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Monday, March 13, 2017

Scuba Diving the Kittiwake Wreck- Grand Cayman

Scuba Diving the Kittiwake, Grand Cayman 
I am officially back from one glorious week spend soaking up the 83 degree sunshine and scuba diving in Grand Cayman.  I apologize for the lack of posts while I was gone (glitches with my brewery posts), but promise that the Cayman posts to come will make up for it all.  The first post in the Cayman series is one of the main island's most popular dive sites, the Kittiwake Wreck.

"Kittiwake" on the stern of the ship
This was actually my first time diving INTO a ship wreck (through the portholes and into the various chambers and rooms).  Being able to swim through a ship wreck that was prepped specifically for divers with large entrances and plenty of natural light was a unique experience.  The wreck serves as an artificial reef and popular recreational diving site on the island.  The fish hanging around the wreck (huge parrot fish, a grouper and a moray eel to name a few) was a highlight for me.  

Video RECAP of the Kittiwake Dive

My only complaint was the amount of people diving the wreck at the same time.  We dove the wreck with Wall to Wall Diving Company with our tags that allowed us to actually dive into the wreck. There were so many people diving the site that all the mooring buoys were occupied.  When we finally found a "parking spot" and got down to the wreck it was a traffic jam of people inside the ship.  Swimming through some rooms was like crossing through a busy highway. Overall, I thought this was a great dive for someone without a lot of experience wreck diving but there were far too many people there at once.  I really enjoyed all the life on the wreck but this was a "one and done" type of dive for me.  If you are in Grand Cayman and want to dive this famous wreck, try to go out with a charter early in the morning or on a less busy day. 

Mike driving the Kittiwake
Plaque on the Kittiwake
In her day, the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) was a United States Navy Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel. The Kittiwake was in service from 1945 to 1994, serving more than 50 years as a rescue vessel. The Kittiwake measures at 251 feet long, hosts 5 decks, and weighs 2200 tons.

Diagram of the Kittiwake
Her primary role was to aid submarines by assisting on trials, rescuing when they were stuck, broken, or trapped, bringing them supplies and personnel, and recovering practice torpedoes. The Kittiwake was home ported in Norfolk, VA and once housed a crew of 90 men and 10 officers. Most of the Kittiwake’s missions are still classified to this day.  Most notably in 1986 the Kittiwake recovered the Blackbox from the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. 

Today the Kittiwake lays in a marine park serving as an artificial reef. The wreck serves as a home for various fish and marine life, as well as an underwater "playground" for divers. 

Exiting the wreck
Mike swimming along the Kittiwake
The Kittiwake is unique for a few reasons.  First, the Kittiwake is Grand Cayman's biggest ship wreck at 251' long.  Second, instead of running aground or sinking underway, the Kittiwake was a purpose sunk artificial reef for divers.  On January 5th 2011, the Kittiwake was purchased by the Cayman Island's government, brought to the island and sunk to make an artificial reef off Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach.  Because this was a purpose sunk artificial reef for tourism/diving purposes, the vessel was thoroughly prepared for divers and life in the ocean.  

The Kittiwake was cleaned of all chemicals and oils to insure that no pollutants could harm the nearby coral reefs. Most of her internal fixtures were also removed to make the vessel as diver friendly as possible.  There are multiple holes and hatches cut into the wreck for safety as well as ambient light. We swam through various chambers, and in and out of portholes on the ship.  If you don't want to go IN the wreck, you can swim along all 251' of the vessel and look for critters hiding around the bow and stern. 

Divers and snorkelers are not allowed to take or touch anything in the marine park. To dive or snorkel the Kittiwake, you must go through a licensed vessel.

Pin location of the Kittiwake 
Because of its shallow depth (the deepest point at only 64 feet, with the most shallow being at 15'), this wreck is suitable for all skill levels of divers and the shallow areas can even be snorkeled.  Divers can swim the first three decks, and advanced divers can swim through all five decks. Some highlights of the dive include two recompression chambers, which served the divers who got decompression sickness on the Kittiwake, the bathroom which still has mirrors so you can see yourself, and the mess hall which still has tables and chairs.

Critters seen: large moray eel, stingray, grouper, various fish, garden eels, sea urchins and rare sponges. 

Diver above the Kittiwake 
The Kittiwake ship wreck is a private park and attraction that is managed by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association. All visitors to the Kittiwake ship wreck are required to pay an entry fee. The funds collected from the entry fee are used to maintain the ship wreck, and for safety equipment and management of the attraction. A portion of the fee is also paid to an environmental contingency fund. 

Once you have payed your entry fee scuba divers will be issued a tag to attach to their BCD or regulator, and snorkelers will be issued a wristband as proof of entry. Individuals who visit the attraction without paying the fee or are not wearing the medallion/wristband will be reported as trespassing to the Cayman Islands Authorities. Those who want to visit the Kittiwake are asked to only use licensed operators. We used Wall to Wall Diving Company to take us out and lead a dive around the wreck.
Passes/Tags to dive the Kittiwake 
Scuba Diver: US $10.00 / CI $8.00 per day
Snorkeler: US $5.00 / CI $4.00 per day
Annual Pass: US $31.25 / CI $25 per year (pro-rated)
Lifetime Pass: US $250 / CI $200

Medallions are not transferable
Exchange rate @ CI$0.80 = US$1.00

Divers at the stern of the Kittiwake
Looking out from inside the Kittiwake
Posing inside the Kittiwake

 If you are coming to Grand Cayman, a dive to the Kittiwake should be on your list of things to do.   Sometimes it can be busy, but the fantastic history and tons of marine life should make this shipwreck a must do on any divers itinerary. 


  1. Looks awesome! Very affordable too, if you have your own gear.

    Alicia @

  2. Very good article. Made me wanna start wreck diving. Right now I only tried scuba diving. For logging my dives I like to use, which is a website which you can use as an online logbook, store your diving pictures and use the interactive map to explore new dive sites or chart your own.


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