1.) Before Booking a Trip, Check The Weather Conditions
Bad or even marginal weather often equates directly into rough seas. The Florida Keys offer beautiful weather all through the year but they are exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and subject to its temperament. The Gulf Stream’s location in relation to land can fluctuate immensely from one day to the next. These weather and ocean conditions make it unpleasant and often unsafe to dive around the shallow reefs. If the weather isn’t beautiful today, explore the Keys and dive tomorrow.
2.) Consider the Crowds
Knowing that the Keys offer beautiful weather year around, understand the busy season and when the seasons are more relaxed. In the Keys diving is usually busier in the spring and summer months, so plan accordingly. Boats are far more crowded in May and June than in September and October but the diving isn’t any different.
3.) Research, Research, Research
Before you make your scuba diving plans in the Florida Keys, do a little homework. Each section of the Keys provides unique dive sites. Jump online and read up on what the Upper, Middle or Lower Keys offer in terms of diving and decide what works for you. You’ll find protected shallow reefs popular up north while further south in the Middle Keys you can find deeper artificial reefs in the form of wrecks.
4.) Bring a Camera
An underwater camera is an important piece of gear to have when scuba diving in the Keys. A large portion of the Keys are “no take” zones. Coral is prohibited to take in all of the Keys. If you want to show the folks back home what you saw or just want mementos of your dives, you’ll need a camera. The Keys offer a great mix of colorful life, in all shapes and sizes and I’ve never seen a diver unhappy with their shots.
5.) Know Your Boat
This seems really silly, but know your boat. Make note of and remember its name. When you get into the water, take a look at what it looks like underwater. There are few things more embarrassing than finishing your dive on the wrong boat. You’d be surprised how often this happens and regardless of roll calls, check in procedures and head counts (not to mention divers not being able to locate their own gear bags) you’d be more surprised to learn how often it isn’t discovered until the boat hits the dock. This is one of the most embarrassing things that can ever happen to a diver.
6.) Fly Casual
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years when packing for your Keys diving adventure is that the rule is CASUAL. Nice dress for women is a sundress and for the men, a nice pair of jeans and any shirt with more than 3 buttons is considered dressy. One of my favorite places to relax in the evenings prepares my meal on a converted 55 gallon drum grill and my drinks come from a cooler.
7.) Be Careful
I leave the most important for last. I can’t stress this enough. During your entire diving adventure, LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH. Use extreme care to control your buoyancy. The Florida Keys offer us the only living coral reef in the Continental US. Its survival is a constant struggle due to weather, climate and ocean conditions. Human interaction can be infinitely more destructive than any or all of that. When damaged it can take decades if not centuries to fully recover. The reef you damage today will never be the same. Not in our life time nor our kids lifetime.