Wreck diving appeals to divers because of the fascinating history behind the wreck, the surrounding marine life and the hope of finding hidden treasure. But wreck diving can also be quite daunting for beginner divers, usually because they don’t know much about it. So to help any new divers out there considering wreck diving, we have compiled a list of our top tips that every beginner wreck diver should know.
1. Stay close to your buddy and be calm
Being close to your dive buddy is important for all types of diving, but it is especially important for wreck diving. Wreck diving can be dark and murky, and can also be dangerous as there are lots of sharp edges and debris. This means it can be very easy to get lost and get tangled on something.
If you get lost
Same goes for all diving, if you lose your buddy look around for 1 minute underwater. If you find your buddy and they are ok, you can continue the dive. However, if you cannot see your buddy after searching for 1 minute, slowly and safely start to ascend (making sure not to get caught on the wreck), and do your safety stop before surfacing. At the surface, you will hopefully meet your buddy where you can make your way back to the boat or shore.
If you get tangled
On wreck dives, there are jagged edges which you can get caught on, which I found out while Dean (my husband) and I were diving a wreck in the Pacific. I somehow managed to get the back of my BCD caught on part of the ship that was jutting out. I was trying to unhook myself but luckily Dean was near, saw I was caught, and came and set me loose.
If either situation happens to you/your buddy when wreck diving, take some deep breaths and keep calm. Panicking doesn’t help anyone, and you will just end up sucking through all of your air very quickly. If you are unable to find or help your buddy, go and seek help from others if you can.
2. Have the Right Equipment
Our two recommended must-haves for all wreck dives are: a full-length wetsuit and a torch.
Even if the wreck is in toasty warm water where you can get away with wearing just your swimming costume, we recommend wearing a full-length wetsuit, as it is very easy to get pushed up onto the wreck and cut yourself. Dean found this out the hard way when he was rescuing me from my entanglement on the aforementioned wreck. Wearing only a vest and board shorts, a surge of water hit him and he slammed into the side of the boat scraping his arm. If you do get injured during a dive, let your buddy and dive guide know. Depending on the injury a determination will be made if it is safe to continue or if you should abort the dive and seek medical advice.
As wreck dives can often be dark and murky, we always take a dive torch with us. This helps to see each other easily, as well as to look in the small crevasses of the wreck. We recommend turning the torch on before getting in the water. Keep the end with the light pressed into your body until you actually need the torch. When you need the torch all you need to do is turn the torch around, and the light is already on. This saves you having to fiddle with switching the torch on and off while you are underwater.
3. Do not touch anything
Do not touch the wreck! Wrecks have sharp edges and there is usually coral growing on the wreck. Also depending on the wreck, there may be live ammunition which you definitely do not want to touch, for your safety and others! Some people suggest wearing gloves on a wreck dive, but we recommend against it, as it somewhat encourages you to hold onto the wreck (knowing that your hands won’t get cut). Also, don’t touch the wreck so that it can be preserved and enjoyed by people for years to come. Just in case you didn’t get it, don’t touch the wreck!
4. Maintain good buoyancy control & practice finning techniques
Good buoyancy control is a must for wreck diving. You do not want to be that person sinking to the bottom, struggling, then kicking up sand or debris. This will decrease visibility for you and everyone around you.
Not only will it be difficult to see the wreck, but you may also lose sight of your buddy. You also won’t be able to take those selfies on the wreck. Good buoyancy is a combination of carrying the right amount of weight (so do your check at the surface) and consistent breathing. In addition to good buoyancy control, practice different finning techniques to help you move around in tight spaces.
5. Dive within your limits
The thought of diving on a world-famous wreck dive such as the SS Yongala may be exciting, but as a beginner diver, this will not be within your limits. Diving within your limits means:
Check experience requirements
Before signing up for a wreck dive check the experience requirements. A majority of the famous wreck dives requires (at minimum) an advanced certification and usually specifies a minimum number of logged dives. If wreck diving is something you are seriously interested in, we recommend getting your advanced certification. For those of you not quite ready to do your advanced, check out our list of wreck dives suitable for beginners.
Dive with a guide
If it is your first time diving a particular wreck (regardless of your experience level) we recommend that you book a guided dive. The benefit of having a guide is that there is someone who is familiar with the wreck. They can tell you what to keep an eye out for and where you can and can’t swim on the wreck according to your experience level.
Keep an eye on air and depth
There is so much to see on a wreck dive that you can be distracted and forget to check your air/depth gauge regularly. For example, when you are diving on a multi-level wreck (like the USAT Liberty wreck in Indonesia which lies between 5 m and 30m), as an Open Water diver you can easily get distracted and sneak past the 18m mark, especially if something below captures your attention.
As a beginner diver, it is recommended to just stick to diving around the outside of the wreck. There is still a lot to see from the outside of the wreck. It is also a lot less stressful, especially if your buoyancy isn’t so great. Full penetration of a wreck usually requires you to have a wreck certification, but sometimes there are big open swim-throughs on wrecks that most divers are allowed to go through. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, then don’t! Tell the dive guide you don’t want to do it. There will always be another option for you to swim around the wreck.
And with this knowledge, you are now prepared to go wreck diving! All you need to do is decide which wreck dive to do. If you are after some inspiration check out our 10 wreck dives for beginners – from tanks, trucks, ships, and airplanes, there is something to suit everyone’s tastes.
About the Author
Amanda Bolzan and her husband Dean Samuels have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have traveled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
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