Notes about things regarding scuba diving that I have come to know.

Pete's Southern Maine Regional Dive Site Guide
Ship Cove at Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth
Fort Williams Park A.K.A. Portland Head Light

This site is known by many names. Decommissioned by the US Army in 1962 the site has been a public park since 1979. The cove located down on the left and visible as you crest the entrance road is known as Ship Cove and is the principal dive site here. If you follow the main road you will come to Portland Headlight. Immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow it is not uncommon to see several tour busses loaded with visitors pass by during a dive outing. Most of the signage will be for Portland headlight, just follow signs to Fort Williams, the home of Ship Cove. Fort Williams is located on Cottage Road in Cape Elizabeth.

This site offers 2 distinct dives. The left side in my opinion is the better of the 2 however the right is different and has its share of delights. Parking is rarely a problem. The institution of peak season parking fees has thinned the crowd. You pay at a kiosk. If you plan 2+ visits over the season you will be money ahead with the season pass. Keep the pass out of the sun when not in use, it will fade to a blank sheet! Being backed up to the ocean side is preferred, but even the walk from the cul-de-sac is no big deal. It is not uncommon to encounter dive classes at this site. There is free parking in the upper lots.

In season there are 3 porta-potties for your comfort. This park closes at sunset, and they mean it. About 10 minutes prior to the official published sunset time a truck with a PA speaker will direct you to leave. This means that night dives not permitted, and even late summer evening dives are limited.

Remnants of the fort can still be explored. The stately stone structure up on the left is the Goddard Mansion. The building went into disrepair and in 1981 the fire department set it ablaze to gut the structure. The remaining stonework remained accessible to the public into the 1990s. During that time a local furniture filmed a popular TV commercial with the room settings placed in the majestic remains. The building is now boarded up and can only be viewed from outside. To this day it is a popular location for weddings and post wedding photo shoots.

But you came here to dive right? As I said my favorite is the left-hand side out in front of the mansion. Here you will find deep rugged ledges that extend down to about 50 feet at high tide. The site can be enjoyed at any tide, but high tide is best. Be sure to have a flashlight. This site has many crevices and overhangs.

Be careful in getting down to the water. There is a slope of loose cobblestones, and the sea will rearrange them from time to time. Choose your path carefully. Stones will be loose and laced with logs, lost lobster gear, and general wreckage. The actual central entry will be a mostly sandy bottom, with scattered stones.

Once you get into the water and are ready to go, begin a surface swim out and to a side. The main cove is a sandy bottom. Skate, flounder and sand dollars can be found down there but we usually conserve air on the way out. When you have had your fill of surface swimming, or the bottom is out of sight, drop down and continue heading out diagonally to your chosen side.

The yellow trace on the left side of the cove is my preference if the seas are behaving. Eventually you will encounter the base of the cove side ledge. If you are near high tide and at least 12 feet deep, head up into the rocks and locate the cut or ravine that leads out of the cove. For the most part it is 1 diver wide and you will frequently have rock walls rising up well above you on both sides. Lots of critters will be close up. Eventually you will get to the end of the ledge or down to 25 feet or so. At this point it's time to dive down to the sandy bottom. You will find some ledge walls rising from the sand and eventually it will transition to a rocky bottom. As you venture out watch for the tidal current which can become pronounced as you get closer to the channel. If it gets intense, head back towards shore then traverse to the sandy mouth of the cove.

When out near the mouth of the cove you may notice that the sand ripples are not running parallel to the beach since they are aligned with the channel flow. As you enter the cove proper, they will align parallel to the beach and at a right angle to your travel as you would expect. Trust your compass. On the way back I like to loop out onto the sandy bottom, watching for ,moon snails, sand dollars, horseshoe crabs and whatever.

On this dive be prepared for some significant sounds. It is not uncommon to see oil tankers and container ships pass in front of the site. They are travelling out in the channel, well out of range to recreational shore divers. Keep this in mind if you consider heading straight out. Lobstermen and receational fishing boats are common here. Some divers will tow a flag here. You may choose to carry a DSMB to shoot to the surface if you need to surface and have concerns about boating activity.

The magenta dive as shown is out to the right side. As much as the left is deep high fluted ledges the right side is a flatter rocky place. Begin your dive after entering from the beach. If it's high tide you can go to the ledges that line the right hand side about way out of the cove. Here you may be able to find the "caves". Large flat rocks are positioned to make some good sized spaces that multiple divers have been known to enter. I prefer to peer in with my light since they are loaded with anemones and other sea life that divers would disturb. Eventually you can round the corner to the right and work your way down and back up the coast. The dive will not be quite as deep but much can be spotted. This side will reward divers with military shell casings and clips from time to time.

If your air supply allows, it can be fun to head out on the left, get back into the cove, then cross the cove to the right hand side, and follow that side back in.

Whatever dive you make be sure to reach the beach near the center. The corners are very rocky and treacherous. Be prepared to entertain the folks with stories of what you spotted. It is not uncommon to encounter dive classes at this site. Local History Link

This Dive Site at a Glance:

  • SCUBA: Yes
  • SKIN-DIVE: Yes
  • PARKING: Fee in summer, otherwise free
  • TOILETS: In season
  • TIDE: All
  • SEASONS: All
  • EXPOSURE: NE
  • ENTRY/EXIT: Easy
  • FOOD: Summertime hot dog cart
  • GPS: 43.625763,-70.212679
  • Google Maps link

Here is a view of the parking area and general site

These are the 2 typical dives. See the text for details.

This page created January 2008 - Updated June 27, 2022