A lot of people call themselves “vacation divers” and are resigned to dive only once or twice a year (or less) when they can plan a big trip. But as I was recently scrolling through a list of 50 Stellar American Dive Sites compiled by Scuba Diving magazine on their website, I couldn’t help but notice that 10 of these stellar dive sites are within a reasonable driving distance from Northern Virginia. Wait a minute…Pick a weekend, pack up the car, and take a road trip to dive somewhere new and exciting while eschewing TSA restrictions, baggage fees, and flight delays? Let’s do it!
Remember that if you choose to take this kind of dive vacation, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared. It’s not a bad idea to bring an extra tank or two. Also, a save-a-dive kit is crucial, because you won’t always have a dive professional at the ready to help you replace a broken mask strap, fin strap, or blown O-ring. Our staff is ready to help you put together a kit that can ensure you spend the day checking out wrecks or diving with fish, lobsters, and sharks instead of enduring your friends’ stories of everything you missed. Finally, now would be a good time to pick up a dive camera. You’ll need it to prove to your coworkers that you were on a scuba adventure without missing a day of work.
You might also consider combining your dives with a little detour into the local attractions. These dive sites are conveniently located near some outstanding golf courses, beautiful beaches, craft breweries, Broadway shows, and self-guided lighthouse tours. Make the most of your trip by experiencing everything the area has to offer.
The following list includes each site’s distance from Occoquan and approximate drive time. The descriptions are based on those offered by Scuba Diving magazine, and I’ve included a map for a quick overview of where the dive sites are located relative to Patriot Scuba.
Mid-Atlantic / North
African Queen (wreck dive) – Ocean City, Maryland (172 miles; 3 hours)
This 590-foot-long tanker ran aground on Gull Shoal in 1958, prompting the captain to command “full astern,” which stressed the vessel to the point of snapping in two. Today, only the bow section remains, sitting upside down at a depth of 73 feet. This site is excellent for finding lobsters, flounder and barracuda. Local Dive Guide: Cold Water, Beginner Dives, Small Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip
Dutch Springs – Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (218 miles; 4 hours)
More than 30 vehicles, including a helicopter, trolley, and fire engine, lie submerged in this 50-acre lake. Expect impossibly clear visibility — and lots of friendly divers —when the park is open from April through November. Local Dive Guide: Cold Water, Beginner Dives, Small Animals, Self-Guided
Old Atlantic Beach Bridge – Atlantic Beach, New York (270 miles; 4.5 hours)
For a great lobster spot, check out the remains of this old causeway off Long Island. Best accessed from a boat, this site also offers encounters with huge schools of bass. Local Dive Guide: Cold Water, Beginner Dives, Small Animals, Self-Guided, Summer Trip
Shark Diving – Montauk, New York (368 miles; 6.5 hours)
Witness the curiosity of blue and mako sharks from within the safety of an aluminum cage. During the months of June to September when the sharks appear, make the two-hour trek to open water just 20 miles off Long Island. Visibility fluctuates between 20 and 100 feet. Local Dive Guide: Warm Water, Big Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip
Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse – York, Maine (519 miles; 8 hours)
This is the longest drive of all 10 sites, but presents a great opportunity to experience the charms of the Pine Tree State. Suit up next to a still-working Cape Neddick lighthouse, which opened in 1879, and wade into this lagoon where lobsters, skates, crabs, and flounder take shelter among the granite rock. The on-site facilities make it a popular spot, and the lit parking lot makes night diving especially attractive. Go after dusk to experience bioluminescence, squid, and small sharks. Local Dive Guide: Cold Water, Beginner Dives, Small Animals, Self-Guided, Summer Trip
USCGC Spar (wreck dive) – Beaufort, North Carolina (340 miles; 5.5 hours)
You’ll feel like you’re being followed — and you’ll be right. Sand tiger sharks, also known as ragged tooth sharks, or “raggies,” aren’t an aggressive species, but they are exceptionally curious of visitors. They swarm this 180-foot-long wreck in groups of six or more, joined by schools of amberjack, vermilion snapper, Atlantic spadefish, and silversides. Local Dive Guide: Warm Water, Advanced Dives, Big Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip
Hyde (wreck dive) – Wilmington, North Carolina (348 miles; 5 hours)
This purpose-sunk 215-foot-long hopper dredge outfitted with guns sits upright in 85 feet of water. Sand tiger shark sightings are common, as are sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, turtles, and schools of barracuda and amberjack. The wreck supports light penetration. Local Dive Guide: Warm Water, Advanced Dives, Big Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip
U-352 (wreck dive) – Cape Lookout, North Carolina (359 miles; 6.5 hours)
This German sub will elicit a visceral response from any diver. First, the visibility typically allows you to take in its 220-foot entirety as you descend. Swim the length of ship and try to comprehend that a minimum of 45 men worked inside. Lastly, the site is a war grave memorializing the 15 lost. Local Dive Guide: Warm Water, Advanced Dives, Small Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip
SS Carib Sea (wreck dive) – Cape Lookout, North Carolina (359 miles; 6.5 hours)
Torpedoed in 1942, this 261-foot-long cargo freighter is mostly intact at a depth of 85 feet. The structure draws spadefish, amberjack, stingrays, and sand tiger sharks, sometimes as many as 50 per dive. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, visibility can range from 60 to 90 feet. Local Dive Guide: Warm Water, Advanced Dives, Big Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip
Hebe (wreck dive) – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (410 miles; 6.5 hours)
Forty-two miles off the coast, this merchant vessel sits at 115 feet and attracts “pretty much everything — turtles, baitfish, hundreds of amberjack, grouper, and stacks of barracuda,” says Cameron Sebastian, Coastal Scuba operations manager. Sand tigers appear in fall and winter. Local Dive Guide: Warm Water, Advanced Dives, Big Animals, Guide Needed, Summer Trip