Drift Scuba Diving

Drift diving is a popular form of diving which is defined not by equipment or technique, but by location and water currents. In most open water diving situations the scuba diver propels himself by swimming and kicking the fins. In drift diving the diver descends into water with a known current and after obtaining neutral buoyancy lets the current carry him along.

Drift diving is arguably the most relaxing and pleasant diving experience there is. Because the diver is not exerting himself by swimming, he uses less air and thus can stay submerged longer on a single tank. Many popular drift diving reefs have currents which run parallel to the reef; once submerged the diver relaxes and watches the scenery float by; using only minimal effort to stay neutral and navigate around formations.

The whole point of drift diving is to “go with the flow” and not to swim against the current. The movement is often so gentle that divers don’t realize how powerful the current is; but they may soon realize its force when trying to swim against it! With a group of divers swimming into the current differences in swimming strength and fitness quickly become apparent since some divers swim easily upstream while others struggle to keep up. Going with the current a large group of divers can stay together very easily. Regardless of fitness level or swimming strength swimming against a strong current will use more air and the exertion of fighting the current abbreviates the diving experience.

Drift diving is almost always done from a boat drop-off. Do not anchor a boat and jump in – you must have someone on board to follow you. Once you begin drifting you will be carried quickly away from your drop-off point – often much more quickly than you realize or expect. It is very important for the boat captain to know which way the current is flowing and follow you from above. In calmer water (especially with larger groups of divers) the boat captain can see your bubbles and follow them. It is a very good idea for one (or more) of your group to have a signal flag or inflatable marker tube, on a reel, that you can send up when you begin to ascend – the boat will see it and approach to pick you up.

Rescue Diving

Rescue diving appeals to those heroic souls who respond in emergency underwater situations. Rescue training is recommended for dive masters who accompany less experienced divers into open water or for anyone who would be diving independently with only their buddy. The peculiar kinds of situations that occur underwater require specialized first aid and rescue techniques which are not covered by normal first aid training.

Rescue divers learn:

  • Transports – including “piggyback swimming” and surface transport
  • Surface Rescues – including first aid while floating in open water
  • Depth rescues – helping and retrieving a victim from depth
  • Strategies for boat and shore diving emergency situations
  • Standard First Aid – like CPR, wound dressing, immobility techniques
  • Aquatic First Aid – similar to lifeguard skills

Rescue diving qualifications and certifications are not easy to earn and those who are qualified rescue divers deserve great respect. The physical fitness requirements are extremely demanding, which is understandable given the tasks a rescue diver may be asked to perform. While the training may be less rigorous than those for Police divers, or Coast Guard forces, certification in rescue diving is challenging enough. For those who want to take their diving skills to higher levels and work as a scuba instructor, divemaster or guide the rescue diving certification is recommended.

Cave Diving

For experienced scuba divers, who want to experience something completely different, cave diving is fascinating and exhilarating. Scuba diving in a cave is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, it is similar to spelunking (normal cave exploration), but with the added thrill of being underwater. Open water scuba divers are accustomed to not being completely surrounded and with the freedom to move and swim wherever they choose. Cave diving is different; you will often be following a predefined course through narrow crevasses into great “rooms”. Penetrative wreck diving also involves scuba in an enclosed space, but an experienced diver would agree that the two are difficult to compare.

Aside from the regular scuba equipment, for cave diving you will need an underwater torch or underwater light. Once you are past the entrance you will not be able to see without it. The darkness is absolute. The only light you will get is the light you bring with you. As part of your training, you should know how to secure the strap to your wrist or BCD to ensure that it will not be lost if it is dropped. As exhilarating as it is to be diving in a cave there are few things more frightening than being disoriented deep within a cave, with no light. Scuba divers always dive with a buddy, but in cave diving a buddy with a light can save your life if your light burns out, gets broken or is inadvertently dropped and lost.

For the recreational scuba diver, many popular diving caves will have been explored thoroughly and will be marked with direction signs and strung with guidelines. A cave system is almost never a simple series of rooms connected along an easy path; cave systems are complex mazes of many passages. Imagine entering an underwater room and looking back to see that there is not one, but dozens of passages that all look similar, not knowing which way leads back to the entrance. Being neutrally buoyant, in a space which looks similar in every direction, can be very disorienting and most cave diving fatalities are the result of poor navigation. Established cave diving sites have guide lines strung through them so that you can follow it back to the entrance.

Why would a scuba diver want to explore underwater caves? Quite simply, the interiors of caves are beautiful. As you enter an underwater cave the first sensations are excitement and awe. Many underwater caves look quite boring from the outside, but once you get inside the beauty and serenity will astound you. The water in caves is not stirred by waves or tides, so it is so incredibly clear. In fact, you may forget you are underwater and instead feel like you are floating in air.

Cave diving is obviously not for people who may have claustrophobic tendencies. Before attempting cave diving the diver must know themselves and know their boundaries and be certain they are comfortable in enclosed spaces. For open water divers additional training is required.

Cave Diving is not like Open Water diving. Open Water divers require additional training before attempting cave diving.

Safety precautions for cave diving includes:

  • Get training. Learn how to do it before you try it.
  • Reserve an extra light source. Every member of the group must have a main torch, and a backup light source strapped to their gear which can be retrieved if the other fails. Some recommend 3. More is safer.
  • Be conservative with your air. Do not extend the dive those extra 5 minutes because you’re having such a good time – remember an open water diver can head for the surface at any time. You still have some swimming to do before you get out – don’t count on being able to hold your breath! A popular recommendation is to divide your tank pressure into thirds; spend one third going in, one third going out and keep the last third in reserve.
  • Enter and Exit as a group. The air rule applies to the entire group. When the first member of the group reaches 1/3 air supply, the entire group must head back.
  • Follow the guideline. Don’t stray curiously into adjoining passages assuming you will find your way back.
  • If you go cave diving, do it safely!
  • The safety precautions on this page are incomprehensive, and are not a substitute for cave training. To get training for cave diving, ask at your dive shop.

Open Water Diving

Open Water diving is the most common kind of diving you will attempt as a certified recreational diver. In fact, the first level of certification is called “open water certification”, signifying that you are certified to dive in open water (in contrast to the controlled environment of a swimming pool). More advanced certifications are available in rescue divingcave diving, and more.

Wreck Diving

Wreck diving is a dive targeted at visiting a sunken vessel. Open water certified divers on a wreck dive may visit wrecks, explore the hull, peer inside and explore the exterior. Wrecks often act as man-made reefs, and are home to an abundance of fish who seek it for shelter from predators, so wrecks are often an ideal place to see unusual or elusive species of marine life.

Open water certified divers do not penetrate the vessel. Penetration – entering enclosed spaces within the vessel – is potentially dangerous and should not be attempted. All enclosed underwater spaces have potential danger, but wrecks especially so, since the structures can often be brittle, imbalanced or unstable, with poor visibility. Special wreck diver training is available for divers interested in entering and exploring wrecks.

One savory reverie about wreck diving is that you might discover a lost ship weighed down with Spanish doubloons and rusty chests full of rubies and pirate booty. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will ever find a lost ship full of Spanish gold. Though there certainly are hundreds (possibly thousands) of sunken treasure ships lost in the oceans and seas of the world, any that are under 100ft in depth have almost certainly been picked clean by the time you get there! As you plan a dive ask a local dive master where the most accessible and interesting wrecks are and if they can lead you to them. Treasure ships are usually lost in unimaginably deep water, beyond the reach of a scuba diver using conventional sport diving gear and are instead found using sonar and aerial surveying technology and deep-sea submersible crafts.

However, once in a while, scuba divers do stumble upon priceless artifacts. If you do find anything of great value underwater make sure you know the local laws regarding its removal. Many countries have tough laws governing the protection of archeological artifacts.

Wreck divers may also be interested in underwater archeology. For those willing to travel there are lost cities – entire towns engulfed by water and accessible for exploration by a scuba diver. Underwater archeology is a very young field, but explorers have already found large “lost cities” in the Mediterranean, underwater temples, sunken Neolithic constructions and even Japanese pyramids older and larger than any in Egypt!

Underwater tourists needn’t be limited to ancient architecture. In the 1930’s, a few small communities along the Colorado River were abandoned because they were in the flood space of the new Hoover Dam. These can still be visited as underwater “ghost towns” at the bottom of Lake Mead.

However you do your wreck diving, do it safely!