Diving in Less than Ideal Conditions

Anyone who dives anywhere in the world can tell you that there are incredible dive days and some less than incredible.  This weekend I enjoyed three dives at Catalina with no current and 100′ vertical visibility.  Today I dove in conditions that were much less awe inspiring.

This is the view from 70' looking up.  You can clearly see the surface and at least 60' horizontally.  It does not get much better than this.

This is the view from 70′ looking up on Isthmus Reef. You can clearly see the surface.  Visibility was at least 60′ horizontally.  It does not get much better than this.

Now there are days when you get to your dive site that you should just call off the dive and go for a bike ride or hike or whatever other terrestrial activity you do when you’re not diving.  High surf, strong currents, or any other conditions that generally make diving hazardous.  However, if conditions are less than perfect but both you and your buddy assess the risk and feel comfortable you should go for it.  Always plan more conservatively in poor conditions. With proper planning and some extra precautions you can still have a great dive.

My buddy is about 3' and the kelp in the background is about 8' away.  This was done the day after the Isthums Reef dive.  Location and timing is everything!

My buddy is about 3′ and the kelp in the background is about 8′ away. This was done the day after the Isthums Reef dive. Location and timing is everything!

For example when my group arrived at Seal Rock today we noticed that the weather was nice.  No wind and the surf was low (less than 2′).  The day before we knew that 4′-5′ waves were pounding this beach so we know things would be stirred up.  Since we had a large group (7 people) we agreed to pick our primary buddies.  It’s easier to keep an eye on 1 or 2 buddies than to try and keep track of 6 buddies.  It also gives buddy groups the ability to dive their own dive.  Maybe one of them does not feel comfortable diving in the kelp.  They can break off from the main group and dive to their comfort level.  We also had a more conservative gas management plan.  Instead of turning around at the halfway point we followed the rule of thirds (ex: Starting with 3000 psi you make your turn around at 2000 psi and plan to be on your safety stop by 1000 psi).

On our way out to the site we spotted 2 divers coming in.  They said not to bother.  The viz was awful and not even worth the dive.  They kept losing each other and decided to call it.  I think this was a wise move on their part.  Clearly they were not experienced enough to keep track of each other which posed an unacceptable risk.  When diving in less than perfect conditions it’s even more important to know where your buddy is at all times.

Once we got on the bottom we could see that viz was not good but good enough to see what was coming.  As we entered the reef system the surge was light and only about 5′.  If the surge is less than your visibility I count that as a positive.  So how can you enjoy a day that looks like this?

Attitude goes a long way.  This was an awesome dive!

Attitude goes a long way. This was an awesome dive!

It’s all about attitude!  We had a good plan.  We knew who we were keeping track of and aside form low visibility, conditions were not all that bad.  Here is what I did for this dive:

1.  Go macro!  You’re not likely to spot anything big or far off.  Start looking for things you may not notice when you are looking 20′ or more our in front of you.  I like to look in all the nooks and crannies.  I usually spot nudis, eels, octopi, and find cool little shells on days like this.

2. Put your skills to good use!  In these conditions we had to stay close to keep track of each other.  Good buoyancy control was key to keep from bumping into each other (it happens).  If you can only see about 10′ navigation is key.  You will need to keep track of where you are going.  Having the ability to come out close to where you wanted is very rewarding.  I’m an instructor and since I was leading the way most of the dive it was good practice for me to swim backwards to keep an eye on my group (no one got separated by the way).  Make sure your skills are practiced in good conditions.  You would not want this to be your first time navigating or adjusting your buoyancy.  Take the Advanced Open Water or Navigation Specialties (if you’re in the SoCal area I can help you with those).

3. Just dive!  My camera spent most of the time just sitting in my hand.  I used it more for the light than to shoot.  Sometimes you just have to forget about shooting and just be content moving with the ocean and observing.  I love playing in the surge.  It’s so much fun to relax and let it push you back and then give a light kick when its pulling you and get a free ride!  Focus on the positive things that are happening.  You are breathing underwater!  Enjoy it and remember that clear water and easy diving will come back.

Above all dive safe.  If you get to your dive site or have started a dive and you don’t feel comfortable end the dive.  Remember to STOP, THINK, and ACT.  Base your decision on how experienced you and your buddy are.  Alway defer to the buddy with the least experience.  If anyone wants to end a dive you should support that decision.  Get additional training and experience and don’t over estimate your abilities.  Have fun and lets all cross our fingers and thing CLEAR, CALM water!

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