Vancouver Island – One of the Best Cold Water Diving Destinations in the World
Spend enough time above the waters around Vancouver Island and it will only be a matter of time until you get curious and want to get a closer look and what’s below the surface. When this happens, and you go for your first scuba diving experience in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll quickly come to realize the region is filled with all sorts of underwater scenery – from reefs, walls, shipwrecks, and plenty of marine life.
Here is our list of some of the best diving locations off the coast of Vancouver Island. Don’t forget your dry suits and headlamps – waters around here are cold and dark, but worth it!
Let’s dive in!
Artificial Reefs around Vancouver Island
Xihuw Boeing 737
Not actually a shipwreck, but a “plane wreck”, the intentionally stripped and sunken Xihuw Boeing 737 can be found in Stuart Channel near Chemainus on Vancouver Island’s central east coast. It’s been down there since 2006 and still very much recognizable.
G.B Church Freighter
The G.B. Church is a 175-foot freighter that was sunk in August 1991. She can be found near Princess Margaret Marine Park/Portland Island north of Sidney on Vancouver Island. She’s actually not too far from us here at Van Isle Marina.
The HMCS Saskatchewan is a 366-foot World War ll naval vessel turned artificial reef and sunk near Nanaimo in 1997. The top of the mast is about 45 feet below the surface and the bulk of the vessel is between 80 and 100 feet.
HMCS Cape Breton
The HMCS Cape Breton is another World War II naval vessel sunk purposefully near Nanaimo. This 401-foot vessel was sunk in 2001, settling almost perfectly upright at about the same depth as the Saskatchewan. Find both of these HMCS vessels off the coast of Snake Island.
Before it was turned into an artificial reef, the Rivtow Lion was a 147-foot rescue tug built in 1940. She became an artificial reef off the coast of New Castle Island near Nanaimo in 2005. Because of the RivTow Lion’s location in sheltered calm waters and her modest size, she is considered a suitable dive site for beginners.
Journey out a bit farther away from Vancouver Island to the Sunshine Coast and you’ll find the HMCS Chaudière. Another artificial reef that was purposely sunk in 1992, the 366-foot Destroyer Escort lies on its side starting at about 50 feet below the surface in Kunechin Sound in the Sechelt Inlet. You’ll know you’re at the right artificial reef when you see the mounted guns with long barrels protruding from the vessel!
Still a bit further off Vancouver Island, located 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bay in Hacklett Bay in Howe Sound, the HMCS Annapolis was sunk in 2015. At 371 feet, this artificial reef is massive with plenty of unique explorable features, like a helicopter hanger. It’s only 25 minutes from Horseshoe Bay and worthy of the trip from Vancouver Island.
Shipwrecks around Vancouver Island
Recognized as a provincial heritage site, the SS Capilano sank 100 feet deep by the Grant Reefs, between Savary and Harwood Islands in the Strait of Georgia. Built in 1891, the SS Capilano was an early coastal passenger and freight steamer before sinking in 1915. The wreck was discovered in 1973 relatively intact and remains one of the best wreck dives on the BC coast, appreciated for its historical value.
The Robert Kerr wreck is another heritage site worthy of exploration just north of Thetis Island. This converted Barque sank in 1911 after hitting a reef. It’s impressively still more or less intact and still identifiable despite being underwater for more than 105 years. This is considered a shallow dive at 60 feet.
If you make it up to Port Hardy on north Vancouver Island, you’ll be near the SS Themis, a 270-foot Norwegian cargo ship that sank in 1906 near Crocker Rock in Queen Charlotte Strait. There is not much left of this wreck, but a few identifiable pieces still remain, plus you’ll see some of the largest lingcod you’ve ever seen lingering about!
Shore Dives around Vancouver Island
If exploring deep depths to explore sunken ships and airplanes – intentionally or otherwise – is a little daunting for you, consider starting off with a simple shore dive. Shore dives are suitable for all levels of divers, including those just gaining an interest in the sport. Simply gear up on shore and walk right into your next scuba diving experience!
Or, for even more fun and convenience, save yourself the walk with your bulky equipment and access any of the shore dive sites by boat and drop anchor as close or far to shore as you like!
Recommended shore dives around Vancouver Island include:
- Odgen Point Breakwater, near Victoria
- Elliot Beach, near Chemainus
- China Creek, near Port Alberni
- Keel Cove, near Nanaimo
In the Nanoose Area, just north of Nanaimo, also check out any of these beautiful shore dive locations: Cottam Point, Dolphin Beach, Madrona Point, Oak Leaf Tyee Cove, The Jib, and Wall Beach.
Boat Dives around Vancouver Island
Of course, when you have a boat, nothing beats the thrill and ease of going for a cold-water dive right off the swimming platform of your boat or yacht. If you’re looking for the best boat dives around the Island – that don’t involve the narrow passages and deep, dark pockets of a sunken ship or airplane – consider the following boat dive locations, recommended for all levels of divers.
For beginner boat dives, start with:
- Clark Rock, near Nanaimo
- Neck Point Park, near Nanaimo
- Yeo Islands, near Nanoose
- Norris Rocks, near Hornby Island
- Broughton Archipelago, in the Queen Charlotte Strait
- Blackfish Sound, near Hansen Island and Swanson Island
- Zeballos Inlet and Kyuquot Sound, near Nootka Island
- Tahsis Narrows and the Gardens, near Nootka
For more advanced boat dives, check out:
- Quatsino Narrows, near Port Alice
- Browning Pass, near Port Hardy and the SS Themis
- Breakwater Island, near Nanaimo
- Dodd Narrow, near Nanaimo
- Gabriola Passage, near Nanaimo
- Snake Wall Island, near Nanaimo and the HMCS Saskatchewan and Cape Breton
- Alcala Point, near Ladysmith
- Sansum Point, near Duncan
- Octopus Point, near Duncan
- Race Rocks, near Victoria
Always research your intended dive site before heading out, and make sure all beginners are comfortable with the depth and currents!
If you’re looking for a new boat or yacht to take your diving experiences to the next level, the team here at Van Isle Marina is happy to help. We have a wide range of pre-owned yachts and boats for sale, in addition to suitable sports models from Riviera and Pursuit that would provide plenty of space for all your diving equipment. Take a look at our current selection online, or visit us in person at 2320 Harbour Road near the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal.