Night Diving 101

If you have not yet experienced the ocean at night, we highly recommend it.

What’s so great about night diving?

When you’re night diving, you’ll see creatures and behaviors you won’t see during the day.  The whole experience is fantastic. There are some special considerations for night diving, however, including equipment selection, buddy proximity and navigation techniques.   But anyone can enjoy these special dives with proper preparation.

thumbnail-1.jpgPreparing for a night dive

First, have a tank light, which you’ll attach to your tank to be more visible. Lights can be any color. Some flash; some look like luminous pencils. Anything will work, but it must be battery powered. No chemical sticks. Those sticks are an absolute terror on the environment above and below water. In addition, you must carry at least two dive lights. One will function as your primary; one is your backup. Check the power level of each before the dive.

Even that precaution is no guarantee, however. Once on a night dive off of Statia, my buddy and I lost three of four lights within 10 minutes. We’d checked them all; they had new batteries. Redundancy is key, and so is having quality equipment. Be aware of other divers and control your light’s beam. Don’t shine your light in other people’s eyes. Work out signals with your light — circle it for “ok,” side-to-side for distress, and other signals.  But keep the light beams out of other people’s field of vision.

What else should you bring?

On every night dive (in fact on every dive), you should have a compass. You should know how to use it, and use it if necessary. Let’s face it — in good visibility with plenty of light, navigation is usually not an issue. At night it’s always an issue. Knowing where you are is important to your safety and is a courtesy to those who will have to come and find you if you get lost. If you and your buddy are not comfortable on your own on a night dive, then stick to guided dives, offered at many resorts.

Stay with the group

If you are in a group, stay with and close to the group. Always. If there is a designated leader — and there should be — follow the leader. Buddy proximity and group proximity are very important on night dives. Don’t wander off. Night diving from shore suggests using either a shore party with a signaling device for indicating your point of entry or exit. If everyone on the outing in getting in the water, place a distinctive light or beacon on shore to reference a point of entry and exit.

If you are diving from shore, make sure someone knows where you are going. Make sure they know when you are diving, and when you expect to be back. The same thing holds true if you are diving from a liveaboard or private boat. Check out properly. Tell people when you leave and tell them when you get back. Most people are pretty good about the first part of the rule, but don’t always remember to report back after the dive. Be sure that you tell people you’re back after your dive.

Diving from a boat

When diving from a boat, suspension of a strobe or other light underneath the boat fulfills the same function. In fact, I have been on night dives in which a sequence of lights or beacons have been placed to mark the trail home, though that is a bit unusual. Remember your dive flag when diving at night, and illuminate it with a small light. Daytime diving and safety rules apply at night, including dive-flag rules. Let people who are not on your dive know where you are diving, when you are diving, and when you will be back. This is an important rule for all dives, but especially important for night dives.

If you get the chance, try diving at night. If you want a little more training first, consider a night dive specialty class through your local dive center. But don’t be afraid of the dark— there is a whole new world of wonder under the sea after the sun goes down.

By guest author Divemaster Dennis