It’s officially winter for us here in the Northern Hemisphere! And while it may seem like it’s time to escape to warmer weather to dive, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about winter diving. Though it may seem like a warm-weather sport, winter diving is actually very popular and offers an entirely different experience!
Sure, there is ice diving in the Great Lakes or Hudson River, but by far not everybody loves plunging into the frigid water. Few things are more shocking to the body than plunging into cold water. Our sophisticated human body knows instantly that it’s not where it’s supposed to be and reacts accordingly.
So why do divers risk it? Because cold water breeds a wild variety of amazing marine life, along with some of the most unique underwater environments on the planet. From the beautiful pastel anemones, hooded nudibranchs and giant Pacific octopuses of British Columbia to the towering kelp forests and playful pinnipeds of California, the otherworldly tectonic crack of Iceland, the dreamy leafy sea dragons of South Australia and the menacing leopard seals and comical penguins of Antarctica, bucket-list adventures abound in water that flirts with freezing.
So how do divers handle freezing water without… well… freezing? Thankfully, technology and training have advanced throughout the evolution of diving to make diving in hostile environments possible — and even safe. Durable drysuits made from tough materials, silicone sealing systems that really keep the water out, advanced life-support systems designed to resist freezing and heated undergarments that can keep body temperatures at near summertime levels can make cold-water diving seem like a dip in the Caribbean. (Almost.)
Now that we have you interested in cold water diving, let’s get into some of the best places to take the plunge!
Channel Islands, California
The park lives up to its nickname as the Galapagos of North America. The islands have that same, wild, untamed aura associated with the Galapagos and having never been connected to the mainland, they are also home to plant and animal species that exist nowhere else in the world.The area is home to some of the country’s most stunning underwater scenery. Ropes of kelp climb 80, sometimes 100 feet, to the surface — and on a clear day, nothing’s more magical than watching these curtains part, revealing a bright-orange garibaldi, bat nose ray or leopard shark.
Port Hardy – British Columbia, Canada
You’ll hop a plane, car and ferry to reach this outpost on the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, but the diving at sites such as Browning Wall and God’s Pocket is spectacular enough to warrant the arduous trek. You’ll even find wolf eels at a number of dive sites in British Columbia. Most divers off the coast of British Columbia consider an encounter with these creatures one of the highlights of diving in the waters off the West Coast of Canada. The winter months are fantastic as the summer crowds are gone and the visibility is much better. Each area is rich in colorful marine life from wolf eels, octopus, huge lingcod, clown shrimp, purple ringed top snails, grunt sculpins, sea lions and more nudibranchs than you can name.
Silfra Fissure, Iceland
When you dive at Silfra, you’re hovering over the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates simultaneously, so you’re technically diving in two continents at once. Aside from the sheer novelty of the experience, the visibility of more than 325 feet (100 m) makes this dive truly remarkable. The water is even drinkable! The crystalline water is the product of melted ice from nearby Langjokull Glacier, and the water temperature hovers between 36 and 39 F (2 to 4 C) year-round, so pack warm! Dry suits, for instance, are essential equipment here. At certain points during the hard winters, they are essential. It is, however, essential that scuba divers in Silfra have experience diving in a drysuit within the last two years.
South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand’s South Island is home to an array of cold water dive sites, including Fiordland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park is especially interesting. Surrounding mountains block the sun and large amounts of rainfall draining into the fiord have created a permanent layer of freshwater above the clear but dark saltwater. As a result, species like the black coral, which is typically found at depths of 100 metres, can be seen at shallower waters. The sound is also home to abundant crayfish, nudibranchs and a variety of fish species. You may also see great white and other shark species, dolphins and seals while diving.
The water temperature ranges from 54 F (12 C) in winter to 57 F (14 C) in late summer, though the thin layer of surface You will need a drysuit!
Diving with additional layers of clothes in cold water does feel very different if you’re used to diving in nothing but a swimsuit. If you need to dive with a dry suit, and are not used to it, you may need to take an actual Dry Suit Diver course. Or at the very least do a number of dives with an experienced dry suit diver who can help you get used to how a dry suit works.
Depending on where you decide to dive in the winter, it may not only mean the weather gets colder, but it may also get darker. If that’s the case, any dive beyond late afternoon will now be night dive, and you need to know what you’re doing. And ideally, you should be a relatively experienced night diver, as the cold water does add to the total task load.
If it gets cold enough where you live for water to freeze, you’ll need to have appropriate training for this, too. Ice diving is a fantastic type of diving, but as it is a type of diving that takes place in an overhead environment, it does require training. So do an ice dive, or any type of cold water diving, make sure you have the skills!
About the Author
I’m Harmony Rose, a California native passionate about exploring the world and sharing the craziness along the way. I’ve traveled across ten countries so far, and do not plan on stopping any time soon. This blog is a way for me to use my passion for writing and photography as a way to share my adventures!
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