Welcome to the last installment of Loving Current Diving!
On our last dive adventure we had a number of divers who kept asking us to take them to dive sites without current. What I realized was that they simply had not been taught the skills. There are no specialty courses for learning to dive in current (Sorry PADI but “Drift Diver” is not equivalent to understanding current). No wonder people are scared. Some divers seem to naturally understand the ebb and flow of “windy” reefs. Others literally tumble, scramble and fight their way through the dive. Not fun.
Perhaps I need to write a course….hmmmmmm
In this last post on Loving Current Diving are eight final thoughts and tips regarding gear, buddy safety and well…fish as it relates to current.
What does that have to do with current? Everything. If you plan to dive in current, be sure you have a GOOD pair of fins. Not meaning that you have to be an olympic swimmer to dive in current, (I’ve been showing you ways to “be” in the current but not “be” in the current”) but there are times when you’ll want a thrust to get yourself from one place to another. I recently traded fins on a dive with a friend of mine and was appalled. It was like kicking with tissue paper on my feet. Once he started kicking with my fins he was off like a rocket with amazement in his eyes. He now owns a pair of my fins and I forgave him for being wimpy in the current! ( http://www.aqualung.com/nz/content/view/226/282/ )
2. Reef Hooks
A reef hook is literally a large hook tied to a line about 5-6’ long which you attach to your BCD and hook into a dead spot in the reef in order to stay in one place in the current. No one commercially makes reef hooks I think because of liability. Leisure Pro gives you all the things you need to make one including a quick release clip but doesn’t sell it assembled (http://www.leisurepro.com/Prod/AQURHSM.html ) If you are a good diver and have trained with a reef hook, they can be wonderful tools. If you are a photographer, it’s a great way to keep both hands free for shooting. If you haven’t used a reef hook, practice in little to no current first with someone skilled at it by your side. A few things to think about.
*If I know I will be “hooking” on the dive, I pre-attach the hook to my BCD with the hook in my pocket. Then I can whip it out in an instant to hook in.
*Hook into ONLY dead coral or rock. Do NOT hook into live coral.
*Be sure to inflate your BCD once you are hooked to “fly like a kite” and stay off the reef.
*When you are ready to unhook, DEFLATE your BCD first to avoid the balloon in the wind effect of positive buoyancy which is enhanced in current.
*Use some form of quick release devise on your hook in case the current is too strong to pull yourself in to release it OR if the current is that strong consider just drifting the dive. THIS IS IMPORTANT. There have been deaths due to reef hooks when people have been unable to unhook in strong currents. It’s also good to carry a knife however, I’ve lost many a knife on dives so it’s not always reliable.
*ALWAYS signal and agree with your buddy when you plan to hook in and unhook. Try to hook in side by side so you can easily communicate. If your buddy unhooks in strong current without telling you and is behind you, you will easily lose them.
Recently I dived with an operation where the dive guides carried long reef hooks. They would hook in and then the divers would simply hold on. It worked very well, especially for novice divers.
Every diver should carry some form of Surface Marker Buoy or at least a safety sausage. However, an SMB is more important if diving in current. You need a SMB with about 20’ of line attached so you can send it to the surface while you are doing your safety stop and the boat can follow. A regular safety sausage is only used after you have surfaced and you may already be way down current.
Some live aboard dive vessels issue their divers with a personal EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) especially when diving in very remote areas with strong currents. If issued one, be sure you know how it works and secure it to your BCD. But don’t use it as an excuse to dive recklessly.
5. Current diving with your buddy.
TALK about the dive in advance with your buddy and agree that you will always stay together. This seems basic but it’s rare that I see buddies stick together anymore and add current to the mix and forget it! Make up signals for current. Have a signal for “hey, let’s stop here” and one for 1-2-3 let go. Stop often and wait for each other. Look around for your buddy MORE often. And remember that your responsibility is to your buddy. If your buddy can’t handle the current, follow them and surface. Dive to the ability of the least experienced diver.
Example. Recently we were diving in a current on the top of a reef watching some incredible manta rays. We were hooked in with our reef hooks. When we all agreed to release our reef hooks and surface one buddy pair became separated. Buddy “A” kicked up into the current to stay with the dive guide. Buddy “B” was unable to stay up with the guide and drifted back off the top of the pinnacle into the blue. Buddy “A” was more concerned with staying with the guide and left his buddy. I watched the whole scenario develop and went off to rescue and surface with Buddy “B”. When I approached Buddy “A” on it after the dive, he explained that the guide was signaling the group forward. I told Buddy “A” that the dive guide was capable of taking care of himself while his duty of care was to his buddy.
6. Consider leaving the Camera Behind
Once you become a photographer, it’s REALLY hard to do a dive without your camera. You become convinced that the world’s greatest photo opportunity will arise if you don’t have it. I fall victim to that as well. However, if it’s going to be a dive in strong current and perhaps you are not a really strong diver or are not experienced in current, leave the camera behind. Unless you hook into the reef, chances are that in strong current you are not going to be able to get the shots anyways. I know it’s hard… but do it.
7. Be Fit
If you are planning a dive trip to a place where you will be diving in current, get in shape! Get to your local swimming pool and swim or whatever it is that keeps your heart and other muscles in top form. Diving in current often means bursts of speed which can get you out of breath quickly. Divers, in general, need to be in good condition but diving in current can add extra strain.
My final thought on current diving for the moment is FISH. Yep, who knows better how to live in a current world than fish. Watch them. If all the fish are pointed in one direction, be assured that the current is coming from there as they will face into the current. If you watch ahead on the reef, you can see an upcoming change in the current if all of the sudden you see the fish in a different orientation and you can adjust yourself accordingly.
I hope you’ve found some things to help you be a better, safer and happier current diver. Drop me a note if you have any questions, I’m happy to give you any knowledge I have. Take the information here and go out and learn to dive on a “windy” day. It’s really a lot of fun!
To Your Adventures!
PS: A special thanks to Jim Hicks, my instructor trainer at NAUI college in 1988. The first thing Jim did was take the class out to bob around in current and surge off the California coast for hours on end and teach us the ebb and flow of water. It set the stage for my current level of training on the subject. Thanks Jim… wherever you are!