What is night diving and 21 night diving tips for your first night dive
Night diving is fun to do as a scuba diver. At the beginning it can be a daunting thought to dive down into the darkness and gloom. But once you get over this feeling, you’ll realise that night diving adds a whole new dimension to the sport.
Night diving is scuba diving either at night or at dusk where your underwater world experience changes. It changes from an environment that's lit up by the sun, to one that's illuminated by your divers torch. The creatures that usually go about their daily business on the reefs and wrecks during daylight hours are hiding and asleep. You then discover the wildlife that ventures out at night instead. You only see the small field of vision illuminated by your divers light, which is a whole new experience and an exhilarating one too.
Why do scuba dives night dive?
Night diving is one of my favourite types of scuba diving. One of my best night dives ever was on the Thistlegorm Wreck in the Red Sea.
The reason this dive on the Thistlegorm was so special, is because it's not that often this can be done. So I'm one of the privileged few that have done this night dive.
Plus I saw the biggest turtles I've ever seen sleeping on a platform on the wreck. These two Leatherbacks must have been nearly two metres (6+ feet) in length.
The thing about night diving is that even on a scuba dive site that's familiar to you, it will look and feel totally different. You only get to see the small area lit up by your dive light. Everywhere else is in the dark. Except for the other diver's torch lights if you are diving in a group.
Although I recommend in my scuba diving tips to take things slowly on all dives, with night diving you have to slow down. You have no choice than to focus your attention on the area illuminated by your dive torch.
Night diving on a reef is interesting as you see different things. Many of the day time fish are asleep inside the reef, hiding away from predators like sharks that feed at night.
There are then the other creatures that come out at night, including sharks which are there to feed.
Night diving tips
1. Always dive with a dive torch on a night dive
This is an obvious tip, but still worth mentioning. Make sure the torch you buy has a good battery life, as most night dives are shallow. Also, because night dives are particularly slow, the combination of the shallow depth and low activity will mean less air consumption and good dive time. You want to make sure your dive light will last the time of the dive.
Also, make sure your torch batteries are fully charged beforehand.
2. Clip the torch on
Your dive torch, aside from your breathing apparatus and life support, is the most important piece of kit on a night dive. Clip it on to you, or if your torch has a wrist strap, make sure you put this on.
If you drop your torch it's likely to be negatively buoyant and will disappear to the bottom. This is especially true if you're diving with a significant depth of water beneath you. But of course if your torch is positively buoyant, it'll float to the surface.
Whilst a dive light floating to the surface may be recovered, this doesn't help you whilst you are still on your dive.
Of course you will have your buddy's light source, and you should have a backup dive light. But dive torches are expensive to replace.
2. Carry a backup torch
I would recommend you carry a small backup torch, just in case your main torch stops working. This backup dive light only needs to be a pocket type dive torch.
If you are forced to switch to your backup dive light, this is when it's time to abort the dive. This may be over cautious, but with scuba diving it's always better to be a safe scuba diver than a sorry scuba diver.
3. Dive torch seal care
If your dive torch is one where the battery is charged by taking it out of the torch housing, make sure you seal the torch properly when you close it.
I have finished a scuba dive before now with a torch filled with sea water. As you can imagine, this destroys a dive torch!
Use some non-corrosive grease on the rubber o-ring. I've found that Vaseline always works well to make a good seal.
4. Add a diver safety strobe light to your night diving scuba equipment
A safety strobe light is a good piece of additional safety equipment to add to your night diving equipment.
Some divers have these turned on during the course of the dive. I don't consider this necessary, as you have your dive light switch on. But if your dive lights fail, then it's a good idea to turn your strobe light on.
It's good practice to turn your diver strobe light on as you ascend from your dive. This provides additional lighting for the dive boat to see you.
5. Be careful of the coral reef
At night it's more difficult to see, so be extra vigilant with the coral reef. Be a responsible diver and take care of the underwater world.
6. Stay in sight of your dive buddy
As with normal safe diving practice, stay in sight of your dive buddy. However, being that it's a night dive be more aware of the distance from your buddy.
There's no need to stay on top of each other, as you'll be surprised at how easy it is to see your dive buddy underwater, especially if you turn your light off.
Make sure you give each other some space, as in the dark you may end up knocking into each other by accident and kicking a mask off with your fins if you're not careful.
This is different in low visibility water though, as the silt in the water diminishes the lights beam very quickly. Diving in low visibility water is like driving through the fog at night. Your beam is bounced back by the floating plankton and silt in the water similar to how your car lights are bounced back off the fog.
7. Try turning your dive torch or light off to see the night diving bioluminescence
It's great to turn your torch off on a night dive. Agree with your buddy beforehand that this is what you plan to do. Both switch your dive lights off at the same time.
When the dive lights are off, wave your hands in the water and the water should light up blue with the bioluminescent plankton. You are best to find a sandy bottom and settle there to try this.
8. Night dive signals
Signalling your buddy on a night dive is better done by shining your dive light on your hand as you give the signal.
9. Night diving light signals
You can use your dive light for signally. However, I recommend you run through these signals before you start your dive.
You may choose to move the light up and down for yes and side to side for no. You can agree on these before the dive.
Using light signals to attract the attention of your dive buddy, you can point your dive light towards your buddy and wiggle the beam on the reef or bottom near to them. When you do this never shine the light in their face.
10. Don't shine your dive light in your buddies face
This may be another obvious tip, but it's worth mentioning to not shine your dive torch into their face. Be careful of where you shine your dive light, as they tend to be extremely bright.
Your buddy will not thank you for it and will have spots in front of their eyes for a while afterwards.
Also, be careful if you choose to use the 'miners' type dive light, which attach to your forehead. Be aware that when you look at another diver, that your light will be shine directly into their eyes.
Always tilt your dive light down if you need to face your dive buddy, to avoid blinding them.
11. Know the dive site
Before any night dive, and especially if you're not on an organised trip where the instructors know the dive site, make sure you dive the site in day light first.
This has two benefits.
The first is you'll get to see the dive site in the light and see what sea creatures are out in the day time, but also you'll get to understand the layout of the dive site too.
12. Shore night dive
If you are doing a shore night dive instead of a boat night dive, make sure you've marked the beach in some way.
If there's already some form of lighting in the backdrop, you should be okay. But if not, you should place lights on the beach to guide you back to where you entered the sea.
13. Don't do a drift night dive
I would'n't suggest you combine night diving with drift diving. It would be very easy for scuba divers to get lost in the night with a current running.
This problem can happen in the day time. For example, Back in 2007, four divers were lost when they dived on the Elphinestone Reef in a drift, which happened during the day. Four out of the five scuba divers were never found after being swept away on a current.
If this can happen in day light, the risk of losing divers on a night drift dive are much greater and not worth the risk.
14. Head out for your night dive at dusk
If you head out at twilight or before just before dusk when it's still light, you'll be able to kit up in the fading light of the day. Also, if you're a beginner scuba diver and this is your first night dive, descending when there's still some daylight may make the dive less daunting.
The other benefit of diving at twilight is you may get to see the change in activity between the day time creatures and the ones that come out at night. You'll get to witness the changes in the 'shift,' i.e. from the day-shift to the night-shift.
15. Take things slowly on a night dive
On a night dive slow everything down even more than a day time dive. On most night dives you'll only cover a small area. This slowed-down-scuba-dive will mean you really get to see what's hidden in the reef or wreck you're diving on.
16. Don't shine the light directly into creatures eyes
Imagine if someone came into your bedroom at night and shone a light straight in your eyes. I'm sure you wouldn't be too impressed. For one, your pupils will be dilated as your eyes will either have been closed or they'll be dilated due to the darkness. This can be a real shock to the eyes when this happens.
Be respectful of the creatures and their home you are visiting. Always shine your torch light to one side of the animals you see, so they are not blinded by the light.
Also, many dive lights have two light settings. When you're illuminating wildlife, try using the lower power setting. This will lessen the impact of shining a light in their direction.
A fabulous night dive on the Thistlegorm Wreck in the Red Sea I saw the two large turtles. We were very careful where and how we shone the light towards these beautiful creatures.
Instead of shining the beam straight at them, we shone the beam off to the side, so at no time was the beam directly at their heads. We left these two sleeping turtles still sleeping and relatively undisturbed and carried on with our dive. I know I would have felt bad if either one or both had move from their settled spot.
Please always respect the sea creatures you see.
17. Getting separated on a night dive
If you get separated on a night dive you can try switching your light off to start with. It's likely you'll be able to see your buddy in the dark. However, if the water you're diving is low visibility, you may not see their light.
Before you start your dive, include in the brief what you should do as a dive buddy in the event of becoming separated. One tip is to do a full circle with the light bean pointing at an angle away from you (say 30-45 degrees), i.e. spin 360 degrees. If you both agree to do this before the dive, chances are you'll spot the others beam on being separated.
However, as with any scuba dive, if after only a few moments you can't find your dive buddy, always abort the dive and ascend.
18. Be prepared to see different things and stay calm and relaxed
Diving at night is a completely different experience. The environment will appear different and you'll see difference wildlife.
Where sharks live in the region of your dive, be prepared to see these behaving differently. Sharks hunt at night and will be in predatory mode. Sharks are generally not interested in divers, as they are hunting for their usual meals.
There's no need to worry about their changed behaviour as this is normal.
19. Look out into the black
Don't simply focus on what's in front of you. Whatever the dive, I always look out into the blue on day time dives, and on night time dives I shine my torch out into the blackness to see what's out there.
I remember once seeing a great barracuda on a night dive looking out into the black that I wasn't expecting. I will admit to jumping when I saw it. My excuse; this was one of the biggest barracuda's I've seen at around 1.7-1.8 metres (5.5-6 feet) in length. It was hovering in the water only a few feet away.
20. Additional training and certification for a night dive
As with drift diving both PADI and SSI have specific courses for night diving too. Whereas BSAC don't have a specific course, but the way the training works with BSCA (which is always safety first) is a student would be supervised and guided through their first few night dive experiences.
21. Dive with an experienced diver if it's your first night dive
If this is your very first night dive, always dive with someone that's a more experienced scuba diver than you. Also, make sure they've been night diving before and that they are comfortable underwater in the dark.
22. Carry a sound signalling device
A final useful night diving tip is to carry a sound signally device. This can be used to attract the attention of the dive boat skipper.
Night diving dangers
One of the biggest dangers to night scuba divers is other boats.
If you're on an organised trip diving at night from a dive boat this problem is unlikely to happen. However, always be aware of this danger.
This is especially the case if your ascent is away from your dive boat. If you're a distance away from the dive boat and there are other boats in the area, you need to be careful. To improve safety use strobe lights, glow sticks or light sticks and keeping your dive torch switched. This will all help for you to be seen.
If you dive from the shore and for whatever reason you have to surface at a distance from the shore, rather than swim back underwater, you need to be seen by boats and other vessels in the water.
This is where using a strobe light comes in handy and you can also attach glow-sticks or light sticks to your scuba tank too.
As already mentioned, it's not safe to dive at night with a current, as this risks you getting swept away and lost. Divers get lost during the day in currents, so at night this risk is increased to a level that is not worth the risk.
The other danger of diving at night is the failure of your dive light. Having a backup dive light protects against this danger.
Night diving equipment
Additional scuba equipment for night diving has already been covered in the tips, but it's worth running through these once more. Night diving equipment includes:
- Main dive torch or light
- Backup dive torch or light
- Strobe lights
- Glow sticks or light sticks
- Sound signalling devices
- Surface marker buoy lights
What type of scuba divers go on night dives?
Night dives are suitable for all diver types, subject to experience and certification.
I don't consider certification necessary for night diving. But before you do your first night dive, I certainly recommend you dive with someone experienced for your first couple of night dives for your own safety.
Night dives can be enjoyed by all divers, but only dive within your level of qualification and experience.
I hope you enjoyed this article about what is night diving…
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Have fun and be safe!