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Drift Diver Specialty

Drift Diving

An explanation with tips for the new drift diver.


Drift diving is a great way to see a lot of marine life in a short period of time, while coasting across the ocean floor.  And once you have the process down, drift diving can be one of the most relaxing experiences you can have underwater.

The process of a drift dive generally goes like this:

Arrival at the Dock
Unload your gear, show certification cards, sign waivers, and load your equipment on the boat.  The smart boat diver sets their gear up while the boat is secure, and stationary at the dock, and enjoys the ride out.  Stow your gear in as compact of a footprint as possible....boats have limited space, and there is not much room for spreading out.

Listen to the Briefing from your Captain
Every drift diving boat has a different protocol for exiting and entering the boat.  Listen carefully during the briefing to ensure that you are familiar with the boat's procedures.

General Procedures for Exiting
On many dive boats, a drift dive will go like this.  This captain will give a 10 minute warning as he approaches the dive site.  This is your cue to don your wetsuit, defog your mask, and get into your gear.  Sit down on the bench and get into everything, including your fins.  The captain will ask if everyone is ready.  If you are not, say so!  It is better to take a minute to get yourself together than to delay the group when entering the water.  The crew will appreciate this.  Ensure that you have adequate weight and air.  Check the operation of your equipment, and get ready mentally for the dive.

The captain will usually yell something dramatic, like "Dive, Dive, Dive" or "The Pool's Open".  That is your cue to stand up, and shuffle toward the back of the boat.

As you near the stern and it is time to exit the boat, you will likely be doing a giant stride entry.  Hold on to your mask and regulator with one hand.  Place some air in your jacket to ensure that you have adequate buoyancy once you hit the water, and make your giant stride.  Whatever you do, DO NOT HOLD ON TO THE BOAT.  Ensure that you stride clear of the boat and join the group of divers.

There are some important points that the new drift diver needs to know:

1.  Preparation is important.

Because the boat does not anchor, you will need to leave the boat as a group, in a quick fashion in order not to drift past the dive site.  So, you need to make certain that you have checked all of your equipment, have the proper amount of weight, and are ready to dive before the captain sets the boat up for your exit.

2.  Timing is important.

When the captain yells, "Dive, Dive Dive," you need to be ready to enter the water.  If a person is not ready to enter the water, it may delay the group, which may mean that they miss the dive site.  Remember that the boat is moving across the bottom and you have a limited amount of time to descend.

3.  Don't hold on to the line.

A divemaster or diver will be carrying a float ball, allowing the dive boat to locate the group of divers.  If you have trouble with your ears, or don't have enough weight to get down, do not hold on to the line, or you will be dragging the dive guide off the bottom.  Instead, follow the line closely (or stay near the flag/ball at the surface), and when you are ready, come down the line by making an OK sign around the line and descending.

If you still can't get down, surface and signal the boat.  The boat will pick you up and you can get any issues straightened out.  If there is enough time, they will drop you back near the ball and you can descend to meet the group.

At the End of the Dive...
As the dive nears the end, you will need to begin your slow, safe ascent to approximately 15' - 20' where you will make your free floating safety stop.  Remember to watch your ascent rate, keeping with the group and ascending no faster than one foot per second.

When you reach 15' - 20', you will begin your safety stop.  Make certain to stay near the dive guide, which will keep you in the vicinity of the dive flag.  This will alert nearby boats to your position.

Once everyone has completed their safety stop, you will ascend and gather at the surface.  Remember to locate the boat and give a large OK sign as soon as your surface to let the boat know that there are no issues.

The boat will begin to move in your direction.  Stay with the dive guide in a close, compact group, and do not swim toward the boat until signaled by the captain or crew.  They captain will need room to maneuver the boat.  Once signaled, you may approach the boat.

Reboarding the boat...
Remember, every dive boat has a specific procedure for reboarding the boat, so make certain to pay close attention to the captain during the pre-dive briefing for this information.

Some boats will place a tag (float) line behind the boat to allow you to pull yourself to the boat.  Others will just have you swim to the stern.  In any case, keep your mask on your face and regulator in your mouth until you have boarded the boat.  This is important because the boat's exhaust is at the stern and you will be breathing exhaust if you do not keep your mask on and regulator in your mouth.

Many boats will have you swim to the stern, and remove your fins while holding on to the boat ladder.  You will hand your fins up to the crew and climb up the ladder.  When someone is climbing up the ladder, remember to stay clear of them in case they slip and fall.  You would not want to be behind them if this happened.

Once aboard, shuffle to your seat and sit down.  Please sit down and remain seated until everyone else has boarded to allow them to get past you if necessary.  Once everyone is aboard, you will be able to get up and move around.

An important note about crew tips...
Most dive boat crew members are unpaid.  They do this because they love the sport and many of them are training to become divemaster, dive instructors, or boat captains.  It is generally expected that you will tip the crew aboard the dive boat.  For good service $5 - $10 per person, per day is acceptable, but please reward good service with better tips if appropriate.  It is important to know that these tips are not included in your charter fees.
Dive Flag Floats
Dive flag floats.  Note the line caddy at the bottom of each float holding the coiled yellow line.
Divemaster with the line.
Divemaster (Right) holding the line caddy and reef hook, while guiding a group.
Safety Stop
Divemaster holding the line on a safety stop in West Palm Beach.
Drift Flag at Surface
Dive flag and float at the surface.  Looking up from the safety stop.
Spellbound Reboarding
Divers reboarding the Spellbound in Riviera Beach, Florida.  Note that this boat does not use a ladder, but rather a ramp for boarding, allowing your to keep your fins on while reboarding.
Starfish Enterprise Reloading
Divers reboarding the Starfish Enterprise in Lantana, Florida.  Note that the diver has removed her fins prior to climbing aboard.