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Shore Diving Basics

Sites like Haigh Quarry offer many amenities

by Jim Lapenta

When you look at advertising for diving, much of it seems to be centered around diving from boats.  A great deal of it also seems to be focused on warm water locations where exposure protection is often no more than a rash guard and board shorts or a thin wetsuit.  

Many inland shops and instructors would love to have these resources. Coastal shops also may not have them available and rely on sites with access to the water where crossing some type of beach is necessary. That “beach” may be a nice sandy one or one composed of rocks ranging from small pebbles to those the size of a Volkswagen.   

The inland sites may involve stairs, long walks, and in some cases a 4WD vehicle to access the site. This month’s article is going to look at the most basic aspects of entering the water from shore.  Many shore diving practices, such as surf entries, are covered in the Open Water class so lets look at those that may not be.

We all know that diving usually involves the lifting and carrying of heavy gear that people may not be used to. When diving from a boat the distances involved are relatively short. Stand up, take a few steps, and jump, fall, or roll into the water. Getting out means swimming to a ladder, climbing it, walking a few steps, and sitting back down.  Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Shore diving, can be and often is, a bit more involved. Generally, the walk is longer.  There is rarely a mate or crew person to help stand up, walk the several to perhaps dozens of yards to the water, and then enter it. The entry may be a dock or platform. It could also be as simple as walking down a set of steps or graded slope. It could also be a mix of wet grass and weeds, uneven terrain, and crumbling banks undercut by erosion. Any of these increase the risk of injury due to the heavy gear and slippery surfaces. Getting out has the same risks and care needs to be taken.

Shore diving at coastal locations can increase the risk by tossing in the added factor of waves, currents, and surge. Entering the water from shore on the East or West Coast of the US can be an adventure in itself and the divers need to be familiar with tides, wave action, rip currents, and how these affect the visibility once under the water. Some sites with protected bays and coves are similar to lakes and quarries when it comes to visibility. Others can have so much turbidity due to the surgethat divers need to also have very good navigation skills to meet their objectives.

Inland sites can also be challenging in terms of visibility because of algae or silt that is stirred up. Simply put, these types of conditions make it difficult to know where to step.  They may also hide holes or other hazards that could trip a diver or result in an entanglement in fishing line or other debris. 

So why do we shore dive? For me, shore diving allows me to spend time in the water without the expense of boat diving and the travel involved to get to the boat.  It also allows divers like me to keep their skills sharp and grants access to diving opportunities they otherwise would not have.  Not everyone can hop on a plane at a moments notice and head to the Caribbean. 

Shore diving also allows the luxury of diving on your schedule and not on that of an operation. You decide the the amount of time you want to spend in the water. It’s now only limited by your air supply, NDL’s, and tolerance for the temperature.  It is generally much less expensive. Some locations to have entry fees but for the adventurous diver, many local lakes and shore locations do not require paying. There is also a great deal to see for those who choose to look and see.

Few things upset me more than an instructor who tells their students at a local site to “not worry about the low vis. Book a trip with them and they will never have to see this site again.” Those instructors are partly responsible for the decline of diving in general.

With all this, what are some of the things that will allow you to shore dive successfully and enjoy the experience? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Shore diving is going to involve physical exertion.  So stay fit and try to exercise regularly.
  2. Plan your shore diving excursion. Use the same care you would any dive trip.
  3. Research the site and get familiar with it.Learn about any local laws that may apply such as dive flag requirements. Get to know the tide tables and other specific site concerns
  4. Be self sufficient.Have a first aid kit and emergency oxygen for non-commerical sites.
  5. Choose your buddies carefully.Dive with those who share your passion for local diving and who can be depended on when it comes to skills and knowledge.
  6. Make sure your gear is not only well maintained but also suitable for the dives.As an example, use cold water rated regulators when the possibility of encountering water temperatures below 50 degrees exists.
  7. Use appropriate exposure protection.Dress for the coldest temperature you expect to encounter.
  8. Let someone know when you are diving a remote site.Carry a cell phone and leave a note on the vehicle with an emergency contact, the time you expect to be done, and where you expect to exit the water.
  9. Check local laws. Inquire about dive flag use, parking, restricted areas, and solo diving if you plan to do that. 
  10. Use a checklist to avoid overlooking items that may cause you to cancel the dive!Nothing worse than driving an hour or more only to find that your mask, fins, BC, etc are still in the dive locker at home. Or that you didn’t bother to check your cylinders and they have less than 500 PSI in each.
  11. Keep your skills sharp and gain knowledge wherever possible. Underwater Navigation is an area I highly recommend time be spent on!
  12. Have fun and choose to see that which others do not!Find joy in bluegill nests and catfish who act like puppy dogs!
  13. Do not listen to any entity that says shore diving is boring, uninteresting, or doesn’t require skill.You don’t want to associate with such negativity!

In closing,I encourage you to also take a look at my books. SCUBA: A Practical Guide for the New Diver and SCUBA: A Practical Guide to Advanced Level Training both have information that will make your shore diving more enjoyable and safe. Both are available on Amazon.

Dive Safe.

About Jim Lapenta: 

Lapenta is from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. He is a diver, Dive Instructor, Author and owner of UDM Aquatic Services. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/james.lapenta