Have you ever experienced a drift? this amazing kind of dive where you are transported by the currents and allowing you to feel that magical sense of ‘flying’ underwater, while making the dive cover a lot more distance than a standard dive, passing by big and small fishes, and literally flying over reefs!
The greater distance over a shorter period of time can be benefit to cover more ground, see a reef on it's full, but on the other hand there is chances of missing out on the interaction and observation of marine life and scoping out the area in more detail.
Currents are a continuous directed movement of water generated by forces on the water like wind, the Coriolis Effect and breaking waves. Other factors for the cause of currents is the temperature, salinity and cabbeling of the water itself, but the greatest cause of a current is the tide, which is caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun.
The best time to dive for beginners is at ‘slack’ tide (where the current is at its peak). At this stage there is little or no current to be seen or felt, but unfortunately that also means that there is little marine life, without a current to transport their food. Therefore slack tide would not be hugely recommended for advanced certified divers.
The current is also a factor for choosing a dive site: some places with no tidal movement can be deserts, whereas the same place with tidal currents can be a fish heaven, as it transports plankton (fish food) and can create new and vibrant dive sites in its wake as the marine life follow the food.
If you are opting for a drift dive you are depending on the current to be there. Don’t forget to research the water conditions and patterns of the area you wish to dive to allow yourself the best chance of an amazing drift dive.
Although drift diving can be known as the ‘lazy’ man's type of diving, it is not to be undertook lightly. Drift diving does require a level of training with specialty courses specifically there to teach you in drift diving. As you do your Advanced Open Water Course you can pick some specialties as part of the course, one of them being drift diving. If that doesn’t satisfy you, there is also a specialty course dedicated to drift diving, and once completed you will be qualified as a Drift Diver. This course requires you to do 4 Drift Dives and complete the training manual with a qualified Specialty Instructor.
As with the uniqueness of this type of diving, Drift Divers need to be careful about buoyancy and safety measures, like the surface markers and diver flags. This type of diving requires you to be extra careful with notifying the surface of your location at all times. Depending on your destination, surface markers may not be the only mode of indication for divers down. Using the "diver down" flag may also be needed depending on the legal rules of diving in the country you are visiting.
Check out the Recreational Encyclopedia to learn more about drift diving, currents and tides so you can enjoy your drift dive safely and gratifyingly. The more informed you are about drift diving the better you will be prepared and will enjoy your dive.
Some of the best drift dives in the world can be found in the Pacific. The Micronesian Islands are a heaven for drifting, being the islands of Palau an amazing area to explore. Starting about 10 – 12 metres down you are looking at a great visibility between 10 – 35 metres at the dive site of Ngerchong Outside on Palau. Sloping at a 60 degree angle, divers can relish in this 90 minute (air dependant of course) Drift Dive soaking in the beautiful view of Gorgonian sea fans and occasional whale shark. Special appearances of reef sharks and tons of local reef fish so keep your eyes peeled for some surprises.
Still in the Pacific Fiji has some drift jewels, like Tavueni or Yasawas for some incredible drift diving sites.
Indonesia is an interesting area to discover, located in between the Pacific and de Indian ocean, this creates huge tidal movements and an amount of dive sites with vertical currents, obtaining the famous "washing machine" effect.
Particularly touched by currents is Komodo island and its neighbour Rinca Island, which act like a bottleneck between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Komodo Island’s currents are driven primarily by tides so make sure your dive planning is to the letter considering the water conditions diligently. This all year round diving destination is a great spot for drift diving, with best diving conditions running from March to October. For a drift experience with Manta Rays divers should visit Komodo from December to February, which is usually the rainy season in Indonesia. Visibility is best November to January. From January to March the sea can get quite choppy with the current reaching 8 knots in some places. But don’t be deterred on the water conditions, this immense current is the reason why Komodo is so clear and full of incredible fish. With current being so strong on virtually every dive site, it’s a Drift Divers dream.
The currents in the Maldives are famous and infamous for its strength, and these current affect diving. An obvious solution to avoiding the currents would be to dive at slack tide. But it is even possible that during change of tides the currents are stronger than during the previous low or high tide currents. This is due to a complex interplay of the prevailing monsoon winds, ocean currents and the tidal currents, which makes currents vary strongly in time and place.
In Maldives you dive on Thilas, small round atoll reefs rising up from the atoll bottom, like a sea mountain. Divers jump at a GPS point, perform a negative buoyancy entrance and descend down against the current, until they reach the top of the Thila. If correctly made, they should be at the current point, the place where the current hits the mountain, and where the whole big fish activity happens! Another Maldivian typical dive is Kandu's, channels through which the ocean water flows in and out of the atolls, like a funnel. The Kandu's are often patrolled by sharks and other pelagic, and they make an amazing drift dive experience!
Notorious for drift dive spots is Cozumel, off the Mayan Coast in Mexico. Being ranked number 1 by PADI as a top dive destination, it can not be ignored. But for drift divers this is certainly a treat. Current ranging from a timid and gentle ½ knots to a rapid, strong currents means Conzumel offers a range of drift dive for any level of diver. Santa Rosa Reef is known for its visibility and easiness of movement. Starting at about 15 metres, simply glide through the sparklingly coloured sponges that line the Santa Rosa Reef along the infinite wall and add to this dive the highly impressive caves and tunnels and you have yourself a number 1 drift dive of epic proportions.
But in drift diving you can’t beat the Irish seas. They can get a bum rap for the cold water which can lead to hasty overlooking, but they are not to be underestimated for spectacular drift dives. Up in the north of Ireland at a beautiful coast line county of Donegal, Mevagh offers some attractive drift dives, being ‘Dundoan’ one dive site for the risk takers. Located at a depth of 19 metres, divers can drift through a combination of impressive rock and light, creating a film strip view that will appeal to those divers who are convinced they have seen it all.
Can you do an article on Drift Diving and leave out the Red Sea? I can’t. Elphinstone Reef will not be forgotten about anyone who experiences it. The deep steep walls and unspoiled coral drawns you in, and the well-know fact that Elphnstone Reef is the only place in the world where you can dived with Oceanic White-tip Reef Sharks and Hammerhead Sharks simultaneously will keep your eyes busy. Often you can see Dolphins and Tiger Sharks too from October to December, but the agile Manta Rays make a cameo mostly in May until August. The loveable Turtle is a common feature on this dive, along with Giant Trevallies and Fusiliers. Elphinstone Reef is found 12 kilometres offshore and about 30 kilometres away from Marsa Alam with a known strong current, but definitely once in a lifetime sea life to be seen.
Drop down in current waters and just relax, let the water move you along while you just watch the magnificent reefs and marine life, an underwater experience worth living.
By Aoibhe Searlait Ní Chinnéide