Rule No. 1 when you dive from shore: Be pre­pared

Sport Diver - - Contents - BY PA­TRI­CIA WUEST

Make your next shore dive a day at the beach with our pro tips, and read how Bran­don Cole sur­vived a har­row­ing exit from the ocean off Wash­ing­ton’s Olympic Penin­sula.

Eric Dou­glas and his dive buddy had dived La­guna Beach’s Shaw Cove dozens of times, en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing with­out any is­sues.

After one dive, the ex­pe­ri­enced pair “got too shal­low, and we ended up get­ting tossed into the surf zone on top of rocks,” says Dou­glas. Sud­denly, Dou­glas — who writes Scuba Div­ing mag­a­zine’s Lessons For Life col­umn — found him­self in the type of scary sit­u­a­tion he usu­ally only writes about. “We got bounced around pretty hard, but we were fi­nally able to move to deeper wa­ter. The key was stay­ing calm.”

If you have a fa­vorite beach dive, you know there are a host of dan­gers that can trip up even the most ex­pe­ri­enced diver. Fol­low our pro tips for mak­ing your next shore dive safely and eas­ily.

Get the Vi­tal Info

When div­ing a site for the first time, “get help from the lo­cals — chances are they know the best times and

tech­niques for div­ing the site,” says Karl Shree­ves, PADI tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment ex­ec­u­tive.

Get a dive map and spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about the site, in­clud­ing a tide chart, wa­ter temp, best place for en­try and exit, and where to find the site’s most im­por­tant fea­tures or an­i­mals.

If you’re com­pletely un­fa­mil­iar with the area’s div­ing, “hire a guide who can show you the lay of the land,” says Shana Phe­lan, owner of Pura Vida Divers in Riviera Beach, Florida. “Ask lots of ques­tions so you un­der­stand po­ten­tial risks.”

File a Dive Plan

This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant if you’re div­ing solo. File your dive plan with a fam­ily mem­ber or friend, and give them the ex­act lo­ca­tion, time of en­try and how long you ex­pect to spend un­der­wa­ter. Ar­range to call that per­son once you’re out of the wa­ter. This way, if they don’t hear from you, they can no­tify emer­gency per­son­nel. Ini­ti­at­ing a search as soon as pos­si­ble can be cru­cial when time is a fac­tor.

Eval­u­ate the Site

Do this be­fore you gear up. If some­thing’s not right — the wa­ter is rougher than ex­pected or a thun­der­storm is rolling in — and you end up call­ing the dive, at least you haven’t wasted time get­ting geared up.

“Be pre­pared to walk through sand with your gear on, or maybe even over rocks, to kick out through surf or to do a bit of a sur­face swim,” says Jo Miku­tow­icz, man­ag­ing part­ner of Divetech on Grand Cayman. “Some shore dives al­low you to hop right in the wa­ter and de­scend, but a lot re­quire a bit of phys­i­cal ex­er­tion.”

Now you’re ready to make the go, no-go de­ci­sion. “Al­ways be will­ing to go to break­fast in­stead,” says Dou­glas. “If you show up and con­di­tions just aren’t right, call the dive.”

Phe­lan echoes Dou­glas: “I’ve never had a scary ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing a shore dive, but I’ve called a few due to poor vis­i­bil­ity or rough, surgy con­di­tions. It’s just not worth it.”

Gear Up for En­try

Make sure you treat your gear with a lit­tle TLC, and gear up in a paved park­ing lot or while stand­ing on a plas­tic tarp.

“Sand works against your gear in ways that can have more se­ri­ous con­se­quences,” says Scubalab di­rec­tor Roger Roy. “Grit be­tween mov­ing parts of dive gear can act like sand­pa­per in the works, scor­ing and wear­ing the spots it con­tacts. If enough sand and other crud ac­cu­mu­lates, it can pre­vent a com­po­nent from work­ing prop­erly — for ex­am­ple, jam­ming your BC’S power in­flater, or pre­vent­ing a dump valve from seal­ing. If you’re not care­ful, sand can clog your sec­ond stage.”

Plan care­fully for what to take on the dive. “Some­times, it’s not what you take, but what you don’t take when shore div­ing,” says Shree­ves. “If it’s a chal­leng­ing en­try, leave the DSLR with 2-foot strobe arms at home and take a point-and­shoot cam­era in­stead.”

Make sure you check lo­cal reg­u­la­tions. “Some places re­quire you to have a dive flag, so if this is the case, make sure to bring one,” says Miku­tow­icz. “Use a clip to at­tach your fins to your BC so if you need to use your hands to as­sist your­self, your fins won’t float away.”

If you’re div­ing in kelp or at a site where fish­er­men fre­quent, “a good line cut­ter or dive knife is a must-have,” says Dou­glas. “You might need to cut your­self free.”

Be pre­pared for a worstcase sce­nario. “If you’re swept out to sea and can’t get back to shore, get­ting some­one’s at­ten­tion can be a matter of life and death,” says Roy. “Have at least one vis­ual and one au­di­ble sig­nal­ing de­vice.”

Bring a well-stocked first-aid and oxy­gen kit. “Shore div­ing is great, but you are on your own,” Dou­glas says. “Get the train­ing you need, and know how to han­dle any emer­gency that might come up.”

Get­ting In

Make sure your BC is par­tially in­flated, all gauges and oc­tos are clipped off, and ac­ces­sories, such as sig­nal­ing de­vices, dive lights and knives, are se­cure.

At the wa­ter’s edge, put on your mask, place the reg in your mouth and wade in, walk­ing back­ward and tim­ing in­com­ing break­ers un­til you get past them, usu­ally in thigh-deep wa­ter. If it’s rocky, “make sure you watch your step, and make sure you have your bal­ance be­fore mov­ing on to your next step,” says Miku­tow­icz.

Time your en­try to avoid large waves. “Watch for a lull or a cou­ple of smaller waves be­fore you en­ter the ac­tual surf zone,” says Dou­glas. “At this point, you need to move quickly. If a wave comes be­fore you are past the surf break, turn side­ways and brace against it.”

If you get knocked down by a wave, don’t try to stand — put your fins on if you haven’t al­ready and kick out to deeper wa­ter. If the wa­ter’s too shal­low for that, crawl for­ward un­til you reach deeper wa­ter. If con­di­tions are calm, wear your fins and shuf­fle back­ward, look­ing over your shoul­der for any po­ten­tial prob­lems, un­til you get to thigh-deep wa­ter.

Be­fore you de­scend, look at a fixed point. Use your com­pass and take a read­ing on a land­mark, such as a build­ing, and swim out on the re­cip­ro­cal. If you lose your way for any rea­son, this read­ing will be in­valu­able in find­ing your way back to the start­ing point.

Get­ting Out

Un­less con­di­tions have changed, it’s usu­ally eas­i­est to re­turn to the beach through the surf zone while un­der­wa­ter. Get neg­a­tively buoy­ant. “Swim to­ward the beach with the waves, and get as close to the beach as you can so you can get solid foot­ing,” says Dou­glas. “Stand side­ways so you can brace your­self against waves. Keep your reg and mask in place. Hook your fins on your wrists and work your way through the surf zone, shuf­fling for­ward.”

If the site is rocky, “stay away from the rocks and gauge what the waves are do­ing; you don’t want to get pushed into the rocks,” says Miku­tow­icz.

Once on the beach, head for the park­ing lot or tarp. A plas­tic tub or bucket can be handy for rins­ing gear.

Fol­low all these tips and you can avoid what Miku­tow­icz calls the “walk of shame.”

“Once, on a Hawaii shore dive, there were small waves crash­ing at our en­try point, but noth­ing too bad,” she re­calls. “But by the time we sur­faced, the waves were huge, and it was very clear our en­try point wasn’t go­ing to work as an exit. We had to swim down the coast a bit un­til we got to a sandy patch and exit there. It was a long walk along the road in heavy gear to get back to our car.”

When the surf is rough, en­ter the wa­ter by walk­ing back­ward, look­ing over your shoul­der so you can pre­pare for large waves.

If you’re div­ing from a beach, gear up on a plas­tic tarp — it will help keep sand out of your wet­suit, reg, gauges and BC.

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