Strong Current 101: Guide To Diving In Current

Strong Current 101: Guide To Diving In Current

What to do if you’re swept away by a current during scuba diving?

For many divers, diving in a current is one of their nightmare scenarios: a strong current suddenly pushes them away from their dive site, away from their buddy or dive group, away to open sea.

But with a few considerations, getting caught in a current doesn’t have to be a catastrophe.

First off, it is important to remember that you should only dive in conditions you’re comfortable diving in.

If a dive site has a strong current then it might be worth finding an alternate dive site. Or postponing the dive to another day with better conditions unless you’re specifically doing a drift dive.

However, sometimes, currents can pick up suddenly and you find yourself diving in current, and in those instances, it helps to know what to do.

Dive conditions that make you comfortable should be your top priority
Dive conditions that make you comfortable should be your top priority
Photo by: frantisekhojdysz

What are currents?

A current is basically water moving.

Water can be put into motion by many different things, such as wave activity, differences in salinity and/or temperature, and wind.

Currents can be further increased in force if large amounts of water have to pass over an object, such as a reef, or through a narrow passage, such as a strait between two islands.

Some currents are localized and temporary, but the oceans also have a number of more or less permanent currents, such as the Gulf Stream.

Read our article about Diving In Rough Seas.

How to handle a current

If you do suddenly find yourself fighting a current, there are a few things you can do to lessen the effect of it.

First of all, swim close to something, whether it is the bottom, a reef, or a wreck. Ideally, find shelter behind an object, as this will almost remove the current completely, but if this isn’t possible, just swimming close to the bottom will reduce the effect, as the current isn’t usually as strong near the bottom as it is mid-water.

Finding shelter behind an object is ideal
Finding shelter behind an object is ideal
Photo by: frantisekhojdysz

If it possible, turn around and go with the current for the duration of your dive, essentially turning your dive into a drift dive.

This should be done only if you know for sure you’ll have an exit point down-current, as you don’t want to end your dive having to fight the current to come to a point where you can exit the water.

If the current is strong, and no shelter is available, end the dive calmly, and return to dive another day.

How to handle a sweep-away

If you’re diving in areas that sometimes see strong, unexpected currents, there’s a risk that you’ll be pushed away from your dive area and the other divers in your party by the current.

This can happen in areas prone to rip currents, or on offshore reefs. Should this happen to you, then first and foremost, do not panic! Stay calm, and assess the situation.

Learn more about developing your situational awareness here.

If the current is strong, or you’ve been carried a good distance already, don’t try to fight against it. Any current with a speed of even just a couple of knots are far stronger than a scuba diver can swim against.

Instead of diving in current, consider riding it out.

Most currents don’t maintain the same strength for very long, so simply letting the current run its course can often be a good solution. If you do try and swim, don’t swim against the current, but out of it, swimming either up, down or to the left or right of it.

Many currents are fairly localised, so moving even just a few meters to either side can greatly change the strength of the current.

If none of these help, head for the surface at a normal pace.

Sometimes, it is best to just head up to the surface at a normal pace
Sometimes, it is best to just head up to the surface at a normal pace
Photo by: worldswildlifewonders

If you have a boat with you, take out your DSMB (which should be brought on all boat dives) and while staying at 5 meters, launch it and wait for your boat to come pick you up.

If you are diving without a boat, head for the surface and try and signal people on shore. Fill your BCD with air to maintain positive buoyancy and start swimming for shore.

Maintain a good, steady pace, rather than going for setting a world record, and periodically scan the shore for people, and signal for help.

The current is likely to be less severe on the surface, but if it is strong, again, try swimming to either side of it, as it may be reduced significantly here. The current will also most likely abade as you come near the shore.

Once you’re on shore, look for your dive party, and signal to them that you’re OK.

Have you ever been swept off by a strong current? What did you do? 

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Andy Thomas
Andy Thomas
Reply to 

That was very good advice as it reminded me of what I learnt during training some years ago but had forgotten. It would have helped deal with a frightening experience I had while diving in Sogod Bay, Philippines. I was boat diving with a local dive master (just the two of us). Shortly after descending we moved to the drop off . We were both about one meter from the wall at a depth of approx 18mtr. We started to move around a protrusion from the wall when we ran into a very strong current which took us both by surprise. Nothing unusual about that but this current was not pushing us along but down at an alarming rate. The exhaust bubbles from our regulators were going down and sideways. The dive master managed to make it to the wall but I was being driven out and down. I am an experienced recreational diver but the situation was causing me to panic. Luckily I was able to regain some logical thinking. I put a lot of air into my BCD which slowed me down. I dropped the weights from the side pockets of my BCD and then I started to ascend. Luckily, the surface conditions and visibility were good. I have a small surface SMB which was quickly spotted by the boat. All this happened over about a 15 minute period. When I checked my remaining air it was about 25 bar.

Torben Lonne
Member
Torben Lonne
Reply to 

Hi there,
Wow, what a dive, I’m glad to hear that propper training broad you up safely and a boat came to your aid.

sherwood thornton
sherwood thornton
Reply to 

Sherwood and Patte Thornton
We where drift diving in Cozumel on the way down my wife had ear problems and had to take it very slow to get to depth. In the process our dive master and the the other divers where out of sight and then we we noticed the current change direction at the depth and location we had drifted to taking us out into open sea away from the reef.We had been trained to hold on to each other and ascend to 3 meters and continue to ride the currant to complete the safety stop when we surfaced the sea was rough and a fog bank was hanging low but before I could inflate the smb a boat saw us and came to our aid we gave him our boat name and radio channel and he stayed near us until our boat arrived.The training we had kept us calm and confident that we would be ok.

Liz Timperley
Liz Timperley
Reply to 

thanks, an inexperienced diver so great to know this information to prepare myself in case i come up against this in the future.

infusionde.com.ve
infusionde.com.ve
Reply to 

very good and wise advice, thank you.

Dan Marston
Dan Marston
Reply to 

read this article found it to be interesting unfortunately this doesn’t pertain to me just yet I’ve gotten at the beach almost pulled out just being in the water not scuba diving I far from taking scuba yet I never knew this could happen while diving under the water also I haven’t been back in the open water in over ten years I really like reading these kinds of articles hope you post more of them

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