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Our panel of experts offer some useful hints and advice on how best to tackle shore diving
After two months focusing on boat diving, this issue we turn our attentions to the way that many of us will have taken our first tentative steps underwater – shore diving. There are many pros for diving from the shore – no ‘ropes off’ times to stick to, freedom to conduct your own dive, no boat to contend with (vital if you get seasick!), ease of access, and so on – but there are also some cons to think about, namely navigation, ease of entry and exit, water conditions, and so forth. Here are some handy hints from our expert team.
Wendy Northway, Hartford SAC 0512 and BSAC Advanced Diver, said: “Many divers mistakenly believe that shore diving is predominantly for trainees. While that may be true for depth as the seabed gently shelves away, allowing for shallower diving, access to the sea can be challenging and physical fitness and competence are required. A taxing trek can be very rewarding with some stunning diving and no risk of seasickness. There is variety to suit all tastes – from wreckies to reefers, experienced and newer divers alike.
“The west coast of Scotland is a shore diver’s paradise for the wealth of dives to be discovered. A good starting point is the brilliant website Finstrokes. Others can be found from studying charts for interesting seabed features and looking for close contours, indicating a steep drop-off, then assessing accessibility.
“The Slates in Loch Lihnie is a stunning example of Scottish wall diving at its best. Access to the water’s edge is over seaweed-covered cobbles then once underwater, depths down to 20m and beyond can be attained. Yellow-fluted seasquirts and sea loch anemones plaster the walls. Nests of cat shark huddle in crevices, with cuckoo wrasse and gobies swimming out in the open.
“The Kingfisher in Loch Etive is a lovely little wreck dive at the quarry with easy shore access. Once submerged, follow the cable, taking care not to stir up the silt and a small, almost perfect, fishing vessel sits in no more than 12m.
“Planning is essential, including checking the tides. Ensure you can get out of the water before you even get in – a falling tide may uncover a ledge which might be a too big a hurdle to negotiate in full kit. Avoid narrows as these indicate fast-flowing water and may take you far from your entrance point. Carrying kit down can be exhausting, so make several trips and take a break if necessary. Take a bearing! There is no boat to pick you up if you stray from your entrance point. Enjoy!”
GUE’s John Kendall said: “Shore diving can be an extremely rewarding and also cost-effective way of diving. And in many parts of the world, it is the norm, with boats being unusual. In the UK, we have some incredible sites that are simply a matter of walking into the water and getting on with it. However, some pitfalls exist. It is worth spending some time investigating the entry and exit points for a dive prior to going, and then picking suitable equipment for the dive. Do you really need to lug a rebreather with bailouts, or a twinset over long pebble beaches or uneven rocky shore lines to do a 10m dive?
“While looking up info about entry and exit points, also find out if there is any tidal flow. There are many sites where it doesn't matter, but equally there are some sites where diving at the wrong state of tide will find you being washed away from your known exit faster than you can swim. Basically, local knowledge is key when it comes to shore dives. There are guidebooks out there, and a lot of information on the internet.
“Finally, think about safety. It's a really good idea to have someone on shore who knows when you're due back, and who has instructions on what to do if you're late. They can also look after your car keys, so you don't end up stranded in the event of a suit flood.”
Garry Dallas, Director of training RAID UK and Malta, said: “Having dived some of our Great British coastlines for nearly 20 years around the UK, I’m sure you’ll agree that it can be pretty spectacular given the right conditions. Even better still, you can rock up day or night without any restraints other than tides and weather usually.
“However, considerations to take on board when going for that lovely Sunday bimble around those nugget shorelines: Researching detailed local area knowledge for safe entry/exit points; changes in weather/water conditions (tides, swells, strong eddy and rip currents); sporting an SMB along the dive to let other water traffic know of your presence; let someone know of your whereabouts, even get advice from the local coastguard (not 999!) and tell them your plan. They may be happy to advise you too.
“Although shore dives are relatively simple and stress free, there can be some inherent underlying obstacles waiting to take you by surprise in less than 1/2m of water! No, not sharks, but nice little slippery rocks which can be just a pain in the ass (literally), always waiting to catch you out as you carefully tread your way with your full kit on to deeper water. So, don’t attempt to go in with your fins on! Put them on in about 1.5m of water or ask your buddy for help. All members of the team should carry a compass and DSMB in case of separation and know how to use them. Make sure everyone can navigate back to shore where someone will be waiting for you. Don’t forget to add 2kg from your fresh water dives to account for the salinity of UK seas.
“Plan your dives well to set yourselves up for a great adventure, not a misadventure!
“Finally, post-dive maintenance – ensure you thoroughly rinse your equipment as surf contains sand particles which gets everywhere!”
Mark Powell, business development manager for TDI/SDI, commented: “Around the UK we have a huge number of fantastic dive locations just off the beach. My very first sea dive was a shore dive off Pendennis Point in Cornwall, and St Brides Bay in West Wales is still one of my favourite dive locations in the world. In many instances, shore diving is both convenient and simple. These dives are great because you are in charge; there is no boat to wait on, and no long boat ride to the dive site. The dive may require only you and your dive buddy. Here are some tips and tricks to make your shore diving adventure more enjoyable!
“Research the site – research everything that you can about the site. Aerial photos (Google Earth), tide and weather reports, and news/magazine/internet articles are great ways to get to know the site. Knowing a site can help you better prepare for a possible dive. You may need extra equipment, or items to assist your movement from a parking location to the actual dive site. In many cases, first-hand site knowledge may even help you determine your best entry point into the water. The local dive centre is usually best place to get local knowledge and the latest update on the site.
“Conduct an on-site survey – once you have arrived at the site, take the time to plan/discuss with your dive buddy the following things:
“Identify any potential hazards at the site, i.e. visible hazards in the water and on the shore, such as steep or uneven walkways that you may need to cross to transport your gear. Similarly, look for any visible obstacles blocking your entry point that may hinder your ability to safely begin your dive.
“Find and plan your entry and exit points. Make sure you and your buddy discuss the best options for entering and exiting the water. Getting in can be the easy part, are you sure you will be able to get back out?
“Find a suitable place to stage your gear. Make sure your gear can be positioned, assembled, or stationed as needed in a safe manner. You do not want to accidentally damage your equipment or need to cancel a dive because something was dropped, damaged, or misplaced.
“Locate and identify a reference point on the shore that can be easily seen from the water. This action will help you locate your entry/exit point from the water. It also establishes a visual reference point for yourself and your buddy if you need to surface at any point during the dive.
“Observe water conditions like the height of the waves or how choppy the water is out past where the waves are breaking. Many shore dives may require a surface swim to get to deeper waters or to an actual planned dive site. If surface conditions are bad, you may be forced to swim through them. Make sure to monitor any factors that may make water entries and exits unsafe.
“Plan your dive – use all of the information that you have obtained to this point in your dive planning process. Always remember to plan for and discuss what you will do in the event of an emergency.
“Entering the water – at a quarry, pond, or lake it may be easier to walk your gear down to the water and get geared up in the water. In some locations, you have to assemble and tote your equipment from your vehicle to the water ready to dive. Plan for what works best as the safest action for you and your buddy.
“So now that you are finally in the water, enjoy the dive for which you have done so much planning! There is a huge amount of marine life that lives on the shoreline and the energy of the waves as well as the dynamics of the tides makes for a dynamic ecology. Shore diving is often relatively shallow so take your time and enjoy the dive. Stop and let the marine life come to you.
“Once your dive is coming to an end, let us talk about your exit:
“Preparing to exit – once you are on the surface, locate your shore reference point. Use your compass to get an accurate heading. Depending on the surface conditions and the amount of gas you have you may want to descend and follow that heading back into shore. If conditions are good, you may also choose to perform a surface swim back to your exit point.
“Exit – remove your fins in the water so you can easily exit the water without tripping all over yourself. Assist your dive buddy and exit together.”
but it’s a good idea to make sure you know what is there before you jump in. Some locations are just sandy bottoms, which go on for miles while others could have sudden drops and currents. Make sure that you have the equipment you need and you are comfortable putting it on (and taking it off) in less than ideal conditions. Shore diving can also be difficult to get to the water's edge, scrambling back and forth over tricky terrain is not fun multiple times. Entry and exit points can be important so make sure you can get out if conditions change once you get in.”
Emma Hewitt PADI Regional Manager, UK and Ireland, said: “Take it slow, ensure you are careful to not step on or damage any marine life which may be in your path as you are entering the water.”
Alex Griffin, PADI Course Director and Trimix Instructor Trainer, commented: “You need to evaluate the conditions for entry to make sure they’re safe. Slipping and falling in diving equipment is rarely fun and what might be doable while wearing Speedos may not be feasible in scuba. You also need to consider your exit because, just like Virgin Media, getting out is usually harder than getting in. Also, make sure someone knows your dive plan so they can alert EMS if you don’t come back. To ensure that you look good, pay someone with a jet-ski to tow you out to sea on a surfboard, whipping it away at the last minute so you can enter the water in perfect horizontal trim.”
Emily Petley-Jones, PADI Regional Training Consultant and Course Director, said: “If completing a fun dive from the shore, you should take extra time to conduct a personal risk assessment for the dive. You should consider the surface conditions, current, tides, weather, entry and exit points, what shore support there is available, your personal ability and your buddy’s ability when planning your dive. Think especially about where your exit points are, and imagine a situation where if your buddy ends up with a bad cramp and you have to tow them all the way, and get them out of the water, are you confident that you can do this?”
Vikki Batten, PADI Examiner and Training Supervisor, said: “My tip for shore diving is to do more of it. Shore diving is vastly underrated, especially here in the UK where you can do some very exciting diving right from the shore. The flexibility you have means that you can wait until close to the time to see whether the conditions are good enough to want to dive. While boats will go out if it’s safe to do so, you may have different comfort levels. Of course, you should always call a dive if you aren’t comfortable with the conditions, but it’s often easier to do so if you haven’t paid your boat fees, especially when you are less experienced. Shore diving also means you learn about the sea conditions for yourself instead of relying on a skipper. Don’t go it alone though, make sure you head to your local PADI dive shop for info, guidance, buddies or whatever you need.”
IANTD’s Tim Clements said: “Shore diving goes back to the source, standing on the edge of the ocean with curious minds. It can be the simplest form of diving, free from the encumbrance of boats, clubs and logistics, but still offer lightweight adventures. I look back fondly on shore dives from scrambly, ‘small cylinder’ dives off Yesnaby on Orkney, to technical dives on Lochaline, exhilarating abseil entries, classic Welsh night dives and the luxurious, abundant beauty of Cornish coves. However, ‘professionalising’ shore diving means having a plan. That plan must include safe entry and exits, especially for injured divers, shore support and a clear understanding of how weather, currents and tides could change exit options while the dive is underway. Know how to use charts and OS maps to plan your dive. Make sure gear is appropriate – single cylinders are perfect for shallow dives with nimble access. Ensure that all members of the team can navigate to and into the water – this may require some physical ability and balance. Kitting up areas should be identified by a recce beforehand and be safe from hazards – seaweed over boulders is particularly treacherous for knee twisting. your shore support should be crystal clear on your route, plus exit time and place. Strongly consider an SMB with A flag, essential for boating areas and to keep your shore support updated. A cheery wave and a ‘see you in the pub’ is not professional. In short, planning for shore dives is essential to dive like a pro, but a pro knows how to make sure this adds to the dive, instead of being a hindrance. Enjoy your underwater rambling, it’s the next big thing…”