Drift Diving 101: All You Need to Know About Drift Diving
Drift diving can be one of the most rewarding types of diving, but it does require certain precautions.
What is drift diving?
Drift diving is a type of diving where instead of fighting a current, we go with it. Usually, we’re told to always start a dive swimming against the current, if there is one, avoiding having to fight against it on the way back. And potentially run out of air in the process.
But with drift diving, we ignore that and spend the entire dive going with the current, letting it carry us along.
Because of that, it’s the most relaxing type of diving and the most zen-like diving. You can’t accurately plan where you want to go, at least not in detail, but just go where the current takes you.
Why drift diving?
Drift diving can be the quickest and most efficient type of diving.
Depending on the force of the current, we may not even have to use our fins for propulsion. Just for buoyancy control, as the current sweeps us along over the dive site.
For some dive sites, it can also be the only type of diving we can do, as strong currents can be impossible to fight against. Even a very fit diver can typically only generate propulsion equivalent to 1 to 1.5 knots, so anything above that we won’t be able to swim against.
Where can you do drift diving?
First and foremost, we should only do a drift at a dive site we know well, or with a guide that knows the site well. We don’t want to be suddenly swept into deep water, or worse, forced down by a down-current.
Drift dives can be done as shore dives provided we have exit points along the way. The one thing to take into consideration is that we won’t be able to exit the same place we entered. So somehow we need to get back to our transport.
A way to handle this is to have someone ashore who can pick up divers as they emerge along the dive route.
Drifts are typically done as boat dives, though, and follow a reef, wall, wreck or a shoreline.
What do you need to do on a drift dive?
There’s a bit of gear you’ll need to do a drift dive safely. The first thing is a surface buoy. Depending on how you elect to do your dive, this can either be a permanent buoy, or a DSMB.
If you choose the latter, you dive as usual and send up the DSMB when you’re ready to start your safety stop.
The boat that follows you will then place itself close to where the DSMB is, and be ready to pick you up. If you go for a permanent buoy, the boat will stay in sight of it until you surface, then come and pick you up.
If you’re doing a drift along an area with very strong currents, a reef hook can be a good backup. Reef hooks are controversial, but this has more to do with the misuse of them than with the concept of the reef hook itself. A reef hook is useful for drift dives in the situation where you need to hold yourself at a given place while either waiting for the boat to arrive, or to wait for diver trailing behind.
A Jon Line can be useful if you need to do a safety stop on a downline when diving with a large group of diver. The Jon Line allows you to attach yourself to the downline and stay at a distance from it, allowing for more divers on the same line.
How to get started on drift diving
Quite a few organizations have drift diving courses, and these are a great place to start if you want to get into drift diving. Doing several dives with experienced drift divers can also help build your experience and skills.
I liked and agree with your comparison to “zen-like” diving. Drift diving is also about as close to flying as most of us are ever likely to get! Nearly all of the dive sites and on almost every day from Cozumel Mexico one can experience drift diving. Just look fast, because if you pass something interesting you’re probably not going to get back to it!
I don’t know about drift hooks, but I simply fashioned a 10″ plastic tent stake with a small loop of rope for control in drift. Works great in sand and minimal impact/effect of reef if you absolutely have to do it.