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So you’ve explored the sandy beaches of the Bay State, wandered its rocky shores, boated its coves, and fished its crashing surf. What’s next in your exploration of this ocean-loving state? Consider getting to know Massachusetts from below—below the tide line, that is. Massachusetts has a wealth of watery adventures available to scuba divers of all skill levels, from regulator rookies to experienced tank-jockeys, all of which offer a unique glimpse of this state’s vibrant underwater ecosystem.
Scuba divers must be certified by one of several international companies—so before you don your fins and wetsuit, hit the books and get to know the bottom of the pool at your local dive shop. USA Scuba Certification offers an interactive directory by zip code of businesses that offer certification classes. Once you’re certified, your nearest dive shop will serve as a great resource for gear rental and purchase as well as tips, trips, and even local dive site secrets.
Time to take the first plunge? If you were certified in warm, clear waters south of the Bay State, your first experience diving off of Massachusetts may come as a bit of a shock (literally). Even in the summer, Massachusetts water temperatures rarely surpass the 70 degree mark, and can dip well into the 50s with depth. Divers should plan accordingly and match their wetsuit to the temperature of the dive site (see scubadiving.com’s Tips for Matching Wetsuit Thickness to the Water Temp You're Diving). To find out how chilly the waters are where you’re planning your next dive adventure, see the Water Temperature Table for the Northern Atlantic Coast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Visibility also plays a key role in safety and enjoyment for North Atlantic diving. It’s no accident that Massachusetts waters are home to some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the world. The coast of Massachusetts experiences strong upwelling currents that bring nutrients to the surface, promoting blooms of phytoplankton that power a healthy marine ecosystem and give our seas their distinct dark blue-green color. However, these abundant nutrients can also make Massachusetts dives a murky affair. You can check local visibility by calling the nearest dive shop before heading out, or by scouting your location a few hours before you plan to submerge.
Dive visibility and safety can also be affected by sea conditions, so be sure to check wave height and current conditions for your dive site. NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center maintains a network of monitoring buoys that collect a wealth of information about the surrounding seas, including wave height, wave direction, wind conditions, and air and water temperature. For cases in which you just can’t bear to cancel your dive, Dive Training Magazine offers tips and techniques for low-visibility dives.
Remember that the most important step in planning your next dive is to guarantee your safety. Scout your dive site and dive conditions before making your entry. Always dive with a buddy—this ensures that someone is close at hand to help in case something goes wrong, and that someone can back up your big fish stories. Familiarize yourself with your buddy’s gear in case of an emergency and go over the dive plan, being sure to cover directions, possible challenges, and methods of communication. If you need a refresher on dive communication, see AlertDiver’s Hand Signals Quiz.
CAUTION: All dives are conducted at your own risk. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts accepts no responsibility for loss of any kind, including personal injury or property damage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts assumes no liability for inaccuracies in dive information contained in the linked web pages including Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources site locations and dive conditions.
From Cape Ann to Cape Cod, here are a few popular dive sites in the Bay State.
For more information on nearby dive sites, to find a buddy, or to join a group dive, contact your local dive shop.
Organize an Underwater COASTSWEEP Cleanup: Want to help keep the Bay State beautiful while exploring its underwater ecosystems? Organize or volunteer for an underwater cleanup with COASTSWEEP, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) annual beach cleanup. To find out how you can get involved, see the COASTSWEEP website.
The long history of maritime trade in Massachusetts has strewn the seafloor with a score of shipwrecks over the years. These sites are not only pieces of history resting right off of our shores, but also make for exciting scuba diving. Sunken ships often serve as artificial reefs as they rest on the ocean floor; ample surface area allows corals, sea stars, barnacles, and marine plants to colonize, while chambers, cracks, and crevices offer attractive habitats for crustaceans and fish large and small.
If you’re looking to explore one of these wrecks, the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources maintains a list of shipwrecks fully open to recreational divers. Note that as with all diving, wreck diving comes with associated dangers; divers should always dive with a buddy and proceed with caution.
Should you find any historical objects during your dive, keep in mind that artifacts found in and recovered from Massachusetts waters are state property. This can include non-military shipwrecks, aircraft, objects, and other locations, such as long-forgotten submerged villages and other areas that contain artifacts. No one may remove, damage, displace, or destroy any underwater archaeological resource, including artifacts, without a permit from the Board. The only exceptions, not requiring a permit, are collecting from an Exempted Site or Isolated Finds. Military vessel wrecks always remain the property of their respective governments. For more information on finding artifacts in Massachusetts waters, see this Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources page.
To learn more about underwater archaeology and about how to protect these historical treasures, see CZ-Tip: Uncovering Maritime History at the Shore.
Scuba diving in Massachusetts can be a boon to your dinner plate as well as your weekend plans. The North Atlantic is famous for its abundance of edible fish and shellfish, and scuba diving can be a fun, sustainable, and low-impact way to catch a meal. However, Massachusetts permit rules for recreational shellfishing apply, even underwater. See Recreational Saltwater Permits on the Division of Marine Fisheries website for details.
Spear fishing is also permitted with a permit issued in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Connecticut, under Massachusetts state size and catch limits. Note that it is not legal to spearfish for striped bass in Massachusetts state waters. Species-specific recreational regulations can be found on the Division of Marine Fisheries Recreational Regulations Tables page. Visit the Department of Fish and Game website for more information on Massachusetts recreational fishing permits, or see MassFishHunt to apply for a permit today. If you need inspiration for preparing your fresh catch, see CZM’s CZ-Tips for recipes for local seafood and famous New England dishes.
Claudia Geib, CZM’s 2015 COASTSWEEP Intern and the author of multiple CZ-Tips, and COASTSWEEP blogs, holds undergraduate degrees from Northeastern University in Journalism and Environmental Science. In fall 2015, she entered the Masters program in Science Journalism at MIT. Claudia is also a scuba diver and underwater COASTSWEEP cleanup coordinator.
For more of Claudia’s tips, see:
CZ-Tip - Public Transportation by Boat in the Bay State - 6/1/16
Removing Plastic from Rockport’s Reefs with COASTSWEEP - Mass.gov blog, 10/13/15
Calling All Treasure Hunters: Join a COASTSWEEP Cleanup This Fall - Mass.gov blog, 9/8/15
CZ-Tip - Recycle to Reduce Marine Debris - 9/1/15
Seeking Local Beach Cleanup Coordinators for COASTSWEEP 2015 - Mass.gov blog, 7/16/15