Cayman Salvage Master is one of Key West’s most popular artificial reefs for divers visiting the Florida Keys

Cayman Salvage Master has a milk jug and a white lobster buoy to mark the dive site. The local dive shops that visit this wreck maintain these buoys. The depth of the water is 93'. It’s located 5 miles due south of Key West or one mile southwest of 9' stake. This is NOT a Sanctuary Preservation Area so it’s OK to take fish from here. The GPS Coordinates are 24'27.668N and 081'46.019W.

This artificial reef is a steel hulled ship measuring 187' long and 37' wide. It was built in 1937 to be a United States Coast Guard buoy tender. She was used to lay mines in the ocean. She was later put into service laying cable across the ocean floor. Some rumors argue that she was more like a personal yacht than a cable layer for a local Commander in Key West. She was used as a freighter and flew the Panamanian Flag. Then she got involved in the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. She had a cargo of 1400 Cuban Refugees when she was seized by the US Government. She was actually taken by the CIA, FBI and local Key West Police with full automatic machine guns pointed at her crew as was being brought into port at the Key West Navy Dock. A couple of days later she mysteriously sank at that dock.

divers on the shipwreck

In 1985 she was refloated. Her superstructure was cut off and the hull was cleaned and prepared to become an artificial reef. Doors and entanglements were removed then holes were blasted to open her up.

In the early 1990's she was being towed to deep water, 300' to become an artificial reef to attract fish for recreational and commercial fishermen. On the way out the cable snapped and she began taking on water. She drifted a while then sank in the sand in 90' of water. She landed on her port side. A few years later in August 1985, Hurricane Kate tore through the Florida Keys. It created a surge on the ocean floor strong enough to right the ship to an almost perfect upright position.

This is one of Key West’s signature dive sites. You’ll need to have an advanced dive certificate or log book showing recent dive experience below 80' to dive her. Lots of the time you’ll have current either on the bottom at the wreck of at your decompression stop. The visibility is usually pretty good, about 50'.

You’ll reach the bow of the Cayman Salvage Master at 60', the deck at 72' and the stern, interior compartments and engine room at 80'. There’s a cable pulley on the bow and a giant rudder under the stern. It’s penetrable but due to her deteriorating hull and a few dangling wires on the inside it’s discouraged. I recommend you have an experienced local dive master guide you through the ship. Large Jewfish have been seen in the engine room and an even larger one living under the stern of the ship. Snook and grouper hang out on the inside compartments and there’s an impressive green moray eel at the cable pulley. Large barracuda hang motionless over the wreck.

You’ll notice some unusual artifacts near the ship. There are three bicycles that are said to have belonged to the Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift, and there’s a public pay telephone off the port side close to the wheel. To the south of the wreck are a group of coral heads to explore.

The Cayman Salvage Master is a favorite dive site for local Florida Keys spear fishermen. Many large black grouper have been taken from this wreck.

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