My husband loves night dives, so it’s no surprise that our son, Joseph, wanted to go night diving right away. But night diving with kids offers unique challenges for parents. Consider these factors and additional risks before taking your child on a night dive.
Conditions should be ideal, especially for a new or young night diver. Go night diving with kids in very calm waters, with little to no current and good visibility. A full moon the night of the planned dive, along with a cloudless sky, will also mean more light penetrates the water and better visibility. If possible, dive the site during the day first. This way, the area will be familiar and the child can better get his or her bearings. Also, entering the water before the sun goes down completely will help the child identify the area and topography more easily. Finally, try to dive a shallow site that features either a gently sloping wall or sandy bottom to reduce potential dangers.
New divers learn that it takes multiple dives to learn how to manage buoyancy. This essential skill is even more important at night when you may not be able to see the bottom or coral outcroppings. As a new diver, our son — like most of us — added too much air to his BCD if he felt heavy, or dumped too much if he had trouble staying down. If he tried to clear his mask or remove and replace it due to a squeeze, or even wanted to write something on his slate, he started heading to the surface without realizing it. Since you can only see an area as large as your torch’s beam and the group typically stays closer together on a night dive, your child must be able to manage buoyancy without using his arms to move around and without making major corrections mid-water while on the dive.
We use torches to communicate underwater during night dives, so explain to your child that they must shine their torch on their hand when signaling their buddy. Teach them to turn on the torch at the surface and keep it on for the duration of the dive. Kids should also know the signals we make with torches that do not occur during day dives, such as shining it back and forth over their buddy’s beam to get their attention and making a light circle around something their buddy should look at.
The rules of the buddy system are even more important at night, so review them any time you go night diving with kids. Specifically, remind the child that you must stay within arm’s reach so that you don’t lose each other or mistake another diver for your buddy. Remind them of the rule regarding looking for your buddy for one minute and then surfacing as well. Take an extra step for safety and purchase tank lights. These typically flash and come in a variety of colors, so you can identify each other more easily underwater.
Managing a torch
This is probably the toughest skill for kids to manage on a night dive. Remind your child not to shine their torch in other divers’ faces. Also, while you’re obviously underwater to see nocturnal marine life, kids must learn that some fish and animals are asleep and to should not be disturbed. Shining a light directly on a fish is not acceptable. Divers can even cause harm if they wake up the fish and it breaks its mucus sack, for example. Purchase a bright, compact and lightweight torch for a child so that he can manage it easily. Make sure he has a back up, in case his torch floods or fails. Practice signals at the surface, before the dive. You can even make a game out of it by going outside at night and walking around in silence, pointing out things and signaling each other.
Keep it simple
On my son’s first night dives, my husband took him to a site that we had been diving on several times. Then, they found a big, sandy patch at about 30 feet (10 m) with large brain corals and used their torches to attract bloodworms to the corals. They spent the entire dive feeding brain corals and both had a blast.
Night diving with kids can be a rich experience for both parents and children. If your kids are curious, take them out only once they’ve logged several dives, are comfortable in the water and with their skills, and in the right conditions with the right equipment. Practice safe diving techniques and do additional dive planning and discussion. Stick close together and see who can spot an octopus first, and watch them fall in love with night diving too.