How to drift dive safely? Part 2: Being prepared
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Part 2: Being prepared.
Diving in strong currents can be daunting and can be dangerous, if not done with the right precautions, preparation, and gear.
Here are a few tips (divided into 3 posts) to minimise the risk of mishaps and maximise pleasure.
Part 1 Checking conditions
Part 2 Being prepared
Part 3 Essential gear
Know the End (of the dive site)
As mentioned before, some drift dive sites have an end, after which you will be headed to open sea, or hard to locate by the boat due to landmass, constructions, or other visual obstructions. If you are new to the site but it's already a well-known site, ask where the end is, if there is one, and what the visual underwater landmark is signifying you are getting close to the exit point( a heart-shaped coral, a pile of square cement mooring blocks, a big cable, a huge patch of branching coral...). Even if you are not guiding, it's useful and safer for you to know when you need to prepare to end the dive and when you've gone too far, and things could get a little hairy.
Do a current check
If in doubt and you feel you may have missed the ideal time or that the deepwater current may be doing something different from the surface current (yeah, it happens), jump in with a mask and have a look at what the fish below are doing, and anything that might be moved by the currents.
If the fish are all facing in one direction swimming furiously, chances are the current is pretty strong. If they are dillydallying about every which way minding their own business without a care in the world, chances are, the current is mild or non-existent. You'll also probably notice if you start drifting off away from the boat so don't forget to hold on to it whilst checking! You may also want to check anything floating on the surface, the flow of the water, and how the boats are tugging on their moorings, all signs of how strong the current may be.
Number of participants and when to decide to abort a dive
Two other important aspects to take into account when going to strong current sites is how many people will you will have in your dive group. The smaller the number the better, unless everyone has already agreed that they are autonomous buddy teams, but the boat needs to know this and they need to be equipped for it. As a rule of thumb 4 divers to one is a good number for keeping a group together and everyone being able to enjoy the dive safely.
If conditions change or worsen, the currents get too strong, start turning downward/upward, the group starts getting split up, DO NOT hesitate to abort the dive. Better to miss out on a dive than to end up ascending far away out in the high seas far from boat and landmass!
A good dive briefing is key
We've spoken before of the importance of a good briefing in diving and in particular in drift/ current diving. Make sure you agree on the procedure for reuniting if lost, ascent if split from the group, what gear to have in each diver's pocket and how to use it if need be, how to react in a down current/ up current, and many other useful hints to have a great dive, like how to hide behind coral heads in the lee (sheltered) side to enjoy small sea life. The briefing also needs to include where and how the safety stop will be done (again this may be on the lee side of a submerged coral outcrop). Make sure everyone knows what they are doing, ensuring a relaxed and pleasurable dive.