Meet new scuba divers, maintain a virtual dive log, participate in our forum, share underwater photos, research dive sites and more. Members login here.

San Pablo / Russian Freighter - Pensacola FL

San Pablo / Russian Freighter is a boat accessible salt water dive site, located in Pensacola, FL. This dive site has an average rating of 4.33 out of 5 from 18 scuba divers. The maximum depth is 91-100ft/28-30m. The average visibility is 41-50ft/12-15m. This dive site provides bathrooms and airfills.

30° 11.333’ N 087° 13.057’ W

The S.S. San Pablo was a refrigerated cargo steamer built in 1915 in Ireland. The ship had three decks and a steel hull. It’s length was 315 feet and she had a 40 foot beam. Prior to World War II, the San Pablo was owned by Central American merchants and mainly shipped fruit between Caribbean ports. Like all other merchant vessels, during World War II the San Pablo became a target for the German submarines who sought to disrupt commerce worldwide.

In May 1942, a U-boat intercepted and fired on San Pablo as she sailed near the Yucatan Channel. The San Pablo was unarmed and so frantically maneuvered in an attempt to outrun the submarine. Finally, the Key West command center bluffed the Germans by radioing that air support was on the way. The U-boat submerged which allowed the San Pablo to escape to safety in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Unfortunately, the San Pablo was not safe for long. While unloading cargo at the same port in July, the German submarine U-161 fired two torpedoes which struck the San Pablo midship. The ship quickly sank, killing all 23 men aboard. The masts and superstructure remained above water.

In early 1943, the ship was raised and towed to Tampa for repairs. However, the War Shipping Administration declared the San Pablo a total loss. She was then towed to Panama City and sunk in September 1943 for use in target practice (Cover Story). Later it was decided that the ship was a hazard to navigation, so it was destroyed by explosives.

Capt Gene from Wet Dream told us the ship did not sink accidentally after WW2 torpedo damage in Costa Rica, and being towed toward a Mobile AL shipyard when she just sank. Instead, she was a target ship for a secret OSS operation to test a remote-control speedboat loaded with explosives and scuttle charges (and which could be disguised as a local fishing boat complete with fake engine noise and exhaust smoke to defeat the axis hydrophones so as to sneak past their harbor defenses) which had forward-looking television broadcast back to a control station (on a B-17 just above) who could "see" and steer her and work the throttle by radio control. Well, it worked just fine, check out the waterspout when the submerged charges went off on starboard side midships on the PABLO:

Video of test and wreck;

Link to story;

The wreck is now mostly debris, but the boilers and stern section are somewhat intact. The wreckage sits in 75-85 feet of water less than ten miles from Pensacola Pass. Many fishermen frequent the wreck which has attracted a large marine community. Grouper, snapper, cobia, flounder, and schools of baitfish frequent the wreck. Many consider the spot great for photography and visibility of 100 feet has been reported at times.

This wreck is also known locally as the "Russian Freighter", but nobody knows how the San Pablo came to called this

Nice dive but pretty much destroyed except for the Boiler which has the tallest relief on the wreck. But lots of fish and usually see a shark of or two


Dive Site Map

Click to Load Map


fletch944t - 8/08/2017 11:18 AM
Dove here on 07/28/17. This was our third, and last, dive of the day. True to form, the visibility got progressively worse as we got closer to shore. By the time we got to the freighter, the visibility was down to about 10 feet. It was poor enough that my dive buddy was reluctant to venture out of the visibility of the mooring line. In fact, when the deck hand came up from mooring the dive boat and gave us the dive site briefing, he could not tell us for sure where we were tied into the wreck.

That being said, I’ll offer an observation about this wreck. The freighter is NOT a well defined wreck. Over the years, it’s become quite torn apart by storms. So, if the visibility is poor (unusual for this site), it would be easy to stray from the wreck, lose your bearings, and have difficulty locating the mooring line at the end of your dive. Therefore, if the visibility is poor, when you reach the bottom of the mooring line, as a minimum, take a compass reading to get your bearings. Even then it may not be clear as to how the wreck lays out from your starting point. A better plan, IMHO, would be to carry a wreck reel and tie off at the bottom of the mooring line. No matter what direction you go from there, you should have little problem finding your way back.

Hope this helps.
Skeptic14 - 7/26/2017 12:01 PM
I went scuba diving here on 7/23/2017. Average viz: 41-50ft/12-15m. Water temp: 76-80°F/24-27°C.
Great dive, interesting wreck with lots of fish and structure; three large boilers and other wreckage provide an excellent environment for marine life.
tardmaster - 9/12/2016 2:15 PM
Rating Added: 4
great site. lots of sea life. tons, TONS of toad fish. The two boilers were impressive.
billsoccer - 8/13/2015 6:25 PM
Rating Added: 4
dove with 2 buddies last weekend withe Scuba Shack in Pensacola. Nice dive - lots of fish. One of my buddies was lucky enough to see one of several sharks. Viz might have been 50’. Water at depth was 70F. I’d dove this several years ago when I was a newbie and saw lots more, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back, as it was too spread out to see in 1 dive
seaturtle504 - 10/18/2014 4:57 PM
Rating Added: 4
Night dive on the Russian Freighter, October 2014:
Czechcanadian - 7/03/2014 5:42 PM
Rating Added: 3
It’s a good dive. The wreak is spread out. You can see to large boilers. I saw two Sandbar sharks and a Goliath Grouper hang out.
tinahawkins - 5/09/2014 2:11 PM
Rating Added: 4
Went May 7, 2014, with H2O Below. 68 degree water, only 20 feet of viz due to recent bad storms, but tons of marine life. Saw a large grouper, lots of schools of fish. Stuck by my dive master as this is basically large piles of twisted metal and rubble and it’s easy to get lost on. If you don’t have a dive master, would recommend using your reel, especially in low viz conditions. I want to come back to this dive site as there are so many great hiding places for fish, you can spend a lot of time enjoying the nooks and crannies. Cool history on this wreck, lots of fun.
cducote - 4/08/2014 12:35 PM
I went scuba diving here on 4/6/2014. Average viz: 61-70ft/19-21m. Water temp: 61-65°F/16-18°C.
Amazing Dive. Vis was excellent , alot of fish
cducote - 4/08/2014 12:32 PM
Rating Added: 5
One of the best dives I have been on in the Gulf. the Vis was excellent. Lots of fish. Dove with Scuba Shack on the "Wet Dream". Great Dive, Great Dive Shop, Great Crew.
dducote - 4/07/2014 3:43 PM
Rating Added: 5
Awesome dive! 50-60’ viz! Wreck is scattered but was a really good dive. Lots of different fish.
fasjr - 1/30/2014 4:20 PM
Rating Added: 5
rcy7 - 1/30/2014 9:44 AM
Rating Added: 5
Great vis, many fish. Very interesting.