Diving in the dark can reveal a whole new world – and often a more colourful and thrilling one at that! Marine animals behave differently as they hunt or try to survive being hunted. Coral polyps burst out like blooming flowers, feather stars unfurl their stinging cells like branches bending in the wind and the common octopus flashes a kaleidoscope of defensive lights. Then BANG - you are now on the receiving end of the famous middle finger salute following a, your tank/his head collision! See our guide below on how to avoid being a klutz and become a responsible night diver.
- Be aware of your surroundings
While your peripheral vision narrows on a night dive, don’t let your awareness of the environment do the same. Descend horizontally, point your torch downwards and face the direction you intend to travel – this will all help to orientate you at the start of the dive. Be aware of what is below you, particularly bottom-dwelling organisms and don’t land on the coral! Keep your fins above the sand to avoid kicking up the bottom as this will ruin the visibility for other divers. If your buoyancy needs work, do a Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty course prior to night diving. Also be aware of what is above you like boat traffic and other divers.
- Don’t blind your buddy or the marine life
Of course, if you are new to night diving using a torch will need some practice. To avoid scorching the retinas of your dive team, always descend with the torch pointing down, ascend with the torch pointing up and check where you are going before you look for points of interest. Never put your torch “down” when checking gauges as it can swing from your lanyard and blind your buddy or worse – drop into the abyss. Some marine life – such as sharks - have very sensitive eyes and others can be put in danger if disturbed. Parrot fish for example form a mucus cocoon over their body like a pair of slimy pyjamas! This mucus is a deterrent to predators and parasites as they sleep. Once disturbed the mucus is useless.
- Communicate properly
Night diving is really exciting but don’t forget to check in with your guide and buddy frequently. Correct communication underwater is crucial to a successful excursion and signalling procedure will be discussed in your pre-dive briefing. Some people prefer to make shapes on the bottom with their dive light to communicate, while some point the torch to their tummy which is used as a TV screen for hand signals! Your guide and buddy still need to know you are okay and how much air you have despite the fun you might be having. It’s worth carrying a slate to write messages on in case you don’t remember the right signals.
- Move slowly
While it is good to be closer to your buddy in poor visibility, don’t crowd them or the dive guide. Give space to others and try not to kick like you have a rocket up your backside! Night diving sites and the areas covered are usually small and you don’t need to cover a lot of distance. This is because you can see as much in a few square metres as you might in an entire day dive! Nocturnal critters (including some coral polyps and crinoids) come out at night to hunt or feed. Enjoy watching these National Geographic moments while hovering motionless. You will find it a very mindful experience listening to the sound of your breath. Take it easy, and you will avoid getting a fin in the face!
- Wear the correct exposure protection
In tropical destinations you might be lucky enough to do a night dive every day on a liveaboard or at a resort. The pair of shorts you were wearing during the day might not be enough exposure protection on a night dive, however. You will be moving less and therefore might feel the chill sooner. The simple addition of a neoprene vest, hood or rash guard can make all the difference. Secondly, nocturnal marine life can sting if you touch it accidentally. Basket stars, jellyfish and toxic scorpionfish spines are potential hazards the world over. It is a real shame for someone to end their dive early in the event of a marine life sting. It is also embarrassing to ask your buddy to pee on you! For this reason, some divers pack a long wetsuit rather than a shorty. If you want to wear gloves, always check out local rules as some National Parks do not allow them.
- Wait your turn!
We are much more focused on critters than the topography during a night dive. Chances are it will be a small cuttlefish or crab that gets all the attention. Wait patiently for your chance to get close to it. If you crowd the animal, you might scare it off which will severely annoy the group or buddy pair who were in front of you. Too many exhaled bubbles also have a habit of “blowing” away delicate marine life. On the other side of the coin, don’t hog the wildlife. Move on and let others behind you have their turn.
- Get certified
Many people night dive just for the fun of it, but there are new skills you can learn that will improve your ability for diving at night. So why not do a Night Diver Specialty course? Buoyancy, navigation, using a torch and identifying fish are all things you may have had a go at in daylight but are not so proficient at when the sun goes down. If you are going anyway, take a qualified instructor and get a new certification! For the sake of a few extra quid, you won’t regret it.