Diving entry techniques — of all the skills required for scuba diving, from buoyancy to navigation to photography — may not pop to the top of your mind. And yet, when we need to enter the water from a boat, we learn relatively exotic ways of going from dry to wet. So read on for a brush-up on boat entrance techniques and a few tips on making them work best for you.
Entering the water from shore is fairly straightforward. We simply wade into the water, maintain our balance as we hit any surf, and keep our BCDs inflated in case we stumble. But for boats or piers (or any other situation where we’re elevated above the waterline), we need to pick our strategy based on the situation. From a large boat or a pier, a giant stride is the better choice. From small boats, such as Zodiacs, we recommend a back-roll entry.
The Giant Stride
A giant stride is pretty much what the name implies: a giant step into the water. Stand on the edge of the pier or boat. Keep your mask and regulator in place and your BCD partially inflated. Finally, take a big step into empty space, like a cartoon character stepping into an empty elevator shaft. Once you’ve popped back to the surface, signal your buddy and the boat crew that you’re okay.
The main trick here is to take a big step forward, like the name says. Your tank must clear the edge of whatever you’re launching from so that it doesn’t bump the boat as you drop. It’s also important to start closing your legs as soon as they break water. This sends you back to the surface and minimizes the impact on your body. This is especially important for male divers, as a giant stride done with too wide a stance on impact can feel like a kick to the family jewels. Not the best way to start a dive.
Make sure you check that the water is clear of any other divers. Look not only directly below you, but also to the sides. With our dive masks on, we have limited peripheral vision, so a diver could be swimming into your entry zone from the side without you noticing before it’s too late.
Also make sure you place a hand on your mask and regulator when you step in so that they’re not yanked off by the impact off the water.
When the boat is too small for a giant stride, the back-roll is the entry of choice. Sit on the edge of the boat, with your butt scooted as far back as you can without falling over the side. Put on your mask and put your regulator in your mouth. Placing a hand on both so they aren’t yanked off when you roll. When your boat handler gives you the “go,” roll back and hit the water. Your tank will break the surface, and the whole thing is as easy as can be. Though rolling backwards blindly can be a bit disconcerting the first few times, once you get the hang of it, the whole process acquires a cool, military sort of feel.
The main trick here is to make sure you have your tank as far out over the boat’s edge as it can be (again, without falling off), as this will ensure that you don’t knock it against the boat. Once you get the “go,” roll immediately. Don’t turn to check if the water is clear, as you may fall off doing so. Your boat handler will keep an eye out for you. If you miss your window, particularly if there are divers on both sides of you, wait for the boat master to give you a new “go.” Don’t roll in belatedly, as you risk landing on top of a diver who’s already in the water.
Because the impact of the water is coming from behind, there’s a greater risk with this technique that your mask could peel off as you break the surface, so make sure you hold it, and your regulator, firmly in place.
Both the backroll and giant stride can be done as negative entries. You’ll use the same techniques as described above, but with an empty BCD instead of a full one. A full BCD will pop you back the surface as soon as you hit the water. By emptying your BCD, you start your descent upon impact. We recommend this technique if there are waves or a strong surface current. Descend about 15 to 20 feet immediately and then make contact with your buddy to make sure all is in order before continuing your descent.
Zodiac Entry: Not for Diving
Both of these entries have come into diving from commercial and military diving, but one water-entry recreational scuba divers are unlikely to assimilate from the military is the Zodiac entry. Here, you lie on the pontoon of the Zodiac, facing the direction of travel, and roll off at high speed. I tried this recently, and while it is a lot of fun, I won’t recommend it as a scuba-diver entry technique.
So kids, don’t try this at home.