Good Time, Call Ahead
Jeffrey S. Anderson
the reasons that draw us to the underwater realm, many of us just
can't get enough of diving. Whether your next dive trip is months
away or the dive boat just can't keep up with your insatiable hunger
for being underwater, shore diving provides a quick, accessible way
to feed our dive cravings.
Bonaire, to the South Pacific, to the coastlines of California and
Florida, to inland lakes and rivers near our own back yards, there
are dive sites reachable from shore virtually everywhere in the
world. Diving from shore provides access to aquatic environments
that may be similar to - or completely different from -those we're
used to diving regularly from boats. Regardless, shore diving
rewards participants with the same mystical majesty we all enjoy
from our sport.
other diving disciplines, proper planning within a diver's
capabilities helps ensure successful shore dives. With shore divers'
independence comes added planning responsibility.
increase your experience and confidence when embarking on new shore
dive adventures, you can enlist the assistance of trained
professionals. Local dive operations near popular shore dive
destinations can share important information or even supply a
divemaster to plan and conduct a site orientation dive. Whether
under the watchful eye of a diving professional, or a group of
independent dive buddies, site logistics, environmental conditions,
and emergency procedures should be carefully considered before
rushing into the water.
proper site is the first step of successful shore diving. Just
because a body of water is accessible from shore doesn't necessarily
mean it's appropriate for diving. Before you go, ask yourselves: Is
our level of training appropriate for this site? How will we be able
to get in to and out of the water? Does this site provide access to
things we enjoy about diving?
some of the basic questions dive buddies should ask during their
initial shore diving site evaluation. If you and your buddy answer
"Yes" to these questions, the site may be appropriate for your
adventure. Some specialized forms of shore diving, like ice diving,
cavern / cave diving and drift diving in rivers, require advanced
training, and divers should get proper certifications before
engaging in these special types of dives.
potential legal considerations when selecting shore sites, too. For
example, some public beaches prohibit scuba diving, while others
happily permit it. Marine protected areas, established to protect
particularly sensitive ecosystems, may include the shore within
their boundaries and may forbid diving within the area. Some sites
may be surrounded by private property without public access. Parking
your vehicle legally is another logistical consideration. Before
risking a citation, it's a good idea to check with dive stores,
beach patrol or law enforcement agencies for information about the
legal considerations of the local shore diving scene.
permitted dive site is only part of the selection process. Making a
safe entry is an important consideration when selecting a shore
site, and exiting the water after the dive is even more important.
Depending on the site, you may be faced with gently sloping, sand
beaches. Other shorelines may be steep. Rather than sand, others may
be old coral reefs, sometimes known as "iron shore," or rocks that
may make entries and exits more challenging by presenting uneven,
sharp, slippery surfaces for divers to traverse. Still other shore
diving sites may have docks or piers with ladders for entering and
exiting the water.
location of the "really cool" part of the dive is another
consideration. Are significant swims to and from the main site
necessary? Make sure you're fit for a long swim if it's needed.
looking at site logistics, keep in mind that what seems relatively
easy to accomplish when you're not in full scuba gear - e.g.,
climbing over or around rocks, hiking a steep path to your site,
making a long walk - may be quite another task at the end of a dive
when fatigue, cold and equipment weight can slow you down.
Evaluating Conditions: Waves, Currents and Tides
environmental considerations for shore diving are waves, currents
and tides. Watching where and how the waves break, shore divers can
develop an idea of the bottom contour and relative water depths they
and extremely large lakes, such as the Great Lakes, waves can become
very large and, as they break, can hamper divers. Waves create other
water movement. Rip currents, longshore currents and undertow (see
page 41, "Coastal Currents") can all adversely affect your safety
and enjoyment if not properly planned. Rip and longshore currents
can move divers away from their anticipated exit point, while
undertow can disrupt balance. Wave energy under the water, often
referred to as surge, can place divers in unwanted situations by
moving them too close to submerged structures. Wave-generated water
movement agitates bottom sediments, reducing visibility
with light winds or winds blowing from shore toward the sea, waves
tend to be much more subdued. To maximize positive shore dives,
select diving days with minor wave activity, and dive well away from
the surf zone. Days when upwellings are present make for excellent
shore dives too, although you need to plan for the cooler water
falling generally twice each day, tides affect a shore diving site's
currents and visibility. Shore dives affected by tides are best
conducted during the period of high, slack tide. During this period
between high tide and the start of the water flow for low tide,
there is generally little water movement, thus minimizing any tidal
currents and enhancing visibility. Tables with tide times and water
level changes are generally available at local scuba stores, boating
centers and fishing tackle suppliers in coastal areas. For United
States coastlines, they are even available on the internet from the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National
Ocean Service (NOS) websites,
patrols may have information useful for environmental evaluations.
In many areas they use flags to describe water conditions for
beachgoers. Green flags generally signal favorable water conditions,
while red flags usually mean treacherous water conditions. Yellow
flags indicate conditions requiring caution. This is when divers'
judgment of their own capabilities becomes more critical. Blue
flags, used in conjunction with other flags, signal the presence of
sea pests, such as jellyfish and sea lice. This beach information,
as well as weather forecasts, temperatures, and tide times, may also
be communicated on lifeguard stations, informative telephone lines
and radio broadcasts.
to making surface time uncomfortable, rain affects diving conditions
as well. Heavy rains may adversely affect visibility by increasing
suspended particles due to runoff. Rain-swollen rivers will probably
have stronger currents than normal, making them potentially too
rapid to dive safely. These effects can persist several days after
One of the
great aspects of shore diving is the empowerment divers have in
choosing the location and time of their dive. Unlike dive boats,
however, a divemaster may not be available for potential emergency
situations. As a result, divers should be prepared to implement
their own emergency plan.
services are readily available depend greatly on location. In urban
shore diving areas, some forms of assistance may be located at the
beach. In more remote areas, help may be farther away. Knowing how
to activate emergency services in the dive area is another
consideration. While 9-1-1 is nearly ubiquitous in the U.S., other
countries may have different activation methods. Phone numbers and
locations for nearby hospitals, fire / rescue, and police should
also be well understood. When dealing with any of these agencies, be
prepared to provide clear directions to your diving location as well
as a description of the emergency.
potential emergency situations are common for any in-water
activities, others can be unique to shore environments. Sea urchins
like to congregate on rocky shorelines and can announce their
presence with sharp spines as divers try to steady themselves
entering and exiting the water. Jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-wars
are not uncommon visitors to marine shore diving sites. Because
their stinging cells can still function after being washed up on
shore, divers should be vigilant during their trek across the beach
as well as during the dive. A basic first aid kit and proper first
aid training are great diver tools.
You Get Wet, Consider These Issues
the pre-dive planning is complete, it's time to get in the water.
Preparing equipment on shore is similar to gearing up on boats.
Divers may consider using a tarp or other clean surface for
equipment setup to minimize the potential for sand and dirt to clog
regulators. Divers who don't wear booties with their fins during
boat dives may want to use them on shore to protect their feet.
for entering the water from shore greatly depends on the topography
and conditions. Choosing the simplest entry and exit options is
always a good idea. Straightforward walking entries are the most
appropriate for gently sloping shorelines. Before entering, divers
should slightly inflate their buoyancy compensation device and have
their mask, snorkel and regulator in place just in case they lose
balance while entering.
soft ground and the added weight of scuba equipment can be
challenging to manage with even the slightest wave action. Carrying
their fins until reaching water about waist deep, buddies can then
assist each other donning their fins. This can be done in a standing
position or while sitting in the water, allowing the floatation of
the BCD to help support them. Walking backwards into waves can also
help maintain balance.
with docks, piers or iron shore to the water's edge, giant-stride
entries may be more appropriate. Watch the waves and time your entry
so the natural water movement will help move you away from the
structure. Barnacles, mussels, oysters and similar creatures find
footholds on pilings. Be sure to keep a respectful distance to avoid
navigation is important, helping to minimize long surface swims and
long walks across the beach. Prior to entering the water, it's a
good idea to identify landmarks visible from both shore and water to
help orient you. If a nighttime shore dive is on the agenda, use a
strobe or lantern to mark your location on the beach. During the
dive use a compass and natural navigation tools to keep yourself on
course. Ripples in the sand generally run parallel to shore and can
be an invaluable navigation aid.
longshore current is present, remember to head into that current to
begin the dive. Should you be caught in stronger rip or tidal
currents, don't try to swim directly against them. Rather, swim
perpendicular to the current until you reach your destination or
find yourself in an area of water without current where you can
change course. Because bottom topography scatters a current's force,
divers may find easier traveling near the bottom.
mandated by local regulations or not, it's smart to use a dive flag
during shore dives. In many locations, dive sites accessible from
shore are also visited by boaters. A flag will help alert them to
your presence. Because sound travels faster underwater than in air,
it's not always easy to determine a boat's exact position during the
dive. Stay near your dive flag at all times, and when you hear
boating noise, stay near the bottom, especially in shallow water.
Always look up and around during and after surfacing to verify the
position of any boats.
water depends on the site selection, too. It may be as simple as
walking up the beach after removing your fins in waist-deep water,
to climbing a ladder up a pier. Remember to keep your BCD inflated
and your mask and snorkel in place until safely on firm footing away
from the water's edge.
visiting near-shore coral reefs, sea grass meadows, moody kelp
forests, encrusted dock pilings or freshwater locales, shore diving
offers many rewards and adventures. An additional benefit is that
they can be conducted virtually anytime, anywhere.
the tips shared within this article are general considerations for
most shore diving sites. It's always a good idea to consult with the
local dive professionals for more specific information about your
particular dive. And after a successful shore dive, what could be
more relaxing than sitting under a tree and reflecting about the
dive as the waves gently lap at shore and the sun sets on the
should know how to recognize and safely plan for the following
currents before entering the water on a shore dive:
current - created when waves approach a shoreline from an angle
rather than head on. The direction of longshore currents matches the
direction the waves were traveling into shore.
current - created when water returns to sea via channels between
reefs or other shallow bottom contours. Rip currents travel away
from shore. Usually thin in width, areas of rip currents can be
identified by turbid, foamy water moving seaward, along with a
relatively smooth path through waves and surf zones.
current - created when the sun and moon's gravity pull water across
Earth's surface. Tidal currents are amplified whenever water has to
move through narrow passageways. Examples of locations where these
currents may be strongest are channels between islands, entrances to
bays or lagoons, boating channels, river mouths entering the sea,
etc. The direction of tidal currents will change during the day
depending on whether the tide in a given area is rising or falling.
- created as water flows down the slope of the beach back to sea.
This current has the tendency to pull a diver's feet and legs out to
sea with it, so it may affect balance.
- created during prolonged periods of wind blowing away from shore.
As the surface water is pushed away from the coastline, the current
enables generally cooler, clearer water from the depths to move
Jeff Anderson has been a freelance underwater, nature, and travel
photographer for more than six years and a diving professional for
more than seven. In that professional capacity, Jeff has been
instructing others about the beauty of the underwater realm. Jeff's
instructional specialties include Underwater Naturalist, Underwater
Photography, and Underwater Videography. Jeff also holds a
Scientific Diver certification from the National Oceanographic and
See more about his work at
© DAN -
Alert Diver Jan / Feb 2004