Last Updated: June 7, 2023
The Hawaiian islands are called tropical paradise, not just on their land surface but also beneath their seas. With rich marine life and amazing bottom topography in countless diving opportunities, where do you even begin?
For many divers, especially beginners and first-time Hawaii visitors, what better way to get acquainted with the diving scene than exploring the underwater treasures in Oahu?
Learn more about what this island offers beyond what is already obvious to habitues.
There are scores of dive sites to choose from, so you’ll never run out of options to discover never-before-seen endemic species and other undersea life forms in the flesh.
About Oahu, Hawaii
Because of the capital Honolulu location, Oahu is perhaps the most famous island in Hawaii. More or less, one million people call “The Gathering Place” home, most of whom are Asians and Pacific islanders.
Indeed, it gathers tourists from all over the world who can’t seem to get enough of its tropical beaches, glorious sunsets, historic landmarks, pulsating nightlife, culinary delights, and epic adventures. With so many things to do on the island, guests couldn’t wait to return to peel more of its layers.
Oahu provides that elegant mix of natural and cosmopolitan environments. It is modern yet laidback; you can just head to Waikiki beach to relax and soak in the fresh sea air after a full day of shopping or a night of fun.
Beyond the physical beauty of this place, the warmth exuded by its friendly and welcoming locals coupled with a hot semi-desert climate (aka perfect paradise weather) is something anyone should experience at least once in their life.
Oahu Scuba Diving
As if you still need yet another reason to visit Oahu, then comes scuba diving, which is fun and probably the most diverse in the state. Divers will be thrilled to explore the sunken wrecks, coral gardens, lava tubes, and shallow reefs.
In these submerged habitats, you have a plethora of tropical fish, crustaceans, invertebrates, and living corals. Let’s not forget the staples such as the green sea turtles, humpback whales, Hawaiian monk seals, and spinner dolphins.
Beginners are welcome to start their journey into the blue by enrolling in introductory dive lessons. On the other hand, advanced and technical divers can go to deepsea locations and penetrate wrecks to see even more exciting pelagics.
While boat dives are common, you can also try a diving charter using a helicopter if you can afford it, starting from the Aloha Tower.
Regardless of your dive preferences, you will not leave Oahu disappointed, only wanting more.
Best 8 Dive Sites in Oahu
Depending on what you would like to see, I’m dividing this section into two categories – wreck dives and reef dives.
Given the huge military presence in Honolulu, it is not surprising to learn that it has fascinating wrecks that have become home to thriving aquatic life. From minesweepers to warplanes and fishing trollers, the waters of Oahu have got them all.
Although you’re practically rolling the dice regarding the sea creatures you will encounter, the odds of catching a glimpse of sea turtles, schools of tropical fish, and others are very high in these locations.
Sitting upright at 97 feet, the YO-257 wreck dive site is located near the Diamondhead State Park. It was a navy refueling vessel for battleships during World War II and was sunk purposefully by the Atlantis Submarine Group in Oahu waters. Hence one of their submarine tours might coincide with your dive exploration. It is important to avoid staying close to the vessel when it’s there since it has operating parts that can suck you in. Yikes.
You can reach the YO-257 from the Kewalo Boat Basin by boat. Given the strong currents and unpredictable conditions, this dive would best suit an intermediate diver at a minimum.
Once you’ve gone down, you will see tiger sharks, barracudas, and green sea turtles. The wreck can be as deep as 115 feet, while the shallowest portion is about 65 feet. You can spend around 30 minutes before your surface interval.
2. Sea Tiger
A former Chinese trading vessel (Yun Fong Seong no. 303), the Sea Tiger is another dive attraction on Oahu’s South Shore. It is the closest wreck dive site to Waikiki, making it highly accessible to divers. However, this spot caters to advanced types and has a depth of 120 feet at its bow section.
Purposefully sunk in 1999 as part of the dive enrichment efforts of the island, this vessel was confiscated by the US Coast Guard in the early 90s for carrying illegal migrants.
As a wreck dive, the Sea Tiger lies in an upright position that is penetrable in some spots. Divers should watch out for sharp metal protrusions, which are common among shipwrecks. Nonetheless, the whole structure is remarkably intact.
It has swim-throughs in the cargo holds, with long dark hallways where you will usually run into a gliding sea turtle which is always nice. Most of them are quite easy to enter and exit. Common sightings in this site are spotted eagle rays, white-tip reef sharks, and moray eels, to name a few.
3. Navy Tug (U.S.S. Nashua)
Nashua was purchased by civilians in 2012 and sunk as an artificial reef in Oahu waters. Sitting between 65 and 80 feet below on steel pillars, it doubles as a training site for the US Navy.
Upon descent, you will encounter white-tip sharks along the way and a swarm of schools of blue-stripe snappers. There are also amberjacks, trevally, rainbow runners, pufferfish, moray eels, and the unmistakable gentle giants: sea turtles.
Moreover, divers can venture into several swim-throughs in the Navy Tug.
4. Vought F4U Corsair
Now sunken at around 110 feet in Mauna Loa Bay, the Vought F4U Corsair was an American fighter plane that crashed during World War II. This wreckage is roughly 3 miles from Hawaii Kai marina and can be accessed by boat. You will find hundreds of schooling fish, stingrays, and other marine species here.
This boat dive is for advanced divers since the currents are often harsh and swift. You’ll notice that the cockpit section is still intact, which would make a good photo op.
Since the wreck itself is fairly small, you can explore the corals nearby, where you’ll spot those quirky garden eels that look like white strings from the sand.
5. San Pedro
The San Pedro dive site is another must-see wreck in Oahu that is only 50 yards from the YO-257 and has a maximum depth of 30 meters. Hence, you can go to both sites in one dive.
San Pedro is a 111-foot-long wreck that was a Korean-owned commercial fishing ship operating on the Big Island until around the 70s when it caught fire. It was purposefully sunk by the Atlantis Submarine Group in 1996 as an additional attraction for their submarine tours.
Blue-line snappers and white-tip reef sharks are typically found swimming in the area, and other oceanic vertebrates like soldier fish, squirrel fish, butterfly fish, and cardinal fish.
Although the wreck dives in Oahu are too inviting to pass up, the reef sites are just as thrilling. On a good day, you will witness an enchanting kaleidoscope of corals and tropical species on a sandy bottom. Thus, the following are some of the best dive sites you shouldn’t skip in Oahu.
6. Turtle Canyon
Located in Mauna Lua Bay, Turtle Canyon is a haven not just for the friendly slowpokes but also for different reef species. There are zebra morays, saddle wrasse, flame angel fish, urchins, slipper lobsters, and many others.
Technically, there is no canyon; instead, you will find small lava ridges throughout the site. It features a large area of spectacular corals on one side and some dead reefs on the other. There is also a turtle cleaning station where yellow tangs and damselfish hide underneath.
There are small outcroppings on the south side where even more fish species come and go.
While this is a boat dive, freediving is possible, and so is snorkeling, given the shallow depths and manageable currents.
7. Keehi Pipe, aka Mario World
Mario World is a reef dive that lies on the main channel entrance of the Honolulu Harbor. It features an old sewage pipe system repurposed as a reef with lots of coral growth and species in its nooks and crannies. Given its superficial depths, this site hosts many beginners looking to acquire their open water certifications.
The name Mario World, based on the Super Mario Brothers video game, is due to the similar vertical outcroppings from a horizontal pipe found in the game’s obstacles. With its abundance of squirrel fish, peacock flounders, and snake eels, you will be pleasantly surprised to encounter a school of pufferfish in this area. Other aquatic critters, such as peacock razor wrasses and porcupine fish, like to hover on the sandy floor.
8. Horseshoe Reef
A short boat dive off the Oahu South coast, Horseshoe Reef is up to 65 feet below sea level, which is perfect even for beginners. Its diverse coral coverage forms a double horseshoe contour hence the name.
Lots of interesting creatures swim in and out of its holes and gaps. You’ll have a fill of frogfish, moral eels, octopuses, scorpion fish, and other sea organisms. In the nearby reefs, encountering a tiger shark and a manta ray with a wingspan of about 15 feet can leave you in affectionate awe.
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive
Oahu offers all-year diving, May to October being the most ideal. At this time, surface water temperatures are mildly warm, ranging from 78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water currents vary by site, which could be moderate or strong. You can rent your diving gear from the available dive centers, so you don’t have to lug your own, which can be burdensome.
During the dive, groups are broken down into 4 to 6 per dive instructor. Most viable dive sites are on the south shore, which offers the highest visibility compared to north shore and others.
Oahu provides alerts, especially when there are swells, strong waves, and rough conditions, allowing your dive tour operators to guide you accordingly.
Top Oahu Dive Shops
The following are full-service dive shops that are highly rated in Oahu.
#1. Dive Oahu
Dive Oahu has an “Anger Management” boat regarded as the best one in Oahu. Its rental equipment is top notch to ensure your pleasant dive experience.
#2. Aaron’s Dive Shop
Hawaii’s longest running dive shop, Aaron’s, is a PADI 5-star IDC, offering daily diving charters, certification courses, apparel, and equipment.
#3. Waikiki Dive Center
Waikiki Dive Center is one of the oldest dive shops in the Hawaiian state. It is highly experienced in the dive industry and has served more than 4 million dives and counting.
#4. Kaimana Divers
If you want to discover the undersea for the first time, consider Kaimana Divers. It specializes in providing the most enjoyable and safest dive adventures to beginners and experienced divers alike.
#5. Honolulu Scuba Company
When looking for the nearest dive center to the Kewalo Basin Harbor, that would be the Honolulu Scuba Company. Aside from a full range of dive services, it also offers free transfers within Waikiki.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Scuba Diving in Honolulu Good?
Absolutely. You can find the best reef and wreck dives on the South Shore.
Is Scuba Diving Better in Oahu, Kauai, or Maui?
If you prefer wreck diving, Oahu has more than Kauai and Maui.
How Much Does Scuba Diving Cost in Honolulu?
An open-water scuba course has an all-inclusive cost of under $600. Boat dive charters range from $150 to $200.
Can You Scuba Dive in Oahu Without Certification?
If you are a beginner, you don’t need one because a certified dive instructor will accompany you. Advanced certification is needed for more technical dives and greater depths.
Where Can You Free Dive in Oahu?
Turtle Canyon, Makua Beach, Horseshoe Reef, and Kewalo Pipe, to name a few, are great for freedivers.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.