We all start our diving training and experiences in nice calm, shallow water so that we can learn and practice the basic skills needed to dive safely. As we dive more and train further we open ourselves up to more advanced dive sites and water conditions, many of which include a current, whether it is the gentle flow along a reef or a rush in a rock gully.
Any form of drift diving adds extra challenges but a strong current can be dangerous if not properly prepared for. Here are some handy tips to help get you ready and get the most out of your drift dive.
It goes without saying that you should always be paying attention to the dive briefing. The skipper, instructor, divemaster or whoever is performing the briefing has valuable information about the site layout, depth, orientation, hazards, etc. If you are diving on a reef you'll be given instruction on where certain bits of kit, such as reef hooks, can or can't be used. Does everyone need to ascend on their own DSMBs or do buddy pairs share unless separated? Where is the expected surface point? Are their important navigation markers and bearings to remember? What are the emergency procedures? It is a good idea to jot any pertinent information down on your slate so that you'll have the details with you during the dive.
It is important not to get bogged down with unnecessary kit on a drift dive. If conditions aren't appropriate to take your camera rig then don't overburden yourself with it and, to be honest, you're not going to have much chance to stop and compose a shot in strong current anyway.
It is a really good idea (possibly even a requirement) that each diver have a DSMB in the event of separation, allowing safe ascent that can be monitored by the surface cover / boat. Whistles, air horns and flags are also are a good idea to have as well to attract attention when on the surface. In really strong currents it might even be advisable for divers to carry a personal locator such as a Nautilus Lifeline.
Pre-Dive Buddy Check
Before you even start to get kitted up make sure that you go through the dive plan with your buddy to make sure neither of you have misheard or misunderstood the plan.
Get your yourself and your kit ready in plenty of time so that you're not rushing to get in the water at the last minute. A lot of drift dives will need divers to descend immediately so as not to miss the dive site during the descent. Once you have both entered the water perform a quick check that your buddy is happy and then submerge.
During the Dive
Currents can have a habit of forcing divers apart so be sure to stick close to your buddy, even if that means you occasionally bump into them. If you become separated it makes it that much more difficult to help or be helped should either of you run into a problem, especially if you have to swim against a current to reach your buddy.
Make use of the terrain during the dive. If you need to pause, duck down behind a rock or reef that will shelter you from the current. Always be looking ahead to potential places to stop and obstacles that you could bump into, be snagged on or become entangled in.
Having good trim and orientation can really help you to enjoy your drift dive. Keep yourself flat and use small fin adjustments to correct your position, angle and bearing. Unless you are catching up with or re-positioning closer to your buddy there is little need for big fin movements as the current is doing the work for you.
Time to Ascend
Remember the instructions that were given during the dive brief. Do you need to swim anyway from the reef in a certain direction before deploying an DSMB and ascending.
If you are using your buddy's DSMB then make sure you stay close but be aware of current changes and wave surges as you ascend, especially during your safety stop when unpredictable water movements might push you into the line and become an entanglement risk.
Once on the surface stick together, keeping your mask and regulators firmly in place until you have safely boarded your boat. Removing either before you are safely on board could mean you are unprepared if you slip from the ladder or are struck by a large wave in unsettled water.
What to do if something happens
If you get separated just remember your training. Stop, remain calm, think about the situation and come up with a plan that you can action. In the majority of instances you'll give yourself a minute or so to look through 360 degrees as well as above and below for your buddy or group before preparing to safely ascend to the surface.
Deploy a DSMB if you aren't already using one and ascend at a normal safe rate to the surface, adhering to your dive computer and safety stops. Once on the surface take a look about for your buddy / dive group and boat and attract their attention (which is where a whistle or air horn would come in handy).
Drift diving is a really pleasurable type of dive that allows you to cover much greater distances over varied terrain with the opportunity to see different marine life that use the currents to gather their food. If you keep these tips mind will help you make drift diving as enjoyable and safe as any other dive you have done.