Why dive New Jersey? It Sucks.
There’s nothing to see. Where can you possibly dive around here? I would never dive here! There’s nowhere to dive around here other than that Dutch Springs place. All of these are common questions or statements us Jersey wreck divers hear all the time. They’re right. The North East Tri-State area sucks for Scuba diving. There’s literally nothing fun to dive on and the visibility is always horrible.
What if I told you, contrary to popular belief and a lack of recognition from the dive community, diving off New Jersey doesn’t suck? What if I told you there are more than 5,000 wrecks off the coast of New Jersey? What if I told you these same wrecks are full of fish, lobster, mussels, artifacts, soft corals, and sea fans? What if I told you visibility is not literally zero feet? You might believe me, you might not. The only way to know is to get out there, give it your best “Jersey flop” entry, and dive it yourself!
Jersey diving is the forgotten stepchild of the dive community. Us Jersey divers know the deal. We know it’s not the Caribbean. We don’t expect 80-degree water and unlimited visibility. We don’t expect perfect blue calm waters. And we sure don’t expect to be diving in a shorty or a light 3mm wetsuit. We get that. We can expect to wear a heavier wetsuit or drysuit with hood and gloves. Our primary dive season usually runs from late April through November, while other brave souls will dive year-round. Early season water temperatures tend to be in the 40s and 50s with late-season temps above 60 degrees. Instead of pitch-black water with no visibility, imagine greenish water with an average 20-25 feet of visibility. Visibility can vary day to day and change at depths (sometimes 50 plus feet), but usually, our conditions are very doable even for a new diver. And of course, we expect to carry some additional safety equipment and gear.
Lift-bags, reels, finger spools, multiple lights, knives, signal tubes, marker strobes, and redundant air sources are all must-haves when it comes to Jersey diving. It is very common to see divers with doubles, sling bottles, or rebreathers as well. Somebody once described New Jersey diving to me as “full-contact diving” in the sense that we need everything. Many Jersey divers trade in their big cameras for pole spears or guns. With that said, just because we carry more stuff doesn’t mean the diving is solely reserved for the “hardcore” diver.
For the beginner NJ diver, gorgeous intact wrecks can be found all around the “Cape May Reef” and more between 60-85 feet. Most of these are roughly 15-20 years old and have not yet started to break down a whole lot. Very cool spots for the newer diver that wants to take a class, do a shallower dive on something with structure, or for the seasoned diver who wants to get wet and do something easy. The Cape May wrecks inshore are teeming with fish, easy to navigate and offer up some excellent swim-throughs for wreck penetration practice. Not all divers are trying to get below 100 feet and search for artifacts. Current is always a possibility, but I have yet to experience a current that I would call overly exhausting or intense.
Of course, we have the advanced wrecks too. Only a small number of our wrecks are “artificial reef” systems. New Jersey wrecks were mostly caused by collision with another vessel, accident onboard, or a select few that were torpedoed. Yes, torpedoed. Jersey features a few German U boats from WWII! Who knew? These more “historic” wrecks, while creating amazing homes for wildlife, are the ones divers can expect multiple pieces of wreckage to dig around and search for artifacts. Chinaware, bullets, coins, bottles, brass, portholes, and more can still be found on these old wrecks. Some are well over 100 years old! It is not uncommon to dive these upwards of the 150+ foot deep range. Local charters will generally keep the dive sites within the recreational 130-foot limit unless doing a special trip.
Diving New Jersey sucks. There’s nothing but historic wrecks to play on, fish to shoot, lobster to be hunted, beautiful cold-water anemones, soft corals, eels, and artifacts to be found. It’s terrible. On an absolutely awful day you may even be unlucky enough to see sunfish, dolphins, trigger fish, sharks, seahorses, or the ever so invasive lionfish! All we ask is more divers try it just one time. It just might surprise you. You might like it or love it even. Many times, I find it to be more interesting than just another reef dive. If you need a guide or would like to complete a class (wreck, deep, hunter) reach out to your local New Jersey dive shop and get out there!