Drift diving is when when a scuba diver purposely dives where they know there is a current. This current, which can be a river or sea current (currents are affected by the time or year and the tide), carries the diver along which creates a sensation of flying and allows the diver to travel much further than if they were just swimming.
Due to the fact that the diver does not have to propel him or herself through the water, he or she uses less air and therefore can stay underwater for longer periods of time. The currents can carry the diver at a speed of 1 to 4 knots, a speed which feels much faster when underwater.
How to practice Drift Diving:
In order to practice drift diving, prior specialized training is required. The training can be obtained through dive training centres with Open Water Diving Courses and the PADI training course offers a course specialised in open water drift diving. Drift diving usually requires more planning than normal diving as many external factors have to be taken into consideration before embarking on the dive.
In order to correctly catch the current, the diver must submerge him or herself and, only after achieving ¨neutral buoyancy¨ can the diver let themselves be swept off by the current.
Divers must be cautious of not choosing tidal streams that carry them into areas of danger such as shipping lanes for example. Drift diving in waters with poor visibility is also dangerous as you can hit something without see it coming. When diving in groups, divers also risk being separated and it is important that they have a compass and signal with them as well as backup oxygen so as not to have to rely on others in case of emergency.
Once in the current it may be tricky to tell how powerful it is and it is also curiously a natural instinct to swim against it which can be exerting and tiring. It is a good idea to drift dive in a group and the current makes it quite easy to stay together. In order to regroup, it is a good idea to go to the bottom of the current or the ground (a diver knife can be used to dig into the ground to hold your place), as here the current will be weaker, giving time for everyone to gather.
Almost all drift dives start from a boat. It is very important that there is a boat following the diver/divers at all times with the appropriate flag flying; a diver must never go alone. It is important that the captain is aware of the current´s path. Divers should carry a marker or signal flag to deploy once they need to be picked up so that the captain knows where to pick the divers up.
Divers must be very cautious at keeping a careful eye on the depth gauge as the currents can raise or lower the depth of the diver very quickly depending on their strength quick can be extremely dangerous for the diver, especially in deep waters. To avoid this dangerous you can keep your eye on the underwater terrain, or optimally stay away from drift diving in deep water, or dive with a slackline.
Where to Drift Dive:
The UK is not short of places to drift dive with our extensive coastline and plethora of inland rivers. For a gentle ride (great for first timers or divers in training) try King West Rock off the coast of Brighton.
Beside many coral reefs there are currents which enable the diver to simple float by and take in the fascinating sights. In the UK the Orestone reef near Teignmouth is a great drift diving challenge.
Start Point located in Wembury Bay has faster currents (although some are not safe for drives as they can reach speeds up of to 7 knots), Menai Strait (which separates Wale from Anglesey) and Portland Races close to Weymouth are great locations but they need to be done with a supervision and on a slackline, but they are areas with fascinating wildlife.
Inland you can find great currents on the river Lune in Cumbria, Devil´s Bridge in Kirkby in Lonsdale and the Falls of Lora in Argyll. These are great dives but good visibility is a must!
To find out more about drift diving, find a dive centre near you!