In their most basic terms, we can break down dive entries into two basic categories: boat entries and shore entries. Within those there are variations on boat entry depending on region, conditions, dive site and captain. While there are too many individual variations to cover each and every one, in part one of a two-part series on safe scuba diving entries and exits, we’ll look at some common entries, how to prepare and provide some tips.
General dive-entry advice
You learned some common entries during your initial open-water training. The environment you learned in, however, may have limited which entries you practiced during your training course. There are several other ways you can prepare for what lies ahead:
- If you’re about to dive in a new region, learn about diving procedures in the area. If you’re traveling on your own or with an inexperienced buddy, ask the local dive center, guide or trip leader.
- Listen to the briefing. This is vitally important, whatever the diving situation. The local guides will explain all the appropriate procedures for entry to the water.
Always attend and listen to the briefing. Be sure you know how, when, and where you’ll be entering the water.
- Time your pre-dive preparation to coincide with the other divers. You don’t want to be the diver who is ill-prepared, late, or looking around for his gear while other divers are standing on the dive platform or shore fully kitted up, waiting for you. If you take longer than average to get ready, prepare a little earlier. Don your exposure suit up to your waist before the dive briefing. Take a few extra minutes on the surface interval to check and secure your equipment so that you’re well-prepared. Rushing to prepare for the dive and feeling flustered will only leave you in the wrong state of mind before diving. Conversely, don’t rush to be ready ahead of the rest of the group creating an uncomfortable wait for yourself. The best dive preparations happen in an almost synchronized manner, with all buddy teams being ready at approximately the same time.
Trip leaders will usually allow a standard or average amount of time for divers to get ready. Time your preparations for a smooth pre-dive preparation and entry.
- Say you’re ready to dive when you’re actually ready. It seems obvious but, particularly when boat diving, the guide will usually conclude the briefing and ask the buddy teams to prepare and meet at the boat’s entry point. The entry point may be a dive platform; it may be a gated ‘doorway’ on the edge of the boat’s port or starboard deck. You may simply back-roll from the side of a RIB or dinghy after reaching the dive site. Regardless, the guide’s question is confirming that you’ve buddy-checked with your gas and fins on, that your mask is treated and in place, and that your computer is set. All that should remain is to put your regulator in your mouth and enter the water.
Saying you’re ready doesn’t mean “except spitting in and rinsing my mask and putting it on,” or “I just need to put my fins on.” If you’re not ready, say so. It may mean the captain has to make another cycle to bring the boat into position or give way to other vessels. Ready means ready.
The giant stride is the most common deep-water entry from a boat, and most divers learn it during entry-level courses, environment and physical limitations permitting. Very literally, the giant-stride entry is a series of steps:
- Fully prepare and be ready before you’re close to the entry point. Fins are on, jacket or wing is inflated, your mask is treated and in position, and your regulator is in your mouth. If you’re not ready, step aside temporarily and let other divers enter the water.
- Side-step to the final entry point where possible. If a rail or something else solid is available to steady yourself, use it.
- Wait for the final confirmation from the diver leader or crew that you may enter the water as instructed in the briefing. Do not enter the water until advised to do so — it’s common courtesy and safety procedure for the dive leader to be first in – last out, so as to be in-water to deal with any problems. In addition, the captain may have to move the vessel at the last moment if, for example, the boat is being pushed by wind and tide too close to the reef or toward/away from a wreck’s shot-line. If he must put the boat in gear the propeller will be spinning. Divers cannot enter the water until the boat is in a safe position again.
- Take final look down to ensure no obstacles — or other divers — are beneath you.
- Secure your mask and regulator in place with one hand.
- Secure dangling bits such as gauges, accessories, alternate-air source and your weight belt, when applicable, with the other hand.
- Look directly ahead at the horizon — not down at the water — and make a large stride, not a jump.
- As you pop to the surface, confirm to the dive leader and boat crew you’re ok with the proper signal. Back fin away from the area, being mindful of other divers who may be entering the water directly after you.
- Identify your dive buddy and guide and get together with them on the surface. Stay close — it’s easy to become separated from your group by waves and water movement.
- The dive leader will seek final confirmation from all divers that they’re ready before all leaving the surface together as briefed.
Ensure your regulator’s venturi adjustments are turned to the minimum for entry and alternate air sources are face-down. It makes them less likely to free-flow.
If you have lots of accessories, such as large cameras ask whether the dive is suitable to bring them and if so, find out the appropriate entry techniques. The dive leader may recommend entering the water in a different way to protect both you and your equipment. He may also recommend that you wait until other divers have entered the water to swim back to the entry point and collect your camera from the crew. Do not make assumptions and swim directly back to collect items unannounced — you may enter the path of a diver jumping into the water.
If entering from a large liveaboard, note that it may be towing a zodiac or dinghy on a line behind. Stay clear of the line and avoid entanglement.
On some vessels, in calm waters, or for those with physical challenges, a seated entry is sometimes preferable.
- Sit on the dive platform with your legs hanging down, fins pointing toward the water.
- Make the final preparations and confirm you’re ready.
- Ensure the area is clear of other divers. Wait for the confirmation it’s ok to enter the water.
- Place both hands on the deck to one side of your body. Transfer your weight onto your hands and spin decisively around toward your hands, lowering yourself into the water gently.
- Confirm you’re ok as usual and join your group and dive leader on the surface.
Place accessories you may require in position on the dive deck. On some vessels, you may be able to reach them easily once you’re in the water.
You’ll do back-rolls mostly from small RIBs, zodiacs and dinghies where there’s is no diving platform or dive-site access is via one of these smaller boats.
- As usual, make sure you’re ready at the same time as the rest of your dive group when entering the water.
- Hold your mask and regulator in place with one hand. To ensure nothing gets tangled, secure your alternate air source with your other hand.
- Often there will be a countdown. Be prepared and roll in on your mark. Tuck your chin to your chest and, literally, roll backwards into the water at the end of the countdown.
- Once in the water, relax and let the jacket or wing ease you back to the surface. Orient yourself at the surface and confirm you’re ok with a signal. Fin away from the boat if other divers are entering the water.
Time your entry to synchronize with the other divers so as not to destabilize the boat. Divers may become disorientated or surface too close to the boat. Be mindful and protect your head where necessary.
Before beginning a shore dive entering the water with your buddy, you’ll need to consider the various factors in a shore dive. Having worked through your pre-dive checklist and made a final assessment that the conditions are safe for diving, it’s time to buddy check and enter the water.
- Watch the wave cycle for a few minutes and note the interval. There is usually a rhythm and you’ll get a feel for the optimum moment to enter the water with your buddy.
- Ensure your BCD is inflated as you enter. Always have your mask on and your regulator in during the initial entry.
- Enter the water close to your buddy either backwards or sideways — never forward, usually with fins on. There may be exceptions for unusually calm conditions where you can put your fins on once you reach waist-deep water. Keep close contact with your buddy and protect your mask with your free hand.
- Begin to shuffle backward and glance over your shoulder as you do so to monitor the conditions.
- As you reach swimming depth at waist height, time your final entry together through the surf or surge to coincide with a lull between wave cycles.
- If more powerful waves hit your body, lean into it. Imagine you’re leaning into a strong gust of wind. Keep your legs apart to create a stable platform.
- Choose your moment and launch yourself quickly and assertively backward into the water between waves. Don’t stop kicking. Try to clear the initial surf zone as quickly as possible.
- When clear of the initial waves, roll onto your stomach and switch from your regulator to your snorkel, if you’ve got a surface swim, to conserve the gas in your cylinder.
- If you feel tired from the initial entry, take a moment to get together with your buddy and regain a normal breathing pattern before moving on.
- Move at the pace of the slowest diver steadily to the final descent point.
Shore-diving conditions can change day by day, hour by hour. Check the weather forecast and tide tables carefully when planning your dive. Ask experienced local divers about the safest entry and exit points.
These general recommendations won’t cover every eventuality but may help you to have a more relaxed day diving. Safe diving entries can make your day run smoothly, safely, and enjoyably. Remember your basic training. Listen to the briefings. Take advice and have a better day in the water.