Drift diving means diving with the current, exactly as the name implies. If you’re a new or novice diver or trying this for your first time, it might sound scary and make you nervous. For many divers, this is one of the most exhilarating types of diving because you just ‘go with the flow’. It’s one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways of diving once you learn the techniques and understand the basics of how currents and tides work.
I have some great tips for you on how to drift dive and a great video to watch.
Remember when you had the butterflies in your stomach when you first learned to scuba dive? Once you received knowledge, understanding and training, it really didn’t take you long to feel comfortable diving underwater. It won’t take long to learn how to drift dive.
Let’s get started…
Ocean currents are movements in water going from one area to another and are caused by wind, water density differences and tidal currents. Some dive sites may almost always have current, while others are driven by wind, rainfall or by the tidal forces that control the direction and strength of horizontal water movement. While visibility in currents vary at sites, large pelagic creatures (i.e. whale sharks) to the tiniest marine life love hanging out delighting in fresh rich nutrients.
In open water, winds can circulate water for miles and miles creating currents at the surface of the ocean or near the surface. Even near the coast, winds can create great havoc resulting in coastal upwelling.
Drift diving requires intricate planning on safety compared to regular diving in relatively still water. To avoid fast tidal currents, keep an eye open when the moon is almost full or a new moon. This is when the water’s horizontal movement is extremely fast making the current stronger and dangerous for divers being swept away. The best time to dive is when the current is very mild and this happens twice a month, the lunar’s first and third quarter.
How is drift diving done?
Drift diving is mostly done from the boat. The boat captain follows the divers bubbles staying a distance away while waiting for the tour guide who is underwater with the dive group to release the colourful surface marker buoy to the surface.
Staying together with your group and dive buddy is extremely important because you don’t want to become separated.
Why I like drift diving
My first drift diving memories began in Cozumel and I can remember feeling a little nervous and spent some time with my professional tour guide on the procedures. Drift diving is now one of my most exciting dives that allow me the most surreal experiences and here’s why…
Many divers refer to drift diving as the lazy way of diving. Why? Well, when we feel lazy we don’t want to do anything. Once you get to the bottom and get into neutral buoyancy, that’s it, relax and simply drift.
1) Diving effortlessly means no work, less energy, and less air consumption. It’s feeling of freedom!
2) The current takes me wherever it wants to go and covers more distances.
3) Larger pelagic sea creatures like the gentle whale shark and the friendly giant manta ray and other smaller hungry marine life can be seen feeding on fresh rich nutrients, the plankton soup, brought in from the current. Even coral is most beautiful and plentiful as they too get to feed on floating plankton at night.
4) Once you start drifting the boat is never too far away from you.
Tips To Get The Best Drift Diving Experiences
Be an expert drift diver.
While drift diving is usually not part of the entry-level Open Water Diver Certification course, some dive organizations like PADI offer a drift diving course as a speciality which I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in doing drift diving for the first time.
1) Additional dive courses courses for buoyancy control is an absolute must, even if you aren’t interested in drift diving. This course, PADI’s Peak Performance Buoyancy teaches you how to feel comfortable and improve your buoyancy skills. The Advanced Open Water Diver Certification is also excellent which can be taken immediately after the entry-level course.
2) Must be properly weighted.
3) Keep doing more dives.
4) Develop a safety plan with your dive buddy, stay close together to prevent separation. Agree when to abort the dive.
5) Maintain and inspect your dive gear. Do pre-dive buddy inspection.
6) Safety dive gear. Always have your submersible marker buoy and whistle attached to your BCD.
While you’re drifting go with the flow.
Don’t fight the current…
1) Once, you’re down near the bottom, remember, don’t fight the current. Cut back on the swimming because if you swim with the current you’re going to miss everything and be too ahead of your dive group.
2) Maintain good buoyancy control and be streamlined. This is the key to having fun as well for safety reasons. Ensure nothing is left dangling that can get you entangled or hurt coral as you drift.
3) Observe the local fish inhabitants in their topography because they already know exactly where to hang out if the current is too strong for them.
4) Stay close to the bottom.
5) Always moving from the time you descend to the time you ascend, you are constantly moving so be aware of what’s ahead of you to avoid obstructions.
6) If you have challenges equalizing your ears, let your buddy know and your buddy remains with you. While equalizing, always keep an eye on the location of your dive group and surface marker buoy (if used) as this your entrance location.
7) Observe the current, you can slow your descent if you find the current manageable allowing you to better clear your ears while you and your buddy catch up to the others. If you still can’t clear your ears or unable to catch up, abort the dive and you and your buddy return to the boat. If you must do this, make sure to inflate your safety sausage so the boat crew can locate you, and use your whistle to grab their attention and wait for the boat to pick you up.
8) Always monitor your air and depth gage. It’s easy to think you have plenty of air because you’re floating effortlessly but it’s easy to be swept deeper than what you should be and therefore end up doing decompression safety stops. Remember to compensate for ample air in the event of an emergency.
Listen to pre-dive meeting.
One of the things I enjoy is listening to the tour guide because it helps me prepare my dive and know ahead of time what I should be expecting and what to look for. This is the time for you to prepare…
1) If you feel you’re not ready to drift dive this is the time to bail-out. If your Tour Guide warns you of current, you can ask questions… ‘How strong is the current?’. Listen to your gut feeling and decide if you need to discuss any stresses with your buddy or tour guide. It’s absolutely ok to not proceed with the dive and your buddy can always partner with another diver.
2) Dive within your limits.
Trying to stay stationary to take photos will be a challenge and you’ll find you need to do some finning which of course, causes you to consume more air. If you’re lucky, you might find some outcropping as shelter or use a reef hook depending on how the dive is conducted.
The best way to take photos is to face the current because finning is easier, you don’t risk losing your mask and you still can see objects ahead.
Don’t forget to secure your camera with a strong lanyard and keep it from dangling!
Pitstop at Artificial Reefs
So you want to see a famous wreck … how will you do this with current and not drift past the wreck?
Depending where you drift dive, different techniques may be used by your tour guide. One of the best ways to dive a wreck is to use a tagline setup at the boat’s stern weighted to the mooring line that goes all the way down to the wreck giving you confidence and time to take photos and investigate. Another way is to have the tagline along the surface. My preference is the weighted tagline.
The most important is to never let go of the line, going hand over hand and watching carefully for barnacles. When you get to the wreck, you can use it as a shelter from any strong current by getting to the leeward side of the current allowing you to hang out at the wreck.
Drift diving is easy and lots of fun! There is no other way of getting the awesome flying experiences and see pelagic activity but the most important step is to do it safely and know your limitations. If you feel your buoyancy is not controlled, there are 2 steps I recommend you take.
If you want to learn more about aquatic currents, learn how to stay together as a group and with your dive buddy, and get real live drift diving experiences while you learn to drift dive then click here for PADI’s Drift Diver Course.
Do you have any stories you would like to share on your drift diving experiences or have comments or questions, I really would like to hear from you. Please put them in the Comment Box below.
Thanks for reading!