How to Get the Most from Your Wreck Dives

Knowing the history behind a shipwreck not only makes diving it more meaningful, but can also help you plan your dive.

If a ship meant for the surface ends up underwater, there must be a story behind it, right? Finding out what that story is can heighten your anticipation for the dive, and then lend the experience a compelling narrative. Story aside, looking up the site can also help you plan your dive so that you get the most out of your wreck dives. Dig up the answers to these three questions to be perfectly prepared for your next wreck exploration.

How did the wreck get there?

Did the wreck sink during a war, and is it now a grave site? If so, diving there may be forbidden. Do your homework before you plan a day out, and make sure that the site you want to dive isn’t off limits as per local laws, and check up on any special regulations. Because many wrecks are in deep water, find out not only its max depth, but the depth of the wreck’s shallower parts as well. Make sure that you’re certified and capable of reaching it, then dive with caution. Be extra-vigilant of your air consumption and of your no-deco time. If you are an enriched air diver, diving on nitrox could buy you that extra bit of time to see it all.

Once you determine that you’re allowed to dive the wreck, your gauges are in good working order, your dive computer’s in tow, and maybe you even have a spare oxygen tank ready just in case, you should be all set, right? Wait. Some wrecks are tricky to locate and you don’t want to waste your precious bottom time swimming aimlessly. In these cases, take the guesswork out and hire a local guide, who will be able to point out features of the wreck you may have missed, as well as any interesting marine life.

What are the wreck’s points of interest?

Consult a map of the shipwreck and determine what appeals to you about the site. Set your own dive objectives and work them into a custom-made plan, and then discuss it with your guide and buddy. It would be a shame if you missed out on seeing the anchor (and you like anchors) because the standard dive plan is to see the boiler room instead. Visit the deepest points of interest first; that way, you’ll see everything you want to see while maintaining a safe dive profile.

During your dive, you’re confident in your plan and have no trouble finding the iconic propeller (you also like propellers). It’s a shame you can’t admire it properly because you keep having to kick to control your position in the water. Just one reason, among many, for you to make sure your buoyancy is on-point before diving a wreck. Here’s a different scenario: You’re hovering beautifully in front of the ship’s wheel and you are so drawn to it that you want to take a piece of it with you. From your research, you know that this is allowed. But does that mean you should? Consider that if everyone took a part with them, there would be no wheel left for future divers to admire. Plus, you don’t want to accidentally touch something harmful, which you know all about from your research.

What are the wreck’s points of hazard?

While planning and highlighting the points of interest, take note of the wreck’s hazards as well. Some wrecks have many, so be prepared. Practice good buoyancy and swim carefully to dodge possible power lines and to avoid any jagged metal edges. Poisonous scorpionfish commonly live on wrecks, so wear a long exposure suit as an extra precaution. Entanglement is another risk on a shipwreck, so be sure to bring your dive tool or knife.

Navigating around a wreck is fairly simple. Note your starting point, stay close to the wreck, and keep it on one side. Once you enter a compartment, it’s a different story. The danger of getting lost and being unable to surface becomes all too real. Only those with proper certification and gear, such as a reel and a light, should attempt wreck penetration. Abide by the rule of thirds: Make certain that you have used less than a third of your air and no-deco time before going in. Once inside, limit your kicking so as not to disturb the silt and cloud the already minimal visibility. Wreck sites can also be subject to current. If you inform yourself about the conditions beforehand and prepare for them, you can use the current to your advantage; let it guide you around the wreck and save yourself the energy.

A successful and enjoyable wreck dive, as with any other dive, begins with good planning and preparation. Take the time to research what to expect when diving a shipwreck. Find out the rules when it comes to divers, and know what you want to accomplish on the wreck, as well as avoid. Learn the wreck’s story. By doing so, the wreck may in turn become one of your best dive stories.

By guest author Lorena Espin