Oriskany Reef Dive Safety Considerations

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages all scuba divers choosing to dive the Oriskany artificial reef to establish a plan for a safe and enjoyable dive experience.  We have compiled this page to help acquaint divers with some specific issues related to the Oriskany artificial reef and to remind divers of some basic scuba safety protocols that should be applied for a safe dive.  Due to its depth, distance from shore, and potential currents, all divers should gain appropriate training, equipment, fitness and experience before diving the Oriskany.  At all times divers should follow the guidelines and safe diving practices provided during their training.

The Oriskany Reef was deployed on the morning of May 17, 2006 at a depth of 212 feet, located approximately 22.5 nautical miles southeast of Pensacola Pass. This position and water depth was selected in order to locate the vessel as close to the inlet as possible while still maintaining the minimum 55 ft. vertical navigational clearance required by US Army Corps of Engineers permit.  Because the ship is wider than it is tall, and there was no guarantee that the ship would not land on her side, the ship's 157-foot beam was used to determine the necessary 212 ft. seafloor depth.  The Oriskany is located at the exact planned coordinates, sitting upright on the seafloor in a north-south orientation with the bow facing due south.

As in many artificial reefs, divers are reminded that conditions change over time as the structure is influenced by currents, scouring, and storm events.  Additionally, steel artificial reef materials such as the Oriskany Reef will gradually experience structural changes as metal components naturally corrode in the marine environment. Due to the changing nature of dive conditions, we encourage all divers to speak with local dive shops prior to planning your dive to determine the most recent dive conditions on the Oriskany and plan the dive accordingly.  For example, as a result of currents and scouring, the vessel has gradually settled into the sand bottom and now rests approximately 12 feet deeper than the original depth.

The depth gauge measurements on the Oriskany recorded by FWC divers on November 19, 2010 (3.5 years after deployment) were as follows, and as illustrated in the diagram below:

Flight deck = 145 feet at mid-island, increasing to 150 feet towards the bow, maybe greater
Top of forward bridge = 118 feet
Top of aft gun platform = 109 feet
Top of forward gun platform = 107 feet
Top deck level on island = 84 feet
Navigational clearance = 80 feet

Starboard view of the Oriskany

Please use these depths as basic reference points to plan your dive based on your level of scuba training, experience, proficiency and equipment. All divers are reminded of the likelihood of changing conditions over time and are encouraged to speak with local dive shops to determine to most recent depths and conditions on the vessel. Since all dives are to be done as a buddy team, maximum depths should be planned based on the buddy with the lowest level of training, experience, proficiency and equipment.

The FWC would like to remind scuba divers of several basic safety issues that are consistent with all scuba training:

  1. Never dive beyond your training level. Going below a depth of 135 feet requires technical training and special equipment.
  2. Divers should have advance training to go beyond 100 feet (there is plenty to see above 100 feet).
  3. Divers should have advanced wreck (or cave) training to penetrate the ship in an overhead environment. No modifications have been made to the ship to accommodate penetration dives.
  4. Dive your deepest part of the dive first (whatever depth you plan to do), stay a very short time, the rest of the dive will be decompression and can be done safely.
  5. Plan your dive and dive your plan.
  6. Plan on a very slow accent.
  7. Plan on doing a longer safety stop, perhaps 5 minutes at 15 feet (normally 3 minutes).
  8. Always stay hydrated.
  9. Always us the buddy system and know your buddy's gear.
  10. Always have someone at the surface and never leave your boat unattended while diving.
  11. Always carry a visual signal device such as an inflatable 'safety sausage' to signal your location in the event you and/or your team become separated from your anchor line and surface away from your boat.
  12. Always check the marine forecast and use safe boating practices while traveling to and from the Oriskany.

Because the Oriskany is in deep water and can be affected by strong water currents, divers are strongly encouraged to use extreme caution when diving this reef.  Always be aware of your starting location and the location of your descent/ascent line.  Begin the dive swimming into the current so you can conserve energy by returning with the current in the later part of the dive.  Stay on the lee side of the island to be protected from the current for most of the dive, particularly during the deeper portion of your dive.

Due to the complex nature of the ship's interior and the unknown extent of structural damages caused by the reefing process and natural changes over time, the FWC recommends that divers should not enter the ship under any circumstances.  Divers should not remove any items from the ship (it is against the law).  All recyclable materials of value have been previously removed. There is nothing inside the ship worth dying for! Be safe.

The uppermost structure of the Oriskany is located at:
Latitude 30 degrees 2 minutes 33.3 seconds north (Lat 30o 2.555' N)
Longitude 87 degrees 0 minutes 23.8 seconds west. (Lon 87o 0.397'W)

Safe Diving,
The FWC Division of Marine Fisheries Management, Artificial Reef Program

FWC Facts:
Approximately 1.7 million acres of Florida's remaining natural areas have been invaded by nonindigenous plant species, which have degraded and diminished our ecosystem.

Learn More at AskFWC