Lembongan is known for its drift diving. There are some ‘horror’ stories on the internet, from people that had an unfortunate dive in current. With the correct information, a knowledgeable dive centre and correct procedures, drift diving can be a lot of fun!
Some of the best coral reefs around the islands of Lembongan, Penida and Ceningan is on the north coast or in the channel between Ceningan and Penida. It is common off these parts of the islands, to find current. This current can range from close to no current at all, to a brisk push along the dive site.
The current is one of the main reasons that the coral reef is so healthy. This current brings nutrient rich waters to the area, which allows the coral reef to feed. Having a healthy coral reef provides homes for reef fish and juvenile fish. Having a coral reef that is full of fish, provides food for bigger predator fish. And all this together, creates our underwater ecosystem.
How to experience these beautiful coral reefs:
At first drift diving may seem a little intimidating for some divers. We are going to run through the key parts of drift diving to help you understand what is happening underwater and the correct procedures for drift diving.
The best way to get comfortable with drift diving is with the PADI Drift diving specialty course. This course gives you the chance to run through all the following information and put all your new found knowledge into practice with a PADI diving instructor.
We are going to look at the following:
- How to enter the water / descend while drift dive
- Body position / staying together while drift diving
- Surfacing while drift diving
- What is covered on the PADI Drift Diver specialty course.
Entering the water:
During your Open Water course, you would have entered the water in the easiest way, given the conditions you were diving in; whether it was with a backwards roll, giant stride or shore entry.
Drift dives are almost always done from a boat, this helps in regards to safety and logistics. Depending on what sort of boat you are on, you will most likely do a backwards roll or giant stride to get into the water.
Depending on the conditions, you may enter using a buoyant entry or a negative entry.
Divers enter water with BCDs partially inflated. This way you are able to float on the surface, check all is comfortable and sort out problems at surface before descending.
Divers enter water with BCDs deflated and continue descent without stopping at surface. This maybe used to begin dive at a relatively specific point or when surface conditions are rough.
When entering the water for a drift dive, there will be some surface current. It is important that everyone, including your guide / instructor is making their way off the boat at the same time. The main reason for this is so that the group is staying together. If someone was to enter the water too early, before others in the group were ready, the group could become separated on the surface or the person in the water, could have a hard time staying close to the boat while waiting for the others to enter. If for some reason the group cannot enter at the same time a drift line attached to the boat must be used to keep the group together
Descending while drift diving:
Just like entering the water on a drift dive, it is important to stay together while descending. When in the water, the current can be different at the surface, in mid-water and on the bottom.
On the decent, you will need to stay close with your buddy and close with the guide, this way, everyone in the group will be affected the same by the current, resulting in everyone traveling at the same speed, allowing everyone to stay together as a group.
If someone in the group has an issues, like equalizing, during descent, the full group will need to stay with that person. The main reason for this is the current can be stronger in mid-water compared to close to the reef. If someone is taking their time equalizing in mid-water, and you continued down to the bottom, the diver in mid-water could be drifting faster than you on the bottom. This could result in the group being separated.
Buoyancy control while drift diving:
During your open water course, you would have learnt a lot about control in the water; how to control your position in the water with your BCD or with your breath. You would have learnt how to hover and how to pivot. These two skills help show you how much control you have under the water. With what may have been tricky at first, the more diving you do, the more comfortable you become with buoyancy.
We know that our depth underwater has an affect on our buoyancy; the deeper we go, the more air we need to add to our BCD due to the pressure compression. But when we are drift diving, the current can make us feel like we are out of control.
There is no reason for this feeling to get the better of you. You need to trust your equipment and let your BCD do the work rather than adjusting your buoyancy through kicking.
Kicking too much during a drift dive can result in you moving faster than the others in the group or kicking yourself away from the reef to where the current maybe stronger.
All you need to do is adjust your buoyancy using BCD. Set your BCD based on the depth you are at.
Sticking together while drift diving:
When out diving with a dive guide, it is important to stay behind your guide, to make sure everyone is going in the same direction. This is even more important when drift diving.
Moving forward from Buoyancy control, our body positions and our position relative to the reef are key to moving as controlled as possible while in a current.
– Body position:
Depending on how you position your body while gliding along the reef, will affect how fast you move.
- Being in an upright position, looking in the direction of the current will create more surface area for the current to push against you, thus causing you to move faster. If you need to be in an upright position, it is best to bend your knees. This allows you to get closer to the reef while also reducing your urge to kick yourself off the reef
- Being in a normal, streamlined position helps reduce your surface area, meaning that current will push against you less and you will have less drag. This will help you move slower underwater.
– Where to be relative to the reef:
It is important to be as close to the reef as possible while drift diving. As the current moves along the dive site, it is generally weaker closer to the bottom / coral reef. Most of the current is broken up or reduced by the topography of the bottom, resulting in you being able to move slower. If you are off the reef or out in the blue water, there is a great body of water pushing against your body, which will cause you drift faster.
– A good position:
If you are diving along a wall or slopping reef, it is best to be in your streamlined position, facing the reef. This way you are not kicking with the current, but you are also able to slightly adjust your buoyancy with your fins while being able to kick to keep yourself close to the reef.
If you are diving along a flat coral garden, again, it is best to be in your streamlined position, close to the reef. Adjust your buoyancy, for the depth that you are at, so that you are able to hover along, like a helicopter. Once in the right position, you would be able to rotate your body to face the best way given; where you are moving to or depending on the changing currents.
Surfacing while drift diving:
Ascending while drift diving is much the same as descending, the group needs to stay together, with your buddy and close to the guide. As we mentioned in the descending section, current can be different in each part of the water column. So it is important that everyone in the group starts their ascent at the same time, allowing everyone to stay together.
During drift dives, if the current is strong, it is likely that you may cover a large distance. To make it easier for the captain of the boat to find you, during your ascent, a SMB (surface marker buoy) should be used. Your guide / instructor should be shooting their SMB to the surface as you are coming up to the safety stop. During your safety stop, the captain has the time to spot the SMB on the surface and bring the boat over to pick you up.
What is covered on the PADI Drift Diver specialty:
Feel The Movement! The PADI Drift Diver Specialty course teaches you how to enjoy going with the flow as you scuba dive down rivers and use ocean currents to glide along. It feels like flying – except that you’re underwater using scuba equipment. Drift diving can be relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. If this sound like fun, then the Drift Diver course is for you.
What will you learn?
Along with drift diving techniques and procedures, you’ll:
- Receive an introduction to drift diving equipment – floats, lines and reels.
- Get an overview of aquatic currents – causes and effects.
- Practice with buoyancy control, navigation and communication during two drift dives.
- Learn techniques for staying close to a buddy or together as a group as you float with the current.
We can offer this course over 1 day, with 2 dives in the morning.
Day 1: Drift dive 1 & 2