Depending on where you get your basic scuba certification and complete your first ocean (or lake or quarry) dives, diving from shore may or may not seem intuitive to you. For those that begin their diving experience from a boat, it can seem a little daunting to just walk in from the beach or pier. There are a few things to consider when it comes to shore diving that may not be a concern from a boat and we’ve outlined them below. Please feel free to add comments with additional tips and tricks when it comes to shore diving.
Water & Surface Conditions
Any time you are diving, whether from boat or shore you should have some idea of the water conditions. When diving from shore, conditions such as a strong surface current can impact divers’ ability to safely make it to an appropriate exit point. Understanding the tides and currents in an area can help prevent such troublesome situations.
Aside from tides, visibility, surf and temperature are other conditions that divers must take into account.
Temperature both in the water and on the surface should be taken into account when shore diving. Keeping warm both in the water and out are important in the winter and appropriate exposure protection should be brought to the site and utilized. However, when diving in BC in the summer divers have to consider the possibility of overheating and should take appropriate steps to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These include moving heavy gear as close to the entry as possible before donning wetsuits or drysuits and undergarments; being fully prepared to get in the water prior to completely donning exposure protection; possibly choosing dive sites with minimal distance to the entry point; being well hydrated; having the dive planned and reviewing buddy check procedures prior to donning exposure protection and gear. Minimizing the amount of time one spends out of the water while suited up and in full gear is critical in warm weather.
Wind conditions can be an important factor in choosing whether to dive or choosing a dive site, even from shore. We have several dive sites near Vancouver that face different directions due to our rocky, convoluted coastline. Some will be more protected than others during heavy winds, depending upon the direction the wind is coming from. This will affect wave action at the surface, surf when entering the water and possibly a bit of surge in the shallows as well. Obviously, lighter wind conditions are preferred.
Know the entry/exit points
Being familiar with entry and exit points is important for some of the reasons mentioned above as well as a few more. Often on boat dives the boat or a dive skiff will respond to divers at the surface; however, when we are diving from shore we sometimes don’t have the option of exiting wherever we wish. Diving in Howe Sound, for instance, means that we are diving along a fjord which is characterized by steep walls/cliffs punctuated by rocky shores and the very occasional sand or pebble beach. Sometimes there are several entry/exit points near each other, like at Whytecliff and that is a little more forgiving than other sites. Some divers even plan to do dpv or drift dives during appropriate tides from one entry to a separate exit.
If diving a new site, it is wise to first go down and inspect the entry point. Even when diving a well-known site, this is a good idea due to dynamic water conditions and the possibility of massive logs washed up onshore as driftwood blocking or severely impeding entry. Divers should consider the safety of entries when fully geared up (and markedly less agile). Included in this consideration is, obviously, surf conditions. If an entry point is not suitable at the time of a dive, there are usually plenty of alternative sites nearby in the Vancouver area. Dive plans should be adjusted accordingly if an alternative site is chosen.
One should also be aware of local parking regulations when shore diving. You don’t want to exit from a dive only to find your vehicle with all your warm clothes, emergency gear and cell phone towed away.
Topography and Potential Underwater Hazards
Diving from a boat often means you have a captain or guide to orient you to the area and let you know what to expect when you descend (though not always) and if not, perhaps there is technology aboard to illuminate what lies beneath in terms of geography before taking the plunge. However, this is often not the case when diving from shore. Good local guide books like 151 Dives by Betty Pratt Johnson often detail the topography one will encounter.
This is important in terms of planning your dive and setting appropriate depth and exposure and decompression limits. It also helps in terms of planning direction and finding potential points of interest.
Also, if there is much current in an area, as when doing a drift dive, changes in topography may translate into upwellings and downwellings and divers will need to be especially aware of their depth and buoyancy.
Personal Fitness & Limitations
Shore diving can take a bit more energy and work than boat diving, especially in cold water with the extra lead weight required to counteract the buoyancy of our exposure protection. Often sites have long and/or difficult walks (or hikes) to and from entry points whilst wearing full dive gear. Divers should not feel pressured to go beyond their ability on land as well as in the water. Overexertion is a concern, but so is potential injury, particularly rolled ankles, et cetera on slippery rocks or steep hills. Having appropriate foot wear (which largely means wetsuit or drysuit boots that fit you well, though some have better ankle support than others) is a good idea.
Long surface swims to appropriate points of descent may also be a factor during shore dives. Sites like Porteau Cove have marked points of descent that are a fair distance from shore. Again, tides, currents and wave conditions should be accounted for, but divers are advised to keep their own limitations in mind and pace themselves. Even sites without marker buoys may require a bit of a swim before descending to get to any decent depth/topography. Guide books are helpful for information about such logistics, as is local knowledge from those that have dived the sites before. Joining along on fun dives organized by your local dive shop is one way to get orientations and learn the best strategies for diving at various local dive sites.
When shore diving, buddy teams are often self-sufficient. This means you are responsible for your own safety equipment such as oxygen, first aid and communications. It also means that personal save-a-dive kits or spare gear are worth considering bringing along as well.
Boat traffic must be considered. Some sites are marine protected areas and closed to boat traffic so this is not much of a concern but other very worthwhile sites are not closed to boat traffic. Some can be very popular with boaters and it may be best to avoid them altogether during busy summer months. Other sites that may not be protected may be reasonably safe, but diving from shore means that divers are responsible for making boaters aware of our presence. Dive floats can be brought out and set in areas with relatively shallow bottoms. Walls and other deep water sites may not permit this. In such cases divers are wise to carry a surface marker buoy that is deployable from depth, attached to a spool with plenty of line. Sending a marker up while on a safety stop helps mark your position to boats in the area and can provide a visual reference for your stop and ascent.
Have fun, be safe and happy diving!!