Preparing to Scuba Dive in British Columbia


Scuba Diving
Cariboo
Vancouver
Vancouver Island




Diving in British Columbia



The very first step you should take if diving is on your list of recreational sports, is to find a reputable diving instructor and learn how to dive properly and safely.


Photo courtesy of Todd & Lani

Once you have mastered the techniques of diving, slowly make your way to dives that are more difficult, until you are able to handle chaotic situations that may occur when diving. Never dive alone, join a club, organization or group dive. Always use the buddy system and dive with a partner! Never drink and dive. Another extremely important factor is to plan your dive and dive your plan. Before every dive, make sure you and your buddy are on the same wave length, talk out the dive completely, both of you must know what to expect of each other. Study and remember the diving regulations. The red-and-white diver-down flag is required under the Canada Shipping Act, and it is recognized world wide meaning someone is diving, keep clear. Join the Divers Alert Network (DAN) an international nonprofit member supported organizations to promote and practice diving safety. Dan also provides a 24-hour Diving Emergency Hotline, Diving medicine and safety infoline, an emergency medical evacuation service, as well as a diver's medical insurance policy and a membership to a diver's magazine.

Some basic information about the coastal B.C. waters that will help make your diving experience, a memorable one. You can enjoy year round diving in the Strait of Georgia. The winter months are best for the diver who is also a photographer, as visibility is clearer when plankton activity is low and there's very little river run-off.

Water temperature is affected by depth and currents in all diving sites. In British Columbia the summer surface temperatures range from 12 to 18 degrees Celsius (54 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit) and in winter they vary from 4 to 8 degrees Celsius (49 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit). But once you reach a depth of 9 to 12 meters (30 to 40 feet), the temperature is quite stable throughout the year, at about 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit). Locals, dive all year round wearing custom-fitted dry suits or custom-fitted wet suits of neoprene. The choice is yours.

River run-off in spring and rainstorms can cause murky water, check your charters and dive these areas when good weather returns. Industrial pollution impedes visibility, so it's best to avoid mining sites, logging operations and factories.

The growth of plankton happens twice a year in the North Pacific and can cloud the top 6 to 9 meters (20 to 30 feet) of water. The first "bloom" happens in the spring, any time from March through to May, the second growth might come in late summer or early autumn, anytime from August through to late September, or early October. During these time period you should find a deep dive site to enjoy good visibility.

Bull kelp in B.C. waters, grows in less than 9 meters (30 feet) of water, giving you an idea of the water depth, it also shows you the direction of the current. Kelp provides the perfect home for marine life, but bull kelp can be very dangerous. Only experienced divers should dive in bull kelp. Never enter in bull kelp and never exit in bull kelp. Have a knife handy when diving, should you get caught in bull kelp, your buddy can cut you out. Be extremely cautious when cutting kelp, an airhose feels a lot like kelp, so be careful not to cut the airhose.

Study the currents and riptides. When diving unknown waters, always ask local divers about the sites and times. Wear a whistle. Plan each dive carefully. And always think for yourself, never rely on others, even when on a guided dive. All divers must learn to deal with currents. Have your buddy make a dive plan, then coordinate the two plans. It's very important to wear a diver's watch in these waters. Depend upon your own common sense. Before you enter the water, check it out visually. When diving in strong currents, learn to crawl and rock climb. Pulling yourself along with the help of rocks or crawling upstream can save a lot of energy and air. But remember, do this very sparingly, as you could damage the marine life.

When currents are very strong, have a live boat, under power ready to pick up divers quickly. If diving from a boat in strong current, descent at the anchor line and surface near the bow and leave a floating line. If you happen to miss the boat, you can catch the line. Should you get caught in a rip current, swim across it and gradually work your way out.

First learn to cope with the currents, before you start discovering all the diving rewards. Do not take current or tide information as gospel, as wind and barometric pressure can quickly change the time of the turn. If you have by chance misssed slack, call off the dive. Watch and prepare your dives carefully.

Watch for boats and log booms. The inland sea waters are used by thousands of boaters, so dive defensively. Always have a dive flag and remember it's required and it does help, but it will not protect you. When coming up, spiral and always look up, and watch for boats. Listen for boats. When features at the bottom are scarce, dive with a compass and ascend close to the bottom all the way to shore. When possible ascend near a rock face, up along your boat or dive flag anchor line. If unable to ascend at a protected spot, make sure you have reserve air, in case you have to try again. This holds true when near log booms.

Broken fishing line can be dangerous, watch for it. Fishing line is strong and hard to see. Carry a diver's knife and be ready to cut yourself free, if entangled in fish line.

There are a few animals in the North Pacific that could be dangerous and you should know about them. The dogfish sharks, are not known to attack people, but it's best to leave the waters when they are in a pack. Red, brown, yellow and water jellyfish can leave a painful sting, and are a nuisance, check your gear before removing masks and gloves. Most divers will leave the water if killer whales are in the vicinity. Lingcod has been known to attack divers, males when guarding eggs may be aggressive. The ratfish has a poisonous spine in front of its dorsal fin. Sea urchins have sharp spines and have known to puncture and damage dry suits. Do not touch sea lions. Also, avoid waters where sixgill sharks are prevalent. The wolf-eel with its strength can cause bad bites.

The reasons for diving are many, but as more and more divers take to the waters, it's essential to protect the marine life and the ocean environment. Some dive to collect the delicious crustaceans, others to just observe the marine life or to explore the old wrecks and archaeological sites found on the ocean floors. No matter why you enjoy diving, always dive with either a group or a buddy system. Never dive alone this is only asking for trouble.

There are hundreds of both boat and shore dives in the coastal waters of British Columbia, ranging in technical difficulty. Some are graded for all divers and snorkelers. Others are for intermediate and expert divers, and all divers with guide. The diving in B.C. is mostly concentrated to areas on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the Southern Gulf Islands, and off the lower mainland that borders the Strait of Georgia. Be safe, have fun!

A special thanks to Todd and Lani of Bella Coola for their assistance with this article.


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Preparing to Scuba Dive in British Columbia