Who needs a boat? Our panel of experts offer advice on how best to manage when you want to do without – it still requires forethought and planning
Many of us will have taken our first tentative steps under water by stepping in from the shore. There are many pros – no “ropes off” times to stick to, freedom to conduct your own dive, no boat to contend with (a big consideration if you get seasick!), ease of access, and so on – but there are also some cons including navigation, ease of entry and exit and water conditions.
Wendy Northway, Hartford SAC 0512 & BSAC Advanced Diver: “Many divers mistakenly believe that shore-diving is predominantly for trainees. While that might be true in terms of depth, where the seabed gently shelves away to allow for shallower diving, access to the sea can be challenging and physical fitness and competence are required.
A taxing trek can be very rewarding if followed by spectacular diving with no risk of seasickness. There is variety to suit all tastes, from wreckie to reefer, and for experienced and newer divers alike.
“The west coast of Scotland is a shore-diver’s paradise for the wealth of dives to be discovered. A good starting point is the brilliant website Finstrokes. Others can be found from studying charts for interesting seabed features and looking for close contours, indicating a steep drop-off, then assessing accessibility.
“The Slates in Loch Linnhie is a stunning example of Scottish wall-diving at its best. Access to the water’s edge is over seaweed-covered cobbles. Then, once under water, depths down to 20m and beyond can be attained. Yellow-fluted sea-squirts and sea-loch anemones plaster the walls. Nests of cat sharks huddle in crevices, with cuckoo wrasse and gobies swimming out in the open.
“The Kingfisher in Loch Etive is a lovely little wreck-dive in the quarry with easy shore access. Once submerged, follow the cable, taking care not to stir up the silt, and a small, almost perfect, fishing vessel sits in no more than 12m.
“Planning is essential, including checking the tides. Ensure that you can get out of the water before you even get in – a falling tide might uncover a ledge that might be a too big a hurdle to negotiate in full kit. Avoid narrows, because these indicate fast-flowing water and might take you far from your entrance point.
“Carrying kit down can be exhausting, so make several trips and take a break if necessary. And take a bearing! There is no boat to pick you up if you stray from your entrance point. Enjoy!”
GUE’s John Kendall: “Shore-diving can be an extremely rewarding and also cost-effective way of diving. And in many parts of the world it’s the norm, with boats being unusual.
“In the UK, we have some incredible sites that are simply a matter of walking into the water and getting on with it. However, some pitfalls exist. It’s worth spending some time investigating the entry and exit points for a dive prior to going in, and then picking suitable equipment for the dive. Do you really need to lug a rebreather with bail-outs, or a twinset, over long pebble beaches or uneven rocky shorelines to do a 10m dive?
“While looking up info about entry and exit points, find out if there is any tidal flow. At many sites it doesn't matter, but equally there are some where diving at the wrong state of tide will find you being washed away from your known exit faster than you can swim.
“Basically, local knowledge is key when it comes to shore-dives. There are guidebooks out there, and a lot of information on the Internet.
“Finally, think about safety. It’s a really good idea to have someone on shore who knows when you’re due back, and who has instructions on what to do if you’re late. They can also look after your car keys, so you don’t end up stranded in the event of a suit flood.”
Garry Dallas, Director of Training RAID UK & Malta: “Having dived some of our Great British coastlines for nearly 20 years, I’m sure you’ll agree that it can be pretty spectacular given the right conditions. Even better still, you can usually rock up day or night without any restraints other than tides and weather.
“However, requirements to take on board when going for that lovely Sunday bimble around those nugget shorelines include: Researching detailed local area knowledge for safe entry/exit points; changes in weather/water conditions (tides, swells, strong eddy and rip currents); sporting an SMB along the dive to let other water traffic know of your presence; letting someone know of your whereabouts. Even getting advice from the local Coastguard (not 999!) and sharing your plan. They might be happy to advise you, too.
“Although shore-dives are relatively simple and stress-free, there can be some inherent underlying obstacles waiting to take you by surprise in less than half a metre of water!
“No, not sharks, but nice little slippery rocks that can be just a pain in the ass (literally), always waiting to catch you out as you carefully tread your way with your full kit towards deeper water. So don’t attempt to go in with your fins on! Put them on in about 1.5m of water or ask your buddy for help.
“All members of the team should carry a compass and DSMB in case of separation and know how to use them. Make sure everyone can navigate back to shore, where someone will be waiting for you. Don’t forget to add 2kg of weight from any previous freshwater dives to account for the salinity of UK seas.
“Plan your dives well to set yourselves up for a great adventure, not a misadventure! Finally, post-dive maintenance – ensure that you thoroughly rinse your equipment, because surf contains sand particles that get everywhere!”
Mark Powell, TDI/SDI Business Development Manager: “Around the UK we have a huge number of fantastic dive locations just off the beach. My very first sea-dive was a shore-dive off Pendennis Point in Cornwall, and St Brides Bay in West Wales is still one of my favourite dive locations in the world.
“In many instances, shore-diving is both convenient and simple. These dives are great because you’re in charge; there is no boat to wait on, and no long boat-ride to the dive-site. The dive might require only you and your dive-buddy. Here are some tips and tricks to make your shore-diving adventure more enjoyable:
“Research everything you can about the site. Aerial photos (Google Earth), tide and weather reports, and news, magazine or Internet articles are great ways to get to know it. Knowing a site can help you better prepare.
“You might need extra equipment, or items to assist your movement from a parking location to the site itself. In many cases, first-hand site knowledge might even help you to determine your best entry-point. The local dive-centre is usually the best place to get local knowledge and the latest site updates.
“Conduct an on-site survey – once you have arrived at the site, take the time to plan and discuss aspects of the dive with your buddy. Identify any potential visible hazards in the water or on the shore, such as steep or uneven walkways that you might need to cross to transport your gear. Similarly, look for any visible obstacles blocking your entry point that might hinder your ability to safely begin your dive.
“Make sure that you and your buddy have discussed the best options for entering and exiting the water. Getting in can be the easy part, but are you sure you’ll be able to get back out?
“Find a suitable place to stage your gear. Make sure it can be positioned, assembled or stationed as needed in a safe manner. You don’t want to accidentally damage your equipment or need to cancel a dive because something was dropped, damaged or misplaced.
“Locate and identify a reference point on the shore that can be easily seen from the water. This action will help you to locate your entry/exit point from the water. It also establishes a visual reference point for your and your buddy if you need to surface at any point during the dive.
“Observe water conditions such as the height of the waves or how choppy the water is out past where the waves are breaking. Many shore-dives might require a surface swim to reach deeper waters or a planned site such as a wreck. If surface conditions are bad, you might be forced to swim through them. Make sure to monitor any factors that could make water entries and exits unsafe.
“Plan your dive – use all the information you have obtained to this point. Discuss what you’ll do in the event of an emergency.
“Entering the water: In a quarry, pond or lake it might be easier to walk your gear down to the water and get geared up there. In some locations, you have to assemble and tote your equipment from your vehicle to the water ready to dive. Plan for what works best as the safest action for you and your buddy.
“So now that you’re finally in the water, enjoy the dive! A huge amount of marine life lives on the shoreline and the energy of the waves as well as the tides make for a dynamic ecology. Shore-diving is often relatively shallow, so take your time – stop and let the marine life come to you.
“Once your dive is coming to an end, let’s talk about your exit. At the surface, locate your shore reference point. Use your compass to get an accurate heading. Depending on the surface conditions and the amount of gas you have, you might want to descend and follow that heading back to shore. If conditions are good, you might prefer to perform a surface-swim back to your exit point.
“To exit, remove your fins in the water so that you can leave easily without tripping all over yourself. Assist your dive-buddy and exit together.”
Matt Clements, PADI Regional Manager UK & Malta: “Shore diving can be amazing but it’s a good idea to make sure you know what is there before you jump in. Some locations are just sandy bottoms that go on for miles, while others could have sudden drops and currents.
“Make sure you have the equipment you need and are comfortable putting it on (and taking it off) in less-than-ideal conditions. It can be difficult to get to the water’s edge, and repeated scrambling back and forth over tricky terrain is not fun. Entry and exit points can be important, so make sure you can get out if conditions change once you’re in.”
Emma Hewitt PADI Regional Manager, UK & Ireland: “Take it slow and be careful to not step on or damage any marine life that might be in your path as you’re entering the water.”
Alex Griffin, PADI Course Director & Trimix Instructor-Trainer: “You need to evaluate the conditions for entry to make sure they’re safe. Slipping and falling in diving equipment is rarely fun and what might be doable while wearing Speedos might not be feasible in scuba.
You also need to consider your exit because, as with Virgin Media, getting out is usually harder than getting in. Also, make sure that someone knows your dive-plan so that they can raise the alarm if you don’t come back.
“To ensure that you look good, pay someone with a jet-ski to tow you out to sea on a surfboard, whipping it away at the last minute so that you can enter the water in perfect horizontal trim!”
Emily Petley-Jones, PADI Regional Training Consultant & Course Director: “If completing a fun-dive from the shore, you should take extra time to conduct a personal risk-assessment for it.
“You should consider the surface conditions, current, tides, weather, entry and exit points, what shore support there is available, your personal ability and your buddy’s ability when planning your dive.
“Think especially about where your exit points are, and imagine a situation in which you’ll feel confident that if your buddy ends up with a bad cramp and has to be towed all the way back and got out of the water, you can handle it.”
Vikki Batten, PADI Dive Examiner & Training Supervisor: “My tip for shore diving is to do more of it. It’s vastly underrated, especially here in the UK where you can do some very exciting diving right from the shore. The flexibility you have means that you can wait until close to the time to see whether the conditions are good enough for diving.
“While boats will go out if it’s safe to do so, you might have different comfort levels. Of course, you should always call a dive if you aren’t comfortable with the conditions, but it’s often easier to do so if you haven’t paid your boat-fees, especially when you’re less experienced.
“Shore diving also means that you learn about the sea conditions for yourself instead of relying on a skipper. Don’t go it alone, however. Make sure you head to your local PADI dive-shop for info, guidance, buddies or whatever you need.”
IANTD’s Tim Clements: “Shore-diving goes back to the source, standing on the edge of the ocean with curious minds. It can be the simplest form of diving, free from the encumbrance of boats, clubs and logistics, but still offer lightweight adventures.
“I look back fondly on shore-dives from scrambly, “small cylinder” dives off Yesnaby on Orkney, to technical dives in Loch Aline, exhilarating abseil entries, classic Welsh night dives and the luxurious, abundant beauty of Cornish coves. However, “professionalising” shore-diving means having a plan.
“That plan must include safe entry and exits, especially for injured scuba divers, shore support and a clear understanding of how weather, currents and tides could change exit options while the dive is underway. Know how to use charts and OS maps to plan your dive.
“Make sure that your gear is appropriate. Single cylinders are perfect for shallow dives with nimble access. Ensure that all members of the team can navigate to and into the water – this might require some physical ability and balance.
“Kitting-up areas should be identified by a recce beforehand and be safe from hazards. Seaweed over boulders is particularly treacherous for knee-twisting. Your shore-support should be crystal-clear on your route, plus exit time and place.
“Strongly consider an SMB with a flag, essential for boating areas and to keep your shore-support updated. A cheery wave and a ‘see you in the pub’ is not professional. In short, planning for shore-dives is essential to dive like a pro, but a pro knows how to make sure this adds to the dive, instead of being a hindrance. Enjoy your underwater rambling – it’s the next big thing…”
Photographs by Mark Evans