in British Columbia
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 &
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
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.