Besides seeing incredible marine life, part of the attraction of scuba diving is the feeling of weightlessness and the ability to “fly” through the water.
In drift diving, this feeling of flying is dramatically intensified. Some people love this feeling, while others can find it a little scary.
For all of you newbies out there, we give you the low down on what drift diving is, and give you 10 tips on how to survive your first drift dive!
What is drift diving?
As the name suggests, drift diving is where you drift along with the current during your dive, rather than fight against it! Drift diving allows a larger area to be covered during the dive, which also means a greater level of planning is needed, as you will not finish in the same place that you started.
10 Tips for beginner drift divers
1. Talk to your guide
If you are new to drift diving, be sure to tell your guide! Nothing really prepared me for my first drift dive, sure I had swum in currents before, but nothing like that! Luckily, I had pre-warned the guide that it was my first drift dive, and he made sure to stick close by me and helped me when I was out of control and drifting too far away from the group.
2. Have the right equipment
There are two pieces of additional equipment that you should take on a drift dive: a reef hook and a Surface Marker Buoy (SMB).
The reef hook – looks just like a normal hook attached to a line and is useful when you want to stay in one spot while on a drift dive. The use of hooks is controversial amongst scuba divers, because of the potential impact to the surrounding environment. However, providing you use the hook correctly and don’t hook it on any coral or disturb any other marine life, hooks can be helpful, for example while waiting for other divers to catch up. Before using a reef hook, check that the drift dive site allows the use of them, as in some locations they are banned.
SMB – an SMB or safety sausage, should be carried by each diver. Typically, you should inflate the SMB at the end of the dive to signify where you are in the water, so that the boat can come and pick you up. SMBs are bright in colour so it is obvious to a boat where you are in the water. In drift diving this is essential, as the start of your dive is in a different location to the end of your dive.
In my first drift dive, these two pieces of equipment were essential for my safety. I was drifting much faster than the rest of the group and flailing about, so the dive guide came over and hooked me down so I could wait for the rest of the group. Then when I surfaced, I was quite a distance from the other divers in the group, so the SMB showed the boat where I was so they could come and pick me up!
3. Dive according to your experience level
While it might sound cool to do a drift dive like Clutha River in New Zealand (the fastest river drift dive in the world) the reality is, it is not safe for you to do a dive like this unless you are not only a very experienced diver, but a very experience drift diver.
Start with something that has a little current and work your way up from there. My first drift dive was at Manta Point in Indonesia, which had quite a strong current so it was a bit of a shock. But while I hadn’t done a drift dive before, I had a lot of diving experience (80+ dives) and had also dived at sites that had some surge and current.
4. Go with the flow
You literally need to go with the flow! Don’t fight against the current as it will stress you out and you will consume all of your air very quickly. I was maybe a little too good at doing this and would often find myself flying away from the rest of the group on my first drift dive.
5. Stay streamlined
During a drift dive it is very important to stay streamlined. This means staying low and horizontal to the coral. The reason why I was flying faster than everyone else in the group on my first drift dive, was that I was not streamlined and I got caught in the current. The closer you are to the reef, the less of a current there is, as the water is swishing against the reef. Staying streamlined means there is less surface area for the water to push you.
6. Go with a guide
When you are new to drift diving (and even when you are experienced) it is best to go with a guide. They know the area, how to study the currents and know when it is safe to make a drift dive. Also, it is generally just easier to go with a guide, as they arrange the boat to pick you up at the end of the dive.
7. Take a course
If you want to learn more about how to drift dive, then there are always speciality courses you can take like the PADI Drift Diver or the SSI Waves, Tides & Currents Speciality Course, which can let you perfect your skills and make you become a more confident drift diver.
8. Leave the camera behind
For a beginner drift diver, there is enough to focus on without taking a camera and you don’t want to be distracted. In addition, the visibility during drift diving can often be poor so you may not capture that much anyway. If you really must bring a camera though, be sure to bring a small action camera rather than a big bulky camera. Keep in mind that if you drop your camera on a drift dive, you will most likely never see it again!
9. Keep close to your buddy
While it is always important to keep close to your buddy when diving, it is especially important to keep close to them while drift diving, as it is so easy to get separated. The best way to stay close to your buddy is to be streamlined and to dive at a similar depth, as the current can vary at different depths. Make sure before the dive you agree on a sound to contact each other underwater for example: tank banger, rattle etc. And if you loose sight of your buddy, do the usual look around for no more than 1 minute before ascending safely to the surface, inflate your SMB and meet your buddy there.
10. Relax and enjoy
While there is a bit to think about on a drift dive, it is actually one of the more relaxing forms of diving, as you really don’t have to expend much energy. So just relax and enjoy it!
Now that you know what drift diving is all about, why not give it a try?
If you are a new diver and looking for other tips and tricks to help you become a more confident diver, then check out some of our other articles: 5 Tips for new divers taking the Open Water course and Wreck diving – 5 Tips for beginners.
About the Author
Amanda and her husband Dean have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled 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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