Key West has a tropical climate, meaning it experiences minimal temperature differences between its winter and summer months.
This climate is perfect for a massive ecosystem of tropical marine life- and as such, Key West ranks highly on shark diving locations because of its rich biodiversity.
Visitors to the southernmost US City can expect to see lemon sharks and black-tipped sharks, as well as dolphins, man o’ war, sea turtles, sting rays, and all manner of exotic fish that thrive only in those humid maritime climes.
Along with a rich variety of ocean wildlife to witness, comes a rich variety of ocean-faring shark-diving companies- and picking the best from the bunch can be wild in and of itself if you’re new to the area, or have little experience with shark-diving.
Below, we’ve sought out some of the greatest shark-diving experiences in Key West for your consideration:
This company don’t actually offer shark diving, but their shark tours are so legendary around Key West that we felt remiss striking them off this list.
Be whisked away to an intimate experience with the Gulf’s most stunning creatures by this friendly and experienced father/son co-captaining team.
Learned on the facts and great with the kids, these twin pilots of a 22’ catamaran get their customers up close and personal on their boating tours of the area; informative and knowledgeable on the Gulf and its ecosystem and constantly in pursuit of the best locales for shark-feeding and soaring dolphins.
Definitely perfect for a thrilling family day or romantic adventure holiday.
- Perfect family experience – All of the comfort with all of the thrills
- Friendly faces – Well-known, experienced & beloved father & son team running things
- Safe travel – Stable yet wild catamaran sailing experience
- No shark diving offered – but a renowned shark-feeding experience
This company provides two scuba diving sessions every single day, as well as more casual snorkeling trips.
By signing up for the Discover Scuba course you can be express-ready for scuba diving that very afternoon, with Lost Reef diving professionals teaching you the basics and giving plenty of practice in the pool before marching you diving-ready out to sea before dinner time.
Speaking of dinner-time, the customer service described is excellent- with more casual customers who are simply seeking a calming cruise around the Gulf furnished with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in the glorious Floridian sun.
Both Captain and crew are rated highly by the cruisers- safe, knowledgeable, up for a joke, but always attentive to the needs of the customer.
This is one nature adventure where the pressure is really taken off.
- Quick and comprehensive scuba lessons – Be dive-ready by the afternoon
- All-inclusive – Delicious refreshments provided
- Experienced and knowledgeable crew – Feel safe and learn something
- Boat sometimes gets a little cramped – but still sociable
This highly-qualified team of divers allows this dive shop to be one of the best places in the city for divers of every level, including help with getting your certification; and they do it all while being personable, kind, patient, and considerate of the pace that you learn.
They’re very health and safety conscious (as you should be) and you can feel relieved knowing that throughout every step of your training, they’ll be keeping a close eye on you.
They also boast some of the most top-of-the-line equipment in the biz, and on top of the technical stuff they clearly have a love for the work, and for the animals- from the crew, right up to the owner.
- Technical and professional – Perfect for training and qualifications of all levels
Knowledgeable about nature – Learn about the wildlife of the area
- Fully-realized – Well kitted with equipment and instructors alike
- Cage diving not offered as part of their package – but still a very comprehensive shop
This company is a lot less mom-and-pop. SNUBA is a huge brand that has been operating for over three decades, and the Key West branch service major cruise lines – including Carnival, Caribbean, Celebrity & Disney.
As such, they work with thousands of new divers every year.
So as you can expect, there’s a lot of benefits to taking part in a named brand diving shop. You can be sure that safety protocols have been practiced to the letter, and that you’re guaranteed some level of satisfaction from your experience.
On the other hand, most of the other diving schools mentioned in this article have a clear passion and earnest small-business friendly face to show you the ropes.
Many anecdotes about SNUBA are excellent, but some also mention being rushed along or asked point-blank for tips.
There are many excellent diving companies in Key West, and sometimes maybe the name that appears biggest in the flier doesn’t always have the best adventure potential.
- Name brand recognition – Something you can trust
- Range of packages available – Photo package comes highly recommended
- Well regimented and laid out – No surprises
- Corporate – Lacks the personal touch of a smaller business
Captain Hook’s Dive team are all vet divers, with an intimate knowledge of the local area; that includes currents, all the best cool wrecks to explore, and all the greatest places to go see marine wildlife en masse.
By all accounts they’re a real friendly bunch, but very stringent and professional about health and safety and careful with their craft.
That being said, their standard trip may be one that is more geared and structured towards beginners- shorter dive times and a more hand-holding feel to their approach may leave more experienced divers wanting more- or even in some cases, feeling a little hard done-by.
If you are new to the dive however, and you’re a bit nervous about getting involved, then there’s no team better equipped to take you on.
- Careful crew – Very stringent precautions
- Experience counts – Excellent lay of the land (sea?)
- Excellent for beginners – Clear and thorough instructions
- A bit too strict for experienced divers – Too hand-holdy
When to go?
Key West is almost unique in the continental US- as the nation’s southernmost city, and the closest to the equator, it experiences very little change in temperature throughout the year.
This allows tropical marine life to flourish on the Gulf all year long- although there are certain times of the year where you’re more likely to see sharks than others.
Locals report that the best time of year for shark diving is between March and June, as these months are slightly warmer in the South Floridian climes.
Weather is an important factor for any ocean-going activity, and Shark-Diving is no different. You’ll doubtless be aware of the multitudes of hurricanes and tropical storms that hit the Gulf every year.
Needless to say, boating expeditions do not operate in inclement weather, and you should plan any adventures to the US Southeast with that in mind.
The sharks will still be there- but the sailors will not.
Diving trips vary quite significantly by whichever company you choose. Your dive will take place in an allotted time slot, with most diving crews taking about two parties a day.
If you aren’t trained as a SCUBA diver, you’ll need to be instructed on how to operate the apparatus before you can be allowed to join in.
This will typically take place back on dry land in the morning in a pool of some kind.
If you’re a more experienced diver, you may want to shop around for a crew which will allow you off the leash a bit more, are willing to allow you more time under the water, or are willing to take you to the less touristy diving spots.
You’ll want someone who provides a great-service: has a knowledge of the area, the animals, sailing, and the ins and outs of shark diving.
You’ll also want a fair price for a great day out with the family or your pals, and a friendly face to guide you through it all.
Most of all, you’ll want to support a company that respects the animals and the ecology of the area, so you know you’re doing the best for the environment and supporting an honest trade.