SS Benwood: Night Dive Experience

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scuba diver above the wreck of SS Benwood Key Largo
SS Benwood Key Largo

The SS Benwood was a steam cargo ship that sank in 1942 after colliding with another ship off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Her wreck now lies in 25-45 feet of water and is a popular dive site in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Article at a Glance

  • The SS Benwood wreck is located at 25°03’10″N 80°20’01″W, approximately 1 mile northeast of Key Largo, Florida.
  • The wreck lies in 25-45 feet of water, with the bow section being the deepest at around 48 feet.
  • It is well-marked with mooring buoys, making it easily accessible for divers of all certification levels.
  • The Benwood is known for its abundant marine life, including schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, and goatfish.
  • It is particularly popular for night dives when turtles are frequently spotted.
  • The wreck’s clear layout makes it ideal for beginner navigation training dives.
  • Several dive shops in Key Largo offer guided night dives to the Benwood wreck, including Amoray Dive Resort, Ranger Rick’s Scuba Adventure, and Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

SS Benwood Wreck Location Coordinates and Depth

Depth

The wreck lies on a sandy slope in 25 to 45 feet of water, with the bow section being the deepest at around 48 feet.

Location & Coordinates

The SS Benwood wreck is located at 25°03’10″N 80°20’01″W, approximately 1 mile northeast of Key Largo, Florida.

SS Benwood Dive Map
SS Benwood Dive Map

What Do Scuba Divers Say About This Ship

  1. Easy to Reach and Dive: The Benwood wreck is located just one mile northeast of Key Largo, making it easily accessible for divers. The wreck is well-marked with a buoy and four anchoring buoys, making it simple to locate.
  2. Accommodates All Levels: The wreck’s depth ranges from 24 feet at the stern to 48 feet at the bow, making it suitable for divers of all levels of certification.
  3. Abundant Marine Life: The Benwood is known for its rich marine life, including large schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, and goatfish. The wreck has become an artificial reef, attracting a diverse array of fish and other sea creatures.
  4. Historical Significance: The Benwood played a significant role in World War II, carrying important supplies to the military. Its historical importance adds to its appeal for divers interested in shipwrecks and maritime history.
  5. Navigation Training: The Benwood is often used as a navigation training site for beginner divers due to its clear layout and shallow waters. Divers can practice navigation skills while exploring the wreck.
  6. Night Dives: The Benwood is particularly popular for night dives, with turtles often spotted during these dives.

What Kind of Marine Life Can Be Found on The Ship

  • Large schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, and goatfish
  • Spotted morays
  • Juvenile goliath groupers
  • Sharks and barracuda
  • Octopus

The wreck has become an artificial reef, providing a habitat for these fish and other marine life. The shallow depth of the wreck, between 25 and 45 feet, allows sunlight to penetrate and supports the growth of colorful corals and sponges.Divers often describe the marine life as vibrant and abundant, with the wreck serving as an “oasis” for fish in the area due to the lack of reef immediately surrounding it. The wreck’s scattered remains and exposed ribs provide numerous nooks and crannies for marine life to thrive.

Key Information

FeatureDescription
Location25°03’10″N 80°20’01″W, approximately 1 mile northeast of Key Largo, Florida
Depth25 to 45 feet, with bow section deepest at around 48 feet
AccessibilityWell-marked with buoys, making it easy to locate and access for divers
Experience LevelSuitable for all certification levels due to shallow depth range
Marine LifeKnown for abundant marine life like schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, goatfish
Night DivingParticularly popular for night dives when turtles are often spotted
Navigation TrainingClear layout makes it ideal for beginner navigation training
Dive Shops Offering Night DivesAmoray Dive Resort, Ranger Rick’s Scuba Adventure, Rainbow Reef Dive Center

What Makes The SS Benwood a Unique Diving Experience

  1. Accessibility: The wreck lies in shallow waters, ranging from 25 to 45 feet, making it accessible to divers of all levels, including beginners.
  2. Abundant Marine Life: The Benwood is known for its vibrant marine life, with large schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, and goatfish. The wreck has become an artificial reef, attracting a diverse array of fish and other sea creatures.
  3. Historical Significance: The Benwood played a significant role in World War II, and its historical importance adds to its appeal for divers interested in shipwrecks and maritime history.
  4. Navigation Training: The Benwood is often used as a navigation training site for beginner divers due to its clear layout and shallow waters. Divers can practice navigation skills while exploring the wreck.
  5. Night Dives: The Benwood is particularly popular for night dives, with turtles often spotted during these dives.
  6. Photography Opportunities: The wreck’s shallow depth and abundant marine life make it an ideal location for underwater photography, especially when the sun shines brightly upon it.
  7. Unique Profile: The wreck’s “skeletonized look” due to nature’s processes and its use for target practice gives it a “creepy profile” that makes it a favorite among underwater photographers.

How Does The SS Benwood Compare to Other Shipwrecks in Florida

  1. Shallow Depth: The Benwood lies in relatively shallow waters between 25 and 45 feet deep, making it accessible to divers of all levels, including beginners.Many other notable wrecks in the Keys are much deeper.
  2. Abundant Marine Life: The wreck is known for its vibrant schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, and goatfish. Its artificial reef environment attracts a diverse array of marine life compared to some other wrecks.
  3. Historical Significance: As a merchant ship sunk during WWII, the Benwood has historical value that appeals to divers interested in maritime history. Its wartime armaments are a unique feature.
  4. Scattered Remains: The Benwood’s scattered wreckage over a wide area is a result of salvage efforts, military target practice, and natural forces. This makes for an interesting dive site to explore.
  5. Photogenic Qualities: The Benwood’s shallow depth, vibrant marine life, and “skeletonized” appearance make it a favorite among underwater photographers. The sunlight brings out the colors of the corals and sponges.
  6. Navigational Training: The Benwood’s clear layout and shallow waters make it ideal for navigation training dives, especially for beginner divers.

What is The Full History of This Ship

The SS Benwood was a steam cargo ship built in 1910 by Craig, Taylor & Co Ltd. in Stockton-on-Tees, England. She was 360 feet long with a 51-foot beam and a water displacement of 3,931 tons. Her home port was Newcastle, England and she was registered to Kristiansand, Norway.

The Benwood was owned by the Skjelbred Company, Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission, and was powered by a steam engine yielding 1800 horsepower at 9.5 knots.

She sailed with a crew of 38, and was armed with 12 rifles, one four-inch gun, 60 depth charges, and 36 bombs in response to the U-boat threat during World War II.

On April 9, 1942, the Benwood was northbound from Tampa, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia carrying a cargo of phosphate rock. To avoid detection by German U-boats rumored to be in the area, the Benwood extinguished all external lights. Heading southbound in the same shipping lanes, the steamship Robert C. Tuttle was also blacked out on its voyage to Atreco, Texas.

In the darkness, the Benwood collided with the Tuttle, crushing its bow and causing it to take on water. The Benwood’s captain turned the ship toward land, but 30 minutes later gave orders to abandon ship. The next day, the Benwood was found grounded with its keel broken and declared a total loss by insurance underwriters.

Salvage operations began soon after the sinking and continued into the 1950s. It’s believed the wreck was intentionally blown up to mitigate navigational hazards, and the U.S. Army also used it for aerial target practice after WWII. Today, the remains of the Benwood are scattered over a wide area and form one of the most popular shipwreck dive sites in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

ss benwood wreck
ss benwood wreck

What Historical Features Can Still Be Identified on The SS Benwood Wreck

  1. Bow Section: The bow of the Benwood is the most intact part of the wreck, forming an impressive 25-foot vertical profile in the water column. This section provides evidence of the collision that sank the ship.
  2. Hull Structure: Aside from the bow, the hull structure of the Benwood is mostly intact up to the level of its hold deck. Large steel knees that joined the deck plate to the outer hull and sides of the vessel are still visible, outlining the ship’s original shape.
  3. Cargo Mast Assembly: The remains of a metal cargo mast assembly have been found some 800 yards away from the main wreck site, accompanied by a mast partner at a depth of 18 feet. These elements match historic photographs of the Benwood and may have been blasted or carried by strong currents to their current location.
  4. Armament: The Benwood was armed with 12 rifles, one 4-inch gun, 60 depth charges, and 36 bombs in response to the U-boat threat during World War II.While the specific armaments may not be visible, the fact that the ship was armed is an important historical detail.
  5. Scattered Remains: The wreck is scattered over a wide area due to salvage efforts, military target practice, and the effects of storms and currents. These scattered remains provide evidence of the ship’s fate and the various activities that have impacted the wreck site over the years.

What Safety Measures Are in Place for Divers Visiting the SS Benwood

  1. Mooring Buoys: The wreck is well-marked with a buoy and four anchoring buoys, making it easy for divers to locate and anchor their boats safely.
  2. Shallow Depth: The wreck lies in shallow waters, ranging from 25 to 45 feet deep, which reduces the risk of deep-water hazards and allows for easier navigation and emergency response if needed.
  3. Navigation Training: The Benwood is often used as a navigation training site for beginner divers due to its clear layout and shallow waters. This helps divers develop essential navigation skills in a relatively safe environment.
  4. Guided Dives: Many dive shops and operators in the area offer guided dives to the Benwood wreck, ensuring that divers are accompanied by experienced professionals who can provide guidance and assistance if needed.
  5. Regular Maintenance and Monitoring: The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which manages the wreck site, conducts regular maintenance and monitoring to ensure the site remains safe for divers and to protect the marine environment.
  6. Commemorative Buoy and Documentation: A commemorative buoy and documentation have been placed at the site to honor the ship’s history and provide information to divers about the wreck’s significance and safety guidelines.

List of Dive Shops That Prove Diving Trips to This Shipwreck

Several dive shops in Key Largo, Florida offer diving trips to the SS Benwood wreck site:

  1. Amoray Dive Resort
  2. Ranger Rick’s Scuba Adventure
  3. Rainbow Reef Dive Center
  4. Divers Direct Key Largo

These dive shops provide guided dives to the Benwood wreck, which lies in 25 to 45 feet of water about 1 mile northeast of Key Largo. The wreck is well-marked with mooring buoys to help divers locate it easily.

The Benwood is a popular dive site due to its shallow depth, abundant marine life, and historical significance as a World War II merchant ship. Divers can expect to see large schools of grunt, porkfish, yellowtail snapper, and goatfish around the wreck.

Many dive shops, including Amoray Dive Resort, also offer night dives on the Benwood, which is known for spotting turtles and macro photography opportunities. The wreck is considered an ideal first wreck dive for beginner divers due to its clear layout and shallow waters.

Which Dive Shops Offer Night Dives at the Benwood Wreck

Several dive shops offer night dives at the SS Benwood wreck site:

  1. Amoray Dive Resort: Amoray Dive Resort has been offering seasonal night dives to the Benwood for nearly 30 years. The dive shop team loves to dive the Benwood at night, when turtles are almost always spotted.
  2. Ranger Rick’s Scuba Adventure: Ranger Rick’s Scuba Adventure lists the Benwood wreck as a popular site for night dives and transition dives at dusk.
  3. Rainbow Reef Dive Center: Rainbow Reef Dive Center offers guided night dives to the Benwood wreck, which is known for its interesting spires, nooks, and crannies to explore, and lots of fish.

The Keys Wrecks