Ins and Outs: How to Choose Entry and Exit Locations

Entering and exiting the water are fairly simple tasks once you learn the correct techniques. From shore, divers shuffle in with fins in place...

Entering and exiting the water are fairly simple tasks once you learn the correct techniques. From shore, divers shuffle in with fins in place or carry them into chest-deep water and don them while floating on the surface. Exiting onto shore is generally a reverse of the method used to enter.

When diving from a boat, the controlled seated entry, back roll and giant stride are commonly used techniques. And to get back onto the boat, climb the ladder or perform a deep-water exit.

From a dock or platform, the giant stride and controlled seated entry are appropriate techniques while the ladder exit — if the dock is so equipped — or deep-water exit will get you back onto dry land with relative ease.

Scuba students spend significant time learning to execute entries and exits, however, much less time is devoted to evaluating where to enter and exit. The location you choose is just as important as the technique employed. Convenience and ease of getting in and out are important considerations when determining where to enter and exit but safety is the overriding concern. Avoid areas with boat traffic and other potential hazards.

Some diving venues take the decision making out of choosing entry and exit points, by restricting water access to specific locations (photo 1). This protects divers from unseen hazards, keeps them away from areas where bottom composition is easily stirred, thus clouding visibility, or prevents too many divers from ending up in the same place at the same time. Even if entry and exit restrictions don’t make sense at the time, you can be assured that they are imposed for good reasons. Always obey posted signs.

Both entry and exit locations should be selected before donning your scuba unit and heading for the water. Begin by standing back and carefully evaluating viable options (photo 2). Get the big picture and look beyond the obvious. First consider safety, then convenience and ease of getting in and out.

When performing a giant-stride entry from a dock or platform (photo 3), always confirm that the water is of sufficient depth. Floating docks are especially deceiving; they float at the same height above the water’s surface regardless of the water level. You may have successfully strided from a floating dock at a lake or quarry when the water level was high, but seasonal variations in water depth beneath that same floating dock could make it too shallow for a safe giant-stride entry. Avoid making unconfirmed assumptions when choosing entry and exit locations.

Water conditions are another consideration when selecting the safest, easiest and most convenient entry and exit locations. In some cases, tidal movement can be used to a diver’s advantage. Experienced divers sometimes use rip currents, locations in the surf line where the water from incoming waves congregates and forcefully funnels back out to sea, as an easy way to get beyond the surf line. If you enter using a rip current, you’ll need to select a different exit location. It is a dangerous waste of energy to attempt to swim against the out-rushing water.

When entering and exiting through ocean surf, choose your locations carefully. As a general rule, incoming waves break when the depth of the water equals the height of the wave. Use this to help determine how quickly the bottom contour drops off. (For more information, see “The Amphibious Assault: Shore Diving Basics,” Dive Training, May 2003.)

When the waves are small and the bottom gently sloping, it may be easier to walk into waist-deep water before donning your fins. When waves break close to shore, it often is best to don your fins at water’s edge and shuffle in. Choose the location and technique that result in the easiest and safest entry.

Entering through heavy surf (photo 4) can be dangerous, especially for inexperienced divers, and should be avoided. However, before aborting a dive because of water conditions, investigate alternatives. Search for a nearby sheltered inlet or cove with calmer water.

Before finalizing your entry location, decide upon an appropriate exit point. When diving inland bodies of water like lakes, quarries and springs, you frequently are able to enter and exit at the same location, but when currents are present you may end up entering in one location and exiting in another.

When currents are minimal to weak, you may be able to dive into the current during the first leg of the dive and float back for the return leg. This allows you to enter and exit at the same location. However, you then face the danger of overshooting the planned exit location and being carried farther downcurrent, where you’ll have to swim against the current to get back.

When currents are strong, divers often plan the dive to drift with the current — entering at one location and exiting at another farther downcurrent. When shore diving where current is present, always identify an alternative exit location farther downcurrent from where you plan to exit, in case you overshoot the primary exit point.

When diving in the ocean, always be aware of the phase of the tide — incoming, outgoing or slack. Tidal movement can drastically change the look of your entry/exit location between the times you enter and exit the water. A narrow beach flanked by rocky cliffs is a good example. Incoming tide could cover the sandy beach where you entered, leaving you an impossible exit over a rocky facade. Before finalizing your entry and exit locations, consider the effects of tidal movement.

Bottom contour has a significant effect on where you enter and exit the water when diving from shore. A sand or pebble bottom that continues beyond chest-deep water is safest and easiest. A mud bottom leaves goo on your fins and booties, and often provides unsure footing, making it easy to fall while entering or exiting. A silt bottom is easily stirred up, decreasing visibility to zero.

A bottom contour consisting of larger rocks requires caution because of unstable footing and the potential for turning an ankle or getting fins caught beneath larger rocks. And avoid entering or exiting in areas where the bottom is strewn with hazardous debris.

Look for locations that allow an easy walking entry and exit — a gently sloping beach or grassy shoreline — and easy access to the parking area or your base camp. (For more information about base camps, see “Shore Diving Made Simple: How to Set Up a Base Camp,” Scuba Skills, Dive Training, May 2003.)

Whenever possible, avoid steep, slippery terrain and climbing over rocks. Algae-covered rocks can be very slippery and dangerous, especially when you are wearing scuba gear (photo 5).

The fun and safety of your dive is affected by the locations you choose for getting into and out of the water, especially when diving from shore. Consider boat traffic, wave action, bottom contour and the shoreline, and anticipate changes in tidal flow before making your decision. Rank safety ahead of ease and convenience, and you’ll get in and out without a hitch.


Story by Lynn Laymon
Photos by Barry and Ruth Guimbellot