, a relatively shallow snorkeling site in Key Largo.
Her remains lie in 16-30 ft of water (5-9 m) and are in pretty good condition. Expect to find here vibrant coral reefs and, shoals of playful young fish as well as barracudas and eels. Sometimes even nurse sharks and turtles can be spotted at the City of Washington wreckage!
Mike’s Wreck – Hannah M. Bell
The origin of the wreckage that rests not so far from City of Washington was a mystery for many years. It was named Mike’s Wreck by an employee of a local dive shop and most people still know it like this, however, it was confirmed later that it is the Hannah M. Bell, a cargo vessel that sank in 1911.
With a max. depth of 25 ft (7.6m), this is one of the best shipwrecks of the Florida Keys for snorkeling. The remains of the ship scattered the area and were overgrown by stony brain corals and sea fans. Various fish species can be seen around the reef such as butterflyfish, tangs, angel and parrotfish as well as eagle rays, eels and nurse sharks.
This Norwegian marine freighter collided with another ship and wrecked between Dixie Shoals and French Reef in 1942. Although it lies in deeper water(25-45ft/7.6-13.7m), the Benwood is considered one of the best shipwreck snorkeling in Florida thanks to the good condition of the wreck and rich marine life around. In fact, it is one of the most visited wreck diving sites in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary!
SS Benwood became an excellent artificial reef that gives shelter to schools of fish and marine species like moray eels and turtles, but often eagle rays, manta rays and different shark species visit the site too!
Wrecks near Islamorada
Shallow patch reefs available with short boat rides make Islamorada snorkeling places beloved among underwater adventurers. But wait, did you know that the waters surrounding Islamorada offer wreck sites too? Let’s see them now!
Known as the oldest of the Florida Keys shipwrecks, San Pedro, another member of the Spanish Treasure Fleet ran aground due to a hurricane in 1733. The remains of the ship including dense stones and ballast rest in 18 feet of water (5.4 m) near Indian Key.
Today, San Pedro is an Underwater Archaeological Preserve; an anchor, cannons and a bronze plaque were added to make the site more enjoyable and attract more divers and snorkelers.
The historic wreck of El Capitan lies not far from Davis Reef at a depth of 20ft/6m. It was a Spanish Fleet treasure ship carrying silver pesos and gold coins from Havana to Spain in 1733 when almost the entire fleet (17 out of 22 ships) got wrecked in the Keys due to a heavy hurricane.
This wreck site offers a lot of interesting things to see. It is suitable for novice divers too as it is easy to enter.
Tres Puentes is still an unconfirmed wreck; it is not 100% what was the name of it, but it is known that this 3-deck vessel was also part of the Spanish Fleet and submerged due to the 1733 hurricane.
This snorkel and dive spot is south of Snake Creek Bridge, about 2.5 miles from Whale Harbor near the Herrera Wreck in 18ft deep water (5.4m). As Tres Puentes was carrying many goods including gold and silver, its wreckage became a popular spot among treasure hunters who found here golden medallions and silver coins.
Now it is a SPA Sanctuary Preservation Area so nothing can be removed from the site, but it is still an interesting Florida Keys shipwreck to visit!
Shipwrecks off Marathon
When it is about snorkeling in Marathon, most people think about popular reefs like Coffins Patch and Sombrero Reef; but why not explore some underwater historical sites too when in the area? Here are the best Marathon wrecks you can add to your snorkeling itinerary!
This shallow water wreck just 4 miles southeast of Duck Key, near Marathon is a popular place for shipwreck snorkeling in Florida. The Adelaide Baker sank in 1889 near Coffins Patch Reef and she rests today in 20ft/6m of water.
The wreck site is divided into two areas and the debris field covers more than 1440 ft area. The first location is where the Adelaide Baker wrecked, while the second area includes the material that was removed from the ship during the salvage.
Beautiful coral and sea life settled on and around the ship remain including gorgonians and different kinds of tropical fish like rainbow, parrotfish and angelfish.
The 112 ft (34.1 m) long wreckage of North America lies in just 14 ft (4.3 m) deep water north of Delta Shoals. Although the biggest part of the ship is buried beneath the sand, the North America offers one of the most interesting shipwreck snorkeling in Florida Keys and is one of the most popular in the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail.
The shallow water and excellent visibility make the North America an enjoyable dive and snorkel site. While exploring around the wood hull, barrels and planks, you can observe a wide variety of fish such as wrasses, grunts and yellowtail snappers.
A slave ship that sank between Delta Shoals and Sombrero Reef near Marathon in 1853 while bringing people from Africa to America creates the Ivory coast wreck. It got its name after the elephant tusks that were found in its hold along with artifacts like gold and silver bars, anchor and cannons.
The shallowness of the water (15ft/4.5m) allows marine life to thrive at this site; sponges, hard and soft corals and of course many usual Florida sea creatures can be seen here such as reef fish, barracudas, lobsters, sharks and sometimes rays too!
Looe Key is one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the Keys thanks to its incredibly rich marine life and excellent conditions. At the eastern edge of this fantastic reef lies HMS Looe, a British Frigate that smashed into the shallow Looe reef in 1744. According to the stories, she was towing a French ship but no one has ever found it.
The remnants of the ship rest in 20-25 ft deep water (6.9-7.6 m) surrounded by an abundance of marine life: bigger fishes such as jackfish, barracudas and groupers can be seen here on top of the usual reef fish, but you can expect to encounter sharks too!
Key West Wrecks
If it comes to the question of where to snorkel in Florida, Florida’s southernmost subtropical paradise is still the number one choice. Key West provides visitors with the possibility of discovering reefs teeming with marine life as well as some exciting wreckages including one accessible for snorkelers too!
Windjammer Avanti Dutch Wreck
Located within the Dry Tortugas National Park a mile of Loggerhead Key, the Windjammer is one of the most popular among Florida Keys wreck diving sites. Its shallow depth (22ft/6.7m) makes it an excellent choice for snorkelers and novice divers. At low tide, some parts of the wreck are exposed.
The Avanti Wreck sank in January 1907 and has two wreckage fields as the ship’s hull broke apart from the main mast; one is oriented east-west and another to north-south. The array of colorful stony and soft corals settled on it and rich sea life frequenting the area make the Windjammer one of the most enjoyable Key West snorkeling places.
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