Many advanced and technical divers who have been down to the wreck of the USCG Duane, agree that this wreck is often overlooked by technical divers.
As there's also the Spiegel Grove, the Queen of Nassau and the Northern Light within the Key Largo area, the Duane is often forgotten. At around 120 feet, it’s a deeper wreck and you do need to be an experienced diver to do this one.
A Brief History of the USCG Duane
The US Coast Guard ‘Duane’ was a Treasury-class cutter with a length of 327 feet. These vessels proved to be highly dependable and versatile warships for the US Coast Guard. USCG Duane served 49 years before being decommissioned on August 1, 1985. The decision to decommission was due to her longevity in service and replacement parts were either no longer available or getting harder to find.
The USCG Duane was the oldest US warship on active duty at the time it was decommissioned. After being decommissioned, the Duane was laid up in Boston for a couple of years. She was sunk in 1987 to form an artificial reef off the coast of Key Largo, along with her sister cutter, the Bibb.
The USCG Duane is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
A challenging dive for Advanced and Technical Divers
The USCG Duane is a great wreck. She's sitting upright on the sand at a depth of around 120 feet at deck level. This is located outside of the reef line which means there can be very strong currents with reduced visibility depending on the time of day or time of year.
For these reasons, this wreck dive falls into the advanced category and is not recommended for new divers. The currents can be strong and a little too much for anyone who may not be fit.
Be prepared for strong current conditions and the effort it may take to get down to the wreck, but it will pay off once you get to it.
There are times you can catch this wreck with near perfect conditions with little to no current. During these times, the Duane is a stunning wreck dive with lots of clear water, marine life, and big swim-throughs on different deck levels. Visibility can be up to 100 feet at times.
Be prepared for a beautiful Wreck
The USCG Duane is much smaller than the Spiegel Grove which provides an opportunity to see most of the ship in a single dive.
The vessel is a photographer’s dream and fun to explore. The Duane has a flag on the mast "flying" which makes for a stunning photo. As she’s sitting upright, it can appear as though the Duane is steaming right along the bottom. This makes the view descending onto and ascending off of the wreck quite memorable.
The Duane was well prepared to be an artificial reef with doors and big openings cut out. This makes it easy to navigate and provides a heap of great swim throughs.
There’s plenty to see at different depths. As it’s been submerged since 1987, there’s plenty of coral growth and an abundance of marine life in and around the wreck. There's a huge variety to see from Barracuda swimming in the current to turtles and lots of other fish, eels, and Grey Nurse sharks.
3D Dive Maps of the USCG Duane
The Duane is generally considered one of the advanced Florida Keys diving sites so make sure you get the most out of the dive with some pre-planning.
Waterproof 3D maps are available in online stores such as Amazon. These sitemaps show the ship’s layout and suggest good swim-through routes.
Do your homework on Dive Operators
The same wreck is a different dive depending on the dive operator, so do your homework on operators before you get there. Dive Masters will be familiar with the currents and the layout of the ship.
As this is a deep dive there can be strong currents. This can be manageable if you’re with a good operation who you feel comfortable with. Make sure you select a Dive Operator who suits your level of experience and confidence.
Florida Keys Dive Report - "Know Before You Go"
A good resource to check beforehand is the Keys Dive Report website. This is a local website that has accurate reef and wreck conditions for divers and snorkelers in the Florida Keys.
The Keys Dive Report website covers the Florida Keys area from Key Largo to Key West. This information is provided in real time from the United States Coast Guard Dive Boat Captains while they are out on the reefs and wrecks.
Information including the sea temperature, visibility and sea conditions plus a current photograph of the actual locations offshore is also available.
Is the Duane worthy of Bucket List status?
Even on a day where currents are strong and visibility is low, there is still plenty to see on this dive. If you have the extra time, be sure to add this to your Bucket List of Keys dive sites.
The USCG Duane is usually low on the dive list after the Speigel Grove and the Northern Light, but it won't disappoint.