The diversity of Florida dive opportunities is astounding. Want to see coral reefs? Giant, rare animals such as sea turtles, manatees, sharks and goliath groupers? Caves and springs? They're all here.
Even those of us who live here and dive frequently wish that we could get underwater more often. That's why we're really careful when dive -- we want to live to dive another day .
Dive accidents are certainly the exception, and it's easy to keep yourself from becoming one of those exceptions by practicing safe dive habits.
The most important rule in diving is never to attempt a dive that greatly exceeds your experience level without a qualified expert and some training.
If you're new to diving, take your time getting certified and study well. Or, if you haven't been underwater in a while, ask a local dive operator about some review courses, and start with a simple, shallow dive or two in clear water.
There's no place like the Keys for that experience. Learn or re-learn buoyancy control, mask- and ear-clearing skills, and how to operate your equipment. Take your time getting certified, and study hard. Those skills could save your life, or a friend's life.
Shallow dives in clear water also offer great opportunities to practice your underwater navigation skills. The waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as well as the Biscayne Bay National WiIdlife refuge offer many such diving opportunities. It's amazing how quickly you can lose your sense of direction under water, which is why you should always dive with a buddy, and with a dive flag, and with your own personal "safety sausage." That's an inflatable orange signaling device that helps the boat find you if you get lost.
Due to strong currents off Florida's southeast coast, drift diving is usually the modus operandi out of dive shops in Broward and Palm Beach counties. That means you jump off the boat, dive until you have 1,000 pounds of air or Nitrox in your tank, and resurface slowly with at least 500 pounds in the tank -- after you do a safety stop of at least three minutes somewhere between 15 and 20 feet. You cover quite a bit of reef this way.
You need to be able to inflate your safety sausage so that the boat has no issues finding you, and so that other vessels will avoid you. Keep your mask on and your regulator in your mouth until you are safely aboard.
Also, keep your fins on until you have a firm grasp of the ladder, which should be kept at arm's length to avoid a collision. It's better to remove one fin at a time without undoing your fin straps, and sliding one then the other fin over the wrist of your weaker arm. This method saves you from having to reach up repeatedly to hand off fins to the mate, and risking contact with the ladder.
There's a lot of technical diving to be enjoyed here, including cave dives, deep wrecks and reefs. Decompression diving, and diving using multiple tanks and/or mixed gases, is something many of us aspire to learn. You can see things at great depths that few other humans ever will. But that type of diving requires extensive, advanced training, and shouldn't be attempted with proper levels of certification.