Diving The USS Oriskany
The USS Oriskany is a memorial to the thousands of men whom served on board during her years of service. NOTHING is to be removed from the ship, and please refrain from placing graffiti on her.
There are many charter operators in the Pensacola area that regularly run trips to the USS Oriskany. Contact us for help in choosing the charter operation that best fits your needs.
Diving the Oriskany is best done with a plan, but not one that is too ambitious. The island itself is larger than most wrecks, and divers can easily spend several dives exploring the upper structure. Plans of the ship are available, and the staff at MBT is available to help you plan your dives - WE DO NOT PLAN YOUR DIVES FOR YOU!
The USS Oriskany sits upright on the bottom in 220ft of water. The top of the smokestack is 84ft deep. Most of the Island including the flag and nav bridges, chart plotting room, captains and admirals at sea cabins, and Pri Fly is above the recreational diving limit of 130ft. The flight deck is 145ft deep, the Hangar Bay is at 175ft.
The following specifics for dive operations for trips to the USS Oriskany have been established by most of the local operators. Please remember, we do not own the boats, and all charter fees and policies are set by the captains. Any of the information provided below is subject to change at any time. A List of recommended local charter operators can be found on our Dive Charters Page.
- All divers wishing to dive the USS Oriskany must have a minimum of 20 logged dives.
- Openwater Divers that do not possess an advanced certification or a deep diver specialty certification: Must have completed a total of 20 logged dives will be required to dive with a guide. Must have completed 2 logged dives within the last year or complete a refresher dive.
- Advanced Divers or those with deep diver specialty certifications: Must have completed 2 logged dives at or below 80 feet in the last year to dive without a guide. Must have completed 2 logged dives within the last year to dive with a guide.
- Divers must have an alternate air source - octo or redundant air system.
- Divers must have a safety sausage or similar marker device and whistle.
Technical divers have found Oriskany to be more formidable than expected, and veteran cave divers have come back expressing awe at the challenges she presents. Significant penetrations are difficult and risky. PLEASE REMEMBER, DIVERS SHOULD NOT GO INSIDE THE SHIP WITHOUT PROPER TRAINING!!
A Note About Deck Plans: The internal layout of the ship has changed dramatically, and deck plans are no longer reliable! Rushing water and the concussion from the explosives caused severe damage to the lightweight aluminum bulkheads that made up a large portion of the internal structure of the ship. Hatches, ladders, decks, and bulkheads were also removed prior to deployment.
MBT Divers offers an exclusive USS Oriskany diver specialty class that provide a unique historical perspective of the ship, an informative guide of what to look for during your dive, and a brief review of specific hazards encountered when diving Oriskany. This course was developed over years of research and includes material provided by Oriskany veterans - this is what they want you to know. The course is scheduled by appointment, and those completing the course receive a "USS Oriskany Diver" recognition certificate.
The USS Oriskany sits upright on the bottom in 220ft of water. The top of the smokestack is 84ft deep. Most of the Island including the admiral's and navigation bridges, chart plotting room, captains and admirals sea cabins, and primary flight bridge is above 130ft, and there's plenty to see above 100' making her a great dive for all skill levels! USS Oriskany Dive Charters are running daily, and we can accommodate groups or individuals.
Overall, The Mighty O has fared storms very well. In 2008 Hurricane Gustav gave her a slight starboard list - about 5 degrees- and helped her sink into the sand approximately 8'. Physical damage to the ship was insignificant with some steel flashing torn loose from the smokestack. Survey dives revealed no additional damage or settling from Hurricane Ike.
Tropical Storm Ida hit the area in November 2009, and when divers were able to again visit Oriskany, they were awed by what they found. The portion of the Island which covered the funnels leading to the smokestack has collapsed, and the funnels have collapsed onto the flight deck on the port side of the Island. The net result is a 10' wide by 52' "Gap" in the Island, creating an awesome swim through.
An in-depth survey and additional research showed that this portion of the island was built using light weight materials and was not "structural" in nature. The area had also suffered damage prior to reefing.
The remainder of the Island is structurally sound, with virtually no damage, including the top of the smokestack and the catwalks that crossed the area at several levels. The Florida FWC and engineers have examined the ship and have deemed the area safe for divers.
All of the major attractions on the ship are still intact including the iconic "34" on the port side of the island. Divers that have visited Oriskany since Ida have all agreed that the "gap" is an overall improvement for divers as well as marine life. The overall life expectancy of the Oriskany as an artificial reef should not be adversely affected.
Oriskany's keel was laid in Brooklyn on May 1, 1944 and she was launched on October 13th, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. Construction was suspended until the start of the war in Korea, and then she was rushed to completion and was commissioned on September 25th, 1950.
Oriskany completed her first deployment to the Mediterranean in 1951 in support of Allied efforts to prevent Soviet aggression through Eastern Europe and the near east. A year later, while en route to her new duty station in San Diego, Oriskany became the first aircraft carrier to sail around Cape Horn on June 29th, 1952. Oriskany left her home port of San Diego and Completed One combat cruise to Korea in 1952-53.
Following the Korean War, Oriskany and her crew starred in "The Bridges at Toko Ri" and "Men of the Fighting Lady".
Oriskany underwent modification, which included the addition of a new angled deck, enclosed "hurricane" bow, and new upgraded electronics. These upgrades enabled Oriskany to operate with more modern jet aircraft, and prepared her for her next combat role.
Oriskany sent her first aircraft into combat in Vietnam in 1965. A-4 Skyhawks, F-8 Crusaders, A-7 Corsairs, A-1 Skyraiders, and A-3 Skywarriors, flew the majority of the combat missions, with H-2 Seasprite helicopters flying support.
Off of Vietnam, on the morning of October 26, 1966, tragedy struck when a fire broke out in an ordinance storage area near the officers stateroom area. 44 men were killed, many in their sleep by toxic fumes. Several aircraft were destroyed, and the ship was forced to return to the US for repairs. Oriskany was back in combat less than a year later. James Stockdale and John McCain were both based on Oriskany when they were shot down over North Vietnam and became Prisoners of War.
Despite being one of the smallest and oldest Aircraft carriers in service at the time, Oriskany launched more aircraft sorties, Oriskany pilots flew more missions, and Oriskany lost more aircraft and men to enemy fire than any other carrier in the Navy during the war in Vietnam.
The USS Oriskany was decommissioned on September 30, 1976 and was sent into preservation in Bremerton Washington until she was stricken from the record in 1989.
The reefing process covered several years, millions of dollars, and sheer fortitude by a group of dedicated people to complete. We are grateful to those that helped to get her here and get her deployed as the largest artificial reef in the world.
Special recognition goes out to Admiral Jack Fetterman who spearheaded the effort from the start and was truly a motivator for us all throughout the process. Without his leadership along the way, the Oriskany project would likely have never been completed. Sadly, Admiral Fetterman passed away just weeks before the deployment was complete. A very special thanks goes out to the thousands of USS Oriskany veterans that came out in support of the reefing project (though some of them took a lot of convincing), and have become not only some of the strongest supporters of the project, but also have become great friends.
Many of the displays and artifacts that cover the walls of MBT have been generously donated by former crew members who have been a priceless resource for technical information and some great "sea stories".
The initial phase of the preparation of the ship for deployment saw her towed to Corpus Cristi Texas where workers removed all fuels and oils, all chemicals, glass, and all hazardous solid materials. The work was thorough to the point that they removed the wooden flight deck because of the fuels, hydraulic fluids, and more that had contaminated the deck over 30 years. The back portion of the flight deck is decked in aluminum The Oriskany was towed to the Port of Pensacola in late December of 2004, where she sat while the county, state, federal government, and the Navy crawled through what seemed like endless red tape. The Oriskany project, being the first of a planned long list of projects to use obsolete ships as reefs, was scrutinized heavily by environmental groups and government agencies alike, and the project required specific research to be conducted to determine to what degree the ship needed to be stripped.
Her first stay in Pensacola was largely overshadowed by this process, and very little material work was done to prepare the ship. In June of 2005, with no short term end to the red tape in sight, and with hurricane season upon us, Oriskany was towed back to the better protected location of the reserve fleet in Beaumont TX to wait for a decision that would allow the project to go forward.
In early 2006, the Navy finally got the approval from the EPA to continue with the project, and the preparation of the ship was begun without delay. On March 22nd, Oriskany returned to Pensacola, this time to the carrier pier at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. With another hurricane season approaching, the Navy set an ambitious target date of May 15th for the deployment, and work continued at an impressive rate. Special preparation was made to make the ship as safe for divers as possible, including the removal of all entanglement hazards above the flight deck, cutting large access holes through the Island, and the removal of nearly every hatch and door throughout the ship, all the way down to the engine rooms.
As the deployment date approached, MBT Divers was fortunate to be chosen to provide dive support for Parallax Films in filming for the Discovery Channel documentary "The Sinking Of An Aircraft Carrier". MBT's primary mission would be the recovery of four cameras that would be placed in various locations on the ship in hopes of getting video from the ship during the sinking. Two of the cameras got some truly incredible footage, including the now famous "wall of water" rushing up inside the hangar bay. The camera mounts are still in place. On May 15th, 2006 Oriskany left the pier for the last time, amid cheers and tears from thousands of onlookers, and was towed 24nm offshore into position for deployment. Appropriately, on May 16th, the last landing approach to the carrier by an aircraft was made by Denny Earl, a former Navy pilot that had been stationed aboard Oriskany in 1967.
On the morning of May 17, 2006, the scuttling charges were detonated and almost immediately Oriskany began to settle lower in the water. After a tense 37 minutes, during which she rolled to port, and then to starboard, Oriskany was at rest on the sea floor, perfectly upright and intact just as planned. Remarkably and as a proud testament to the efforts to clean Oriskany, very little debris was left on the surface, and there was no oil slick following the sinking. The sinking of the Oriskany was the single biggest news story that day world wide.
The next morning, divers from Resolve Marine, the US Navy, the state of Florida, and MBT Divers conducted the first dives on Oriskany in rough conditions and building seas. Visibility was excellent, and not a complaint was heard. For trivia sake, Travis Allinson of Resolve Marine was the first person to dive Oriskany after her deployment. Ken Beasly made these dedication plaques and arranged to have them placed on the Oriskany before the deployment. We had been told about their placement on the ship, but we were surprised and humbled to see them so prominently displayed on the Island at flight deck level. The plaques, as with all aluminum on the ship, corroded quickly and are no longer recognizable.
Charter Boats and the general public visited Oriskany for the first time on the morning of May 19th, 2006.