The definitive guide to living and working in the Cayman Islands
May 05, 2016
Scuba Diving in Cayman
Last updated: 26th November 2015
As residents of these Islands, we are well aware that the Cayman Islands are world renowned for their incredible scuba diving and snorkelling. Underwater visibility is second to none, there are virtually no currents and the Caribbean Sea is warm and calm. There are amazing wall dives and beautiful coral reefs and wrecks to discover, all of which are teeming with tropical fish. If you are ‘dive-curious’ there are a host of dive operators that can teach you how to dive, improve your skills, or even turn your passion into a career. Indeed, the Cayman Islands offer a wealth of opportunities for anyone interested in getting in, under or on the water at every skill level.
2015 brought a great deal of recognition to Cayman’s dive scene, with the Island voted as the 2015 Best Overall Diving in the Caribbean/Atlantic region by the readers of Scuba Diving Magazine. In addition, three of Cayman’s dive resorts were inducted into TripAdvisor’s 2015 Hall of Fame: Sunset House and Compass Point Dive Resort in Grand Cayman and Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman. This award is given when locations receive five Certificates of Excellence due to amazing reviews. Websites like idivecayman.com are elevating the dive scene also, with idive providing stunning HD footage of dive sites all over Grand Cayman.
WRECK DIVINGWreck diving in the Cayman Islands is becoming increasingly popular as it provides a dramatic diving experience, as well as attracting thousands of species of fish, beautiful coral and sponges. There are a number of spectacular wrecks situated around the Cayman Islands and as more marine life inhabits these sites, the better they get. It’s fair to say that the following dive sites should be at the top of any divers’ list.
The KittiwakeThe 251ft decommissioned military ship, the ex-USS Kittiwake, is the most popular dive site in Grand Cayman. She received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2013 and is consistently rated one of the top 10 wreck dive sites in the world. The ship rests on a sandy patch in 64ft of water off the northern end of Seven Mile Beach and the bridge and smoke stack lie less than 15ft from the surface, making it ideal for snorkellers and divers. The Kittiwake is situated in the marine park which is protected under Cayman law and means that nothing can be touched or removed. Wearing gloves and fishing (other than lionfish culling) are both prohibited at the wreck site.
There is a marine park entry fee to snorkel or dive the site and all vessels, commercial or private, are required to be licensed. Dive visitors are given a medallion to wear to show that their entry fee has been paid and snorkellers receive a wristband. Private vessels can also be licensed to visit the site. For safety reasons, it is not advisable to swim to the Kittiwake from the shore. There is a significant amount of boat and jetski traffic that travel at high speeds through this area. If you would like to dive or snorkel the Kittiwake, you must go with a licensed operator so contact the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) or a dive company to arrange a trip. The fees are CI$8 per day to dive and CI$4 per day to snorkel. You can also get an annual pass for CI$25 or a lifetime pass for CI$250. Visit www.kittiwakecayman.com for more information.
CaliLess than 40 yards off-shore of George Town and only 20-30ft deep, the wreck of the Cali is an easy and enjoyable dive for beginners. The 220ft steel schooner, which rests in pieces on the sea floor, is easily accessible from the shore and you can swim out to it in under a minute.
BalboaSituated among small surrounding reefs, the wreckage of this 375ft freighter is home to a large variety of fish and coral. It lies approximately 150ft off the west coast of the Island at a depth of only 40-50ft. You can explore the ship’s stern section and swim over the large three-bladed propellers. The wreck is situated around the cruise ship docking area and so is only accessible by boat. It is recommended you use a diving company for this dive, who will get you there and back safely.
Oro VerdeThis 84ft steel cargo vessel is a popular choice among wreck divers. It can be found 40-50ft below the surface and about 100ft off Seven Mile Beach, so it is not suitable for a shore dive. The amount of marine life available for viewing is spectacular considering how shallow the wreck is. Unfortunately the ship has collapsed somewhat due to the elements, but the real stars of this wreck are the animals that make it their home, like the massive jewfish that has come to be known as George, the moray eel named Kermit and Puff the barracuda.
Carrie LeeFor those who are Trimix certified, the Carrie Lee is recommended as a more challenging and technical dive. The 185ft freighter is completely intact and rests at a depth of 180-260ft off the south-west coast. The wreck is teeming with numerous types of wildlife and provides a great diving experience. However, divers should take caution against the currents that surround this wreck and keep an eye on their gas. You need to use a dive company for this dive.
Doc Polson150 yards off Seven Mile Beach, just past Cemetery Reef, lies the Doc Polson wreck. Though the 100ft cable layer sank back in 1982, it is still 80% intact and is populated with diverse marine life, making it one of the most popular dive sites in Cayman. It is recommended to use a boat to get to the site, as there is some boating traffic around the area. Even if you do use a boat it is still a good idea to remember to put a flag float of some sort on the surface to indicate to other boats that you are there.
Keith Tibbetts, Cayman BracThis 330ft Russian brigadier was sunk in 1996 with the intention of creating an artificial reef. It is now home to thousands of fish, turtles and grunts. Lying about 200 yards off shore and 56ft underwater, it is the only Russian warship in the Western Hemisphere available for scuba diving. In 2004, a storm broke the ship in two and her bow now sits at a 45 degree angle. Although her amidships have become a debris field she is still a very popular dive site. The drop off to the wall is a mere 100ft away from the wreck and extends down thousands of feet giving divers the option of exploring the wall or staying close to the wreck.
DIVE 365Dive 365 is an exciting programme that has developed a total of 365 separate dive sites around the Cayman Islands, giving divers a unique dive site for every day of the year. As well as enabling divers to explore the magnificent underwater world, the programme also allows sites to be rested. The diversity of sites offers dive options for all skill levels. Divers can explore 235 dive sites in Grand Cayman, 65 in Cayman Brac and 66 in Little Cayman. For more information call CITA on (345) 949 8522 or email: email@example.com. Additionally, idivecayman.com provides HD footage and diver reviews of each of the 235 dives in Grand Cayman, making it a helpful resource when deciding on a particular site.
LIONFISHThey are voracious predators that devour small and juvenile fish and crustaceans in large quantities, as well as competing with native species for space and other food. This, coupled with the fact that they can reach reproductive maturity at less than one-year old and can then lay 30,000 eggs every four days, makes them a major problem in Cayman waters. Diver, snorkellers, and fishermen who have been licensed by The Department of Environment (DoE) are encouraged to remove lionfish whenever possible. They run a free 90-minute licensing course that is open to everyone. Alternatively, courses can be taken with your local dive operator. For more detailed information call the DOE on (345) 949 8469 or (345) 916 4271 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A surprising fact is that lionfish is delicious. A white fish, they are mild and flaky when cooked. If you don’t want to catch them yourself, they appear on the menu at Tukka and Eagle Rays Sports Bar & Grill in the East End, Guy Harvey’s in George Town and the Greenhouse Restaurant in West Bay. In fact, 250 pounds of the fish are sold to local restaurants every week! This is one reef fish we can eat with a clean conscience!
LEARNING TO DIVELearning to dive is essential for many new arrivals to the Island. Popular training agencies for diver education and certification are PADI, NAUI, SDI, NAUI and SSI, offered by a variety of dive operators in Cayman. Prior to committing to a full certification programme, many people test the water, so to speak, by taking a Resort Course first. This ‘mini-course’ consists of a short theory session where you’ll learn the simple do’s and don’ts of diving, get an introduction to the equipment and receive an explanation of some very basic skills. You will then get to dive in a swimming pool, to become acclimatised to being underwater, before finally taking a real ocean dive with your instructor. This programme normally takes about four hours and is a great way to see if diving is for you.
While the Resort Course is a fantastic introduction, it does have limitations - you have to go with an instructor, you are limited to a shallow depth and you can only dive again with the dive shop who you completed the course with. If you want to go further, the next step is to complete the Open Water Certification course.
Adult Open Water CoursesThe Open Water Course is often completed in as little as three days and is the licence you need to dive. Many people choose the E-Learning route which allows you to do the class work at home, on the computer. This option gets you in the ocean quicker and out of the classroom on your days off! Completion of this training is the minimum qualification required to rent equipment, go on excursions and basically get you in and out of the water safely. Many dive operators on the Island offer flexible learning options designed to suit your schedule.
Dive Courses for ChildrenThe Open Water Course is also open to those aged 10 and up, with children under 15 able to become certified as Junior Open Water divers. Options even exist for you to be taught at home in your own pool.
For little ones, there are lots of educational and fun water-based scuba/snorkel activities to participate in while parents are out diving. Programmes include SASY (from age five), Rangers or Seals (from age eight), Junior Open Water Diver (from age 10) and of course, guided diving excursions to the shallow reefs, Stingray City and the Kittiwake. Programmes range from pool sessions to ocean adventures, with kids learning about marine life, fish identification, coral reefs, underwater photography or even cruising on an underwater scooter.
Certified Divers Shore diving is a very popular and convenient weekend pursuit. Sunset House, Don Fosters and Divetech are some of the oldest dive resorts on the Island and all boast great shore diving. You can also ask for discounted rates for residents.
As a certified diver you can also go on boat excursions to discover the Cayman wall. For many, the main reason to dive in Cayman is to explore the most amazing walls and drop-offs. You will soon have your own favourite sites and your conversations will turn to North West Point, Tarpon Alley, Great House Wall, Orange Canyon and other coral covered swim-throughs, where you’ll cruise alongside eagle rays, horse-eyed jacks and hawksbill turtles.
Dive Trips Before long, you will be taking two-tank (two dive) trips to explore the renowned beauty of the West Wall, which runs parallel to Seven Mile Beach, the breath-taking North Wall and East End, where the scenery is some of the most dramatic and encounters with large fish are frequent. Generally, dive boats will leave early and get you home for lunch. There are afternoon trips too. The first dive will probably be one of the wall dives. Experienced divers will have the opportunity to explore with their dive buddy or have a guide to show you all the critters and not worry about navigation. The best thing about guided dives is that the instructors know where they are going and will show you the best a particular site has to offer. After a short surface interval, you will be on a second dive on one of Cayman’s shallow reefs or wrecks. By exploring the nooks and crannies, you see a host of amazing creatures including lobsters, eels, soft coral, sea anemones and more. The colours will amaze you and are more vibrant due to the increased level of light in shallower water.
Sunset House, just south of George Town, provides great shore diving as well as boat dives. Divetech is located both at Cobalt Coast (northwest Grand Cayman) and also at Lighthouse Point, in West Bay. They also offer great shore and boat dives to the walls and have extremely experienced staff offering a number of courses, including advanced/technical programmes and Rebreathers. Divetech’s mini-wall is a must see! Finally, you should also head out to visit Ocean Frontiers in East End to experience some dramatic wall dives and caverns.
Once you have caught the dive bug, head over to the Sister Islands for a few days of relaxing into the slower pace of life and diving some of Cayman’s pristine dive sites - all only a 30-minute flight away. You will not be disappointed with Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman, with its beautiful drop-offs, corals and marine life. Finally, Cayman Brac is famous for the Wreck of Captain Keith Tibbetts, an interesting and very popular dive site.
Advanced Diving Courses You may want to complete further courses to build on your experience. The Advanced course is next and introduces you to deep diving, night diving and navigation. There is very little classroom study and the majority of the course is completed in the water. Various advanced courses include: underwater photography/videography classes, search and recovery, stingray interaction, reef awareness, wreck diving, scooters, buoyancy, technical applications and the extremely popular Enriched Air (Nitrox) course.
Technical Diving If you are truly adventurous, you can learn to use Rebreathers (devices originally designed by the military that emit no bubbles or noise), mixed gases and techniques for extended-range diving. While Divetech is by no means a purely technical operation, they can offer all the deep diving equipment and advice you will need.
Technical dives, by definition, are: dives conducted beyond the 130ft depth limit for recreational diving; dives requiring a decompression stop; dives beyond the light zone or dives into an overhead environment. Obviously, this type of advanced, extended-range diving is not for everyone and requires a commitment to safe, responsible, self-disciplined diving. Technical diving is a challenging recreational sport and like skiing a black diamond run or climbing Mount Everest, diving at this level cannot be accomplished overnight. It takes a love of the sport, a lot of training and practice.
Nitrox, Advanced Nitrox, Normoxic, Trimix and Advanced Trimix courses enable divers to safely explore greater depths. Nitrox diving is open to anyone and is basically diving with 32% oxygen (regular air has 21% oxygen). This allows divers to dive to the same depths as normal scuba divers, but for a longer bottom time before reaching decompression limits. Nitrox has the added bonus of making one feel less tired after a dive. A Nitrox course costs CI$125 and one tank of Nitrox will only cost about CI$5 more than a regular tank of air. If you like diving between 100 - 150ft, Advanced Nitrox enables you to stay safely at these depths for about 45 minutes instead of the usual 10-20 minutes. Basically, you dive with double tanks or a Rebreather, including a side mounted deco bottle, and have to learn the fundamentals of decompression diving.
Normoxic Trimix takes divers to the 200ft range, reducing oxygen content to about 18% and adding some helium to buffer the effects of narcosis. For those wishing to go deeper (330ft+), Advanced Trimix and Expedition courses are also offered by Divetech.
Rebreather diving (Closed Circuit Rebreathers/CCR) is another form of diving that has become very popular. CCR equipment allows you to massively extend your dive time. You could spend three hours at 100 feet! The advantage of using a Rebreather is that there are no bubbles, so you get up close and personal with the marine life; the air you breathe is warmer and more moist, so you stay warmer and your dive is more comfortable and of course, you get extended bottom times with limited decompression issues. Rebreather diving courses are now more accessible, with three-day courses for about CI$400, excluding equipment hire.
You may even wish to turn your passion for diving into a career by becoming a dive master. This training develops your skills to a professional level. You’ll work alongside full-time instructors working with real students and you get paid too!
Local Dive Operators Ambassador Divers
Tel: (345) 949 4530
Divetech at Lighthouse Point
Tel: (345) 949 1700
Offers shore diving, daily boat trips, Stingray City, the Kittiwake and black light night dives and the Guardian of the Reef. Training is available including Rebreathers, technical diving and diving for children. Located on the pristine North West Point in West Bay. Shore diving is available daily 7:30am-5pm. On site you will also find a retail store, equipment to rent, plenty of training options and more.
Tel: (345) 945 1611
218 South Church Street, George Town
Tel: (345) 949 5679
Located on the waterfront, Don Foster’s offer luxurious dive boats and professional, friendly staff. Join their daily 2-tank and 1-tank dives or visit the Kittiwake and Stingray City, suitable for both for divers and snorkellers. Shore divers enjoy the easy access to Casuarina Point Reef to discover its healthy coral and thriving aquatic life. Don Foster’s offer Discover Scuba Diving classes, Open Water and Divemaster courses, plus boat training from small power boat to dive boat mate courses.
Tel: (345) 949 7243
Ocean Frontiers, Ltd.
Tel: (345) 947 7500
Sunset Divers at Sunset House Hotel
390 South Church Street, South Sound
Tel: (345) 946 6789
Weekly and weekend resident courses, equipment rental, boat dives and VIP programmes (train at home).
Wall to Wall Diving
Tel: (345) 916 6408
White Sand Watersports
Wyndham Reef Resort, East End
Tel: (345) 938 7263
Specialises in smaller diver groups. PADI courses and Introductory courses available.
Underwater Photography LessonsCathy Church’s Underwater Photo Centre
Sunset House, South Church Street
Tel: (345) 949 7415
They offer daily private underwater photography courses in the classroom and on
shore dives. Classes with Cathy Church herself are CI$123 per hour or CI$49 per hour if you choose to go with another member of staff. They also rent and sell a full range of underwater cameras that come with a free mini-lesson. Call for an appointment.
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