Recently I was putting on my drysuit to go diving with a few buddies and a man on his bike pulled up next to us. “How deep is it here?” he enquired. When I told him it was about 15 feet he looked at us incredulously we were all suiting up in drysuits, wing-and-backplate BCDs and double tanks. Admittedly, we looked at bit over-kitted for the dive, but it’s my primary dive setup and I can’t bothered to take it apart and put it back together again when I go from deep to shallow dives. “Is that even worth getting wet for?” he asked us, slightly shaking his head. Then he rolled away. Had I had gotten the chance I would have told him that yes, it is very much worth getting wet for, and here’s why:
Shallow Diving is Easy
I like to dive, and thusly I want to dive a lot. Accessing really deep waters on a regular basis is a luxury many divers do not have. In many places, you need access to a boat, which often means higher cost and more time compared to shore dives. So if you want to dive a lot, a large portion of these dives are likely to be shore dives. And shore dives are often shallow. And for me, if it’s a choice between a shallow shore dive and no dive at all, I’ll take the shallow shore dive.
Shallow Diving is Not Easy
I know what I just said, but stay with me. When I say shallow dives are “easy,” I’m referring their convenience. When I say they’re “not easy,” I’m referring to the skill set required, particularly buoyancy. Maintaining proper buoyancy is much more difficult at 15 feet than at 45 feet. Every little change to the total buoyancy of the diver has a profound effect. Inflate your BCD just a tad too much and you’re bound for the surface. Deflate it just a tad too much and you’re scraping the bottom. Heck, even a deeper-than-average breath will have you popping to the surface like popcorn in a hot pot. And with not a lot of space between the surface and the bottom, you become much more aware of your trim, which makes you a better diver. I take dive trainees for a few shallow dives as a part of their entry-level course; once they get a hang of their buoyancy here, finding proper buoyancy at depth becomes easy. And once I’ve seen a diver maintain correct buoyancy and trim during a swim-over with only a handful of feet of water above their tanks, while staying clear of the bottom, I’m a lot more comfortable going into a wreck or cave with them.
Let the Sunshine In
Shallow water can make for some of the best underwater natural experiences. Light diminishes as we descend — where the light is, so there are the colors. Staying shallow often rewards us with sights we wouldn’t see further down, including much more colorful corals, different species of fish and a more radiant and light-filled environment.
More Bottom Time
It’s a cliché, and it’s true: practice makes perfect. Both in my own skill set — and in that of others — completing lengthy dives allows us to become fully relaxed and in tune with the underwater world. And the bottom time required for this comfort level means participating in shallow dives. While I would never advocate a “more is more” attitude when it comes to dive durations, sometimes it is nice to have all the time in the world on a dive.
Shallow Dives Make for Great for Night and Winter Dives
For those of us who do not live in the tropics a good portion of our year is quite cold, and darkness falls early. So if we want to dive year round, many of our dives will necessarily be night dives in cold water. And shallow dives are good for those circumstances, as the deeper we go, the colder we will get. And when temperatures start in the low 40s, you don’t want to get that much lower. So a shallow, shore dive in a familiar location is a great option — and quite a challenging one — in the midst of a dark, winter night. But it also has rewards, such as gin-clear water, sluggish fish that allow you to get much closer than in the daytime, and a range of animals you’d normally not see in warmer waters.
I am a strong believer that shallow dives should be a part of any well-rounded diver’s recurring program. Of course, deep dives have their merits, too, both as pleasure dives and for the training and experience they provide. But make sure you add in a few shallow dives from time to time, and experience more of the aquatic world has to offer close to the surface.