Have you ever wanted to strike out on your own as a diver? If yes, it’s important to recognize that there’s more to shore diving than gearing up, wading into the water and swimming off. Exciting shore diving opportunities abound, but you’ll need to do a bit of preparation beforehand.
The Perks of Shore Diving
One of the reasons shore dives are so attractive is due to the freedom you and your buddy will have when planning and enjoying your self-guided dives. You are free to choose special sites to explore, whether it is a freshwater quarry, an inland lake or an ocean site with shore access. The timing of the dive is totally up to you and your buddy — and Mother Nature — as you’ll always want to plan your shore dive when conditions are most favorable. You can decide on the time and place to dive, as well as the length and depth of the dive. And those who struggle with motion sickness will tell you they prefer shore diving to sitting on a rocking boat. And one more advantage of shore diving is that it is a cost-effective way to indulge in your passion for diving.
As independent divers, you and your buddy or buddies are responsible for mapping out your plans for the dive trip. To avoid any major problems, begin making plans well ahead of the first dive. Discuss possible dive locations where shore diving is permitted and easily accessible. Complete a checklist of all equipment needed, keeping your dive objective in mind. Also, include items necessary for setting up a base camp.
Even though you’ll be diving on your own, it pays to consult the pros at the dive center nearest your shore diving location. This makes sense and not just because it’s likely where you’ll be getting air fills and buying or renting gear, like extra dive weights or a “diver down” float/flag. They’re also the source for local expertise on your planned dive location. Chances are, they know the local sites well and might even have maps and/or charts to share, along with tips and advice about the best parking spots, entry and exit areas, and more. If it’s your first time exploring a new shore diving site, their experience will likely prove to be invaluable.
Inquire about current weather patterns and tidal variations. Check recommended websites, books or apps for additional information. Site selection will also depend on your objectives, such as exploring a shipwreck or visiting some other underwater feature.
Once at the site, visiting with other divers is also an excellent way to gain information about the area. Ask about the ease or difficulty of the entries and exits. Does the underwater terrain have slippery or sharp rocks? If making a lake shore entry, is the bottom muddy or silty? How is the visibility? Are there any potential hazards you should be aware of?
Arrive at the site early enough to observe the area before gearing up and entering. Watch for boat traffic, kayaking or jet skiers in the area, especially in lakes. Ocean activities such as parasailing, wind surfing and paddle boarding are common and typically close to shore. Keep an eye out for potential environmental challenges, such as rip currents. If you decide the area presents too many challenges, it’s best to move to another location.
Establishing a Base Camp for Shore Diving
Now that you have done your homework and found the best site for you and your buddy, it is time to set up base camp. Avoid high traffic areas and be considerate of others near you when claiming a desired spot. Anything from your car to a large tarp spread on the ground will work. Cars work well if the parking area is near enough to the dive site. You can gear up at the vehicle, stow any personal articles and lock the car before moving to the entry site. Place the key(s) in a secure wetsuit pocket in a dry pouch before beginning your dive.
A tarp spread on the ground is especially handy if you have a non-diving friend who can stay at base camp while you are diving. When spreading the tarp on the ground, be sure to keep it safely above the high water line. Place dive gear around the edges of the tarp, making it easier to gear up without tracking sand or debris onto the tarp. Secure the corners by setting extra weights or other items at each corner.
Stock the base camp with anything you may need. Provide plenty of snacks and fluids, especially water, to enjoy during surface intervals. Other important items to have handy include a first-aid kit, eco-safe sunscreen, emergency information, fully charged cell phones and DAN (Diver’s Alert Network) membership numbers for each diver. Also, remember extra parts for maintaining gear or underwater cameras.
Navigating Entries and Exits
Once the dive site is selected and base camp is set up, decide on the best entry and exit points. Also, determine an alternate exit point in the event conditions change during your dive. When gearing up for a shore dive, don all of your gear but the mask, snorkel and fins. If you wear open-heel fins that accommodate dive boots, consider buying a pair with a rugged outsole. If you normally wear full-foot fins, consider wearing a thin pair of neoprene socks with a non-skid coating on the bottom. This will help you avoid slipping and will also protect your feet from injury as you make your way in and out of the water.
Help each other gear up and then perform a pre-dive buddy check before you enter the water, confirming that your tank is turned all the way on and that all gear is in working order and that you have important accessories such as a compass and dive float/flag and line/reel. If conditions allow, wade into chest-deep water before donning your fins. Start by donning your mask and snorkel and then add air to your buoyancy compensator (BC). Once in the water, as your buddy supports you, slip on the first fin using the Figure 4 method. Switch legs and put on the other fin. Now assist your buddy as he or she dons their fins. If conditions warrant that you don your fins at the water’s edge, you and your buddy can take turns steadying each other. Once you’ve got your fins on, continue to help each other as you carefully shuffle backwards or perform a sideways “crab walk” into the water.
If you intend to do a surface swim out to the dive site, make sure you have plenty of air in your BC for comfort at the surface. You might also wish to switch from regulator to snorkel to conserve gas supply. Plot a compass heading on the way out and reverse the heading when returning to the exit point. Also, use natural navigation like heading along a wall or other natural feature.
Always monitor your gas supply and remember to plan your dive so you have plenty of breathing gas remaining for your return to the exit area. Many divers plan their dive by “thirds” — using a third of a tank for the outbound dive, a third for the return, leaving the remaining third in reserve in case of emergency.
Shore diving is best when the surf is mild. Rough surf with large waves can be dangerous and should be avoided. If this situation occurs, consider other possibilities such as using a dock or stairs to enter and exit.
Learning how to execute shore dives can be an exciting addition to your diving adventures. Just remember to do your pre-dive homework, practice necessary safety procedures and enjoy the freedom and fun scuba diving from shore has to offer.
Shore Access. A Sure Thing?
Many inland dive sites, such as lakes and quarries, are privately owned. Coastal areas are open to the public but might be situated in areas with privately-owned homes or businesses nearby or are within state or national parks. When planning a shore dive, it’s important to find out how to gain access legally — and respectfully.
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When diving a private site or visiting a state or national park, an entrance fee might be required and you might also need to show proof of certification, proof of divers’ insurance (DAN or other) and you might need to sign a liability waiver and agree to abide by the owners’ rules of operation.
When using public access to ocean sites, be considerate of private homeowners. This includes avoiding parking in private parking areas, keeping the noise to a minimum and being discrete when changing out of wet wetsuits.