Discovering and exploring a new dive site that neither you nor your friends (and possibly no one) have ever dived before can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a diver’s career. Once you’re hooked on the sport, you’ll look at every body of water and bit of coast wondering what lies beneath the surface. Exploring a new site with no reference can be the best — or the worst — diving of your life. Here are our top tips when it comes to discovering a new dive site.
Do your research
First, call up the local dive shop (if there is one). They will know the area best, and pass on any details about the area you’re considering. If they don’t dive it themselves, they may be interested in mounting an exploratory campaign with you.
Look up the area on Google Maps for potentially key information, even if it’s not dive-related. Local fishing guides are a good resource as well, and may be able to tell you about local currents and weather. Topside area maps, usually available online, come in handy for confirming site access and availability of nearby emergency services in case anything should go wrong. Finally, even when there’s no information elsewhere on the internet, surprisingly, YouTube will often have videos of dive sites, or nearby sites, shot by snorkelers or divers.
Plan and prepare properly
Begin by notifying family or friends of where you intend to explore and how long you’ll be out of contact. Make sure your dive gear has been serviced recently and that everything’s working properly before you head out as well. Carry a whistle and an SMB, especially when exploring somewhere new.
Decide what the turnaround times will be with your dive buddies and make sure you stick to them. Walk down to both the dive-site exit and entry to ensure that they’re both safe. Watching the weather and waves for 15 minutes before entry can often save you exit and entry torment later on.
If possible, ask a non-diver to wait on shore while you dive. He or she can watch for trouble and provide assistance if necessary. Set an objective for your dive, as well as a definitive stopping point. This will help curb the impulse to push on just that bit further.
Don’t dive beyond your limits
When diving a new area, you probably won’t know the depth or distance you must cover in order to adequately check out the site. Remember — discovering a new dive site is an exploratory mission. You don’t need to see everything in one go; consider at least your first few dives in a new area as trial runs. Stay within the limits of your training. Diving somewhere new will add an extra task to your brain, so don’t be surprised if a lack of orientation means you consume air faster.
Plan the dive and dive the plan. Just because you can dive to 100 feet or finish a dive with 700 psi doesn’t mean you have to. If the site any is good, you’ll probably be back anyway.
Remember to enjoy the dive, even if it doesn’t involve discovering a new dive site. You needn’t cover a long distance or go much deeper than 30 feet (10 m) as long as you’re seeing something new. Again, plan on diving the site a few times if it’s worthwhile, and take a few SMBs with you. This way your team can mark interesting points, worthy of return. During your surface intervals you can use the SMBs as a rough guide to record a makeshift map of the site’s general areas of interest.
If you’ve done mostly guided dives so far, why not head out with your dive buddies for an adventure or two? If you do find something interesting, you might want to share it on a diving website or message board so that future explorers can follow in your footsteps. Or, you might want to keep your dive-site discovery all to yourself — we won’t judge.