Which of the Caribbeans's many shipwrecks should come top of your list as a scuba diver? Read on and discover our selection of the Caribbean’s top wreck dives below.

After centuries of seafaring, countless vessels have succumbed to the Caribbean’s fierce equatorial weather, unforgiving reefs, and merciless attacks. What’s more, many Caribbean islands have recognised the relevance of such wrecks as artificial reefs, resulting in an extra dose of deliberately scuttled vessels for divers to explore.

Kittiwake, Grand Cayman

The Kittiwake in Grand Cayman is one the Caribbean's best wreck dives
The Kittiwake in Grand Cayman is one the Caribbean's best wreck dives

In its past life, the Kittiwake was a submarine rescue vessel deployed by the US Navy. After being decommissioned in 1994, the ship was eventually transported to the Cayman Islands and deliberately scuttled in 2011, thereby starting its newest endeavour as an artificial reef and underwater scuba diving attraction. The Kittiwake now rests on its port side at a maximum depth of around 20-metres, less than a kilometre from Grand Cayman’s popular tourist destination of Seven Mile Beach. Its accessible location makes the wreck a popular spot for visiting divers, offering plenty of bottom time and exploration opportunities for a variety of experience levels. 

Spread over five decks, this 77-metre vessel is a wreck diver’s delight and has been prepared specifically for penetration. This includes the removal of doors, hatches and bulkheads, as well as having large holes cut into the hull. As a result, divers can easily explore the mess hall, propulsion rooms, ammunition lockers, bathrooms, and two recompression chambers. When it comes to marine life, an assortment of macro species have colonised this artificial reef, including peppermint shrimp, banded coral shrimp, arrowhead crabs, fireworms, and more. The surrounding sand also plays host to sizable Southern stingrays while turtles and grouper cruise lazily to-and-fro and both barracuda and jacks hang-out in the water column.

C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl, Cozumel

Built in 1944, this vessel began life as a US Navy minesweeper before being converted into a gunboat for use by the Mexican Navy. After completing its final mission, the Felipe Xicotencatl was donated to Cozumel Reefs National Park and scuttled off the island’s east coast in the year 2000. Today, the vessel lies perfectly upright on the sand at a maximum depth of 24-metres, just a stone’s throw from the beautiful beach of Chankanaab Park.

With its superstructure beginning just 10-metres below the surface, the wreck’s silhouette is instantly distinguishable from above. In fact, during the descent, divers will find almost the entire 56-metre vessel visible below, creating a breathtakingly beautiful scene. Despite sitting underwater for almost 25 years, the C-53 Felipe Xicotencatl remains relatively clean. That said, various corals and sponges are beginning to colonise certain areas, helping to attract schools of fish and an array of invertebrates.

Having been specifically prepared for scuba divers prior to sinking, the C-53 now features multiple large openings to facilitate penetration – allowing divers to explore the engine room, galley, officers quarters, radio room, and the head. Both the wheelhouse and bridge are also intact, while the vessel’s guns remain in place to provide extra interest on the ship’s exterior.

Odyssey, Roatan

After catching fire during a rebuild, this freight-hauling vessel was donated to the local dive industry for use as an artificial reef. In a project spearheaded by Anthony’s Key Resort, the ship was cleaned of hazards before being scuttled close to the reef on Roatan’s northern coast. The vessel now rests on a patch of sand between two coral heads at a maximum depth of around 34-metres. While this artificial reef is still in its infancy, divers will find some impressive coral colonies scattered around the superstructure, along with tunicates, whips, sponges, and hydroids. Invertebrates inhabit the various nooks and crannies, while groupers shelter in the shadows, and vibrant reef fish hover in the open.

At 91-metres in length, Odyssey is Roatan's largest shipwreck and requires multiple dives in order to explore it all. Part of the vessel’s mid-section has collapsed, allowing the bow to remain upright while the stern lists starboard, creating skewed perspectives that can seem almost surreal. With holes cut into its side for easy penetration, divers are able to explore various rooms inside the wreck, including the captain’s quarters and bathroom. Towards the stern, this vessel’s multiple levels, numerous gangways, and zig-zagging staircase provide plenty of interest, while additional penetration opportunities can be found around the wheelhouse. 

Captain Keith Tibbetts, Cayman Brac

Cayman Brac is home to several worthwhile wrecks, but by far the most famous is the MV Captain Keith Tibbetts. This 100-metre anti-submarine frigate was built by the Soviet Union before being given to the Cuban Navy in 1984 and subsequently sold to the Cayman Islands in 1996. The vessel was then renamed after a local dive operator, Keith Tibbetts, and deliberately scuttled off the northwest coast of Cayman Brac – creating the only diveable Soviet warship in the Western Hemisphere. Captain Keith Tibbetts now sits on the sand at a maximum depth of 25-metres, less than 200-metres from shore on the island’s northwest coast.

Fish began to investigate this wreck almost immediately, and after more than 25-years underwater, the Captain Keith Tibbetts is well-colonised by marine life. Various corals and sponges cling to the corroding structure, while shoals of fish sweep back-and-forth. In 2004, a hurricane tore the wreckage in half, leaving a scattering of debris behind that now provides plenty of hiding places for smaller and more cryptic critters. Still, despite the obvious damage and disorder, this site remains one of Cayman Brac’s most popular dives. Particular points of interest include the spectacular set of gun turrets and visible star livery at the bow, along with a couple of opportunities for limited penetration.

RMS Rhone, British Virgin Islands

A diver exploring the wreckage of the RMS Rhone off BVI.
A diver exploring the wreckage of the RMS Rhone off BVI.

Launched in 1865, the RMS Rhone was a Royal Mail ship once billed to be unsinkable. The vessel met its demise during a hurricane in 1867 and now lies below the waves in Lee Bay, off the west coast of Salt Island. This substantial wreck has been one of the archipelago’s marquee attractions for years, acting as a backdrop for the 1977 film ‘The Deep’ before the wreck of the Rhone became the British Virgin Islands’ very first marine park in 1980. After more than a century underwater, and decades of protection, the RMS Rhone is well populated with corals and inhabited by an array of fish.

Understandably, divers come from all over the world to explore this 94-metre, twin-masted steamer, which lies in several distinct parts. With a maximum depth of 25-metres, the bow is both the largest and deepest section of the wreck. Despite lying on its starboard side, the foremast and its crows nest are still attached, along with a signalling cannon. The stern and mid-section are slightly shallower and can be explored together on a single dive. Both of these areas exhibit extensive damage, though there is plenty to keep divers thoroughly entertained. Highlights include the large bronze propeller and drive shaft, a “lucky” porthole, and collection of black and white tiles nicknamed “the dancefloor”. 

Kodiak Queen, British Virgin Islands

Launched in 1940, the Kodiak Queen was a former fuel barge for the US Navy, before becoming a highly capable fishing vessel in Alaska. Regardless of its achievements – and despite being one of only several vessels to survive the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor – the Kodiak Queen eventually spent a decade deteriorating in a scrapyard on the island of Tortola. Thankfully, in 2017, this vessel was given a new lease of life as an artificial reef. 

After being adorned with an eye-catching 25-metre kraken sculpture made from wire mesh, the Kodiak Queen took up residence on the seafloor off the coast of Long Bay on Virgin Gorda. Unfortunately, sizable swells quickly took their toll on the wire sculpture, resulting in the kraken’s head breaking off and being swept away. Luckily, many of the twisting tentacle structures remain in place, adding extra interest to this fascinating wreck. 

This wreck lies at a maximum depth of just 18-metres, making it accessible to all experience levels. While some small coral colonies cling to the wreck in places, this artificial reef is yet to properly bloom. Still, having undergone extensive cleaning before being scuttled, the Kodiak Queen dive site offers some interesting purpose-built swim-throughs and penetration routes.

Charles L. Brown, St Eustatius

Built in 1954, the Charles L. Brown is a large, former cable-laying vessel purchased by the government of Sint Eustatius for use as an artificial reef. After extensive cleaning and preparation, the ship was towed off the island’s southwest coast where it disappeared below the waves. The Charles L. Brown now lies on its starboard side surrounded by sand, with a maximum dive depth of roughly 30-metres.

At around 100-metres long, this is one of the larger wrecks in the Caribbean and makes for an impressive spectacle. The good visibility around Sint Eustatius means divers are awarded extensive views of the vessel during descent, with almost the entire wreck visible at once. And, while some damage has occurred – particularly at the bow – the Charles L. Brown remains in remarkably good shape, with the thin scattering of debris adding additional layers of intrigue. 

This wreck’s isolated location makes it a hotspot for marine life, with schools of horse-eyed jacks and barracuda making regular appearances, along with occasional eagle rays and reef sharks. Stands of sponges and sea fans decorate the vessel’s superstructure while winch towers, cable reels, and crane parts make for interesting finds. It is also possible to penetrate the wreck, with a 30-metre passage known as the “highway” being the easiest and most obvious route.

Hilma Hooker, Bonaire

The superstructure of the Hilmer Hooker now rests against the sand.
The superstructure of the Hilmer Hooker now rests against the sand.

In 1984, this vessel sought refuge off the coast of Bonaire due to technical difficulties, where it began to raise suspicions. After an extensive search, 12-tons of marajuana was found to be concealed in the ship’s hull. With the captain incarcerated and the owners opting to remain anonymous, the dilapidated ship was towed to a safe place where it was to be kept afloat throughout the long legal processes to follow. Yet, before long, the water pumps failed and the Hilma Hooker slipped silently below the waves – some suggest a few audacious local dive operators may even have helped it on its way.

Today, the 72-metre wreck lies on the sandy seafloor just a stone’s throw from the shore on the island’s southwest coast. Positioned on its starboard side at a maximum depth of around 30-metres, the Hilmer Hooker is now one of the undisputed highlights of scuba diving in Bonaire. As evidence in a criminal case, this vessel was never stripped of hazards in preparation for divers, meaning penetration can be particularly hazardous. In any case, the wreck’s exterior is enough to satisfy the majority of divers. The Hilma Hooker is nicely decorated with both soft and hard corals, along with numerous sponges, whips, and sea fingers, while snapper, parrotfish, tarpon, and barracuda hang out above. 

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