Before attempting an entry of this kind, make sure that you have all the information you need to remain safe.
Depending on where you live, or where you travel, you may find that the simplest way to dive is from the shore. There are excellent shore diving sites all over the world, and as well as saving you the cost and travel time of boat diving, shore diving offers the freedom to choose where and when you want to dive, how often and for how long. However, shore diving also has its own set of potential hazards, most of which come into play during your entry and exit. Experienced shore divers will know that entry and exit techniques differ depending upon the dive site conditions, some of which are constant (like the terrain), and others that change on a daily basis (like the strength of the surf). In some areas, shore entries are simple, such as at sites free from excessive surf or current, those with sandy, hazard-free terrain, and those with a short surf zone that allows divers to descend quickly into deeper water. Other shore entries are considerably more difficult, such as those with pounding surf, rip tides, rocky terrain and long surf zones. This article offers a few pointers on how to deal with the challenges presented by both categories of shore entry.
The “plan your dive, dive your plan” mantra is one emphasized over and over again to all divers during entry-level training, and it’s particularly applicable to shore diving. Attempting a shore entry in a place that you’ve already dived a hundred times is one thing, but when visiting a site for the first time it’s imperative that you know what to expect. Researching a shore diving site means finding answers to a long list of questions, from dive conditions to the rules surrounding scuba diving in a particular area. You will need to know what to expect underfoot, as there is often very little visibility in the surf zone and your head will be above water for much of your entry. A beach may look sandy from the shore, but concealed hazards could include sharp coral, rocks and rubbish, unexpected gullies and potholes and sea urchin beds. You need to find out how quickly a dive site drops off into deeper water, whether you should expect current once you reach back line, and the optimum time to dive in terms of weather conditions and tide. The best way to find the answers to these questions is to seek the advice of local dive centers or fellow divers who have experienced the site before. Failing that, tide charts, weather forecast stations, maps and guidebooks are all useful sources of information. How you choose to research your dive site is up to you — what’s important is that you do so.
When planning for a shore entry, you need to make sure that you have all the equipment necessary to protect yourself, especially in those areas with more challenging conditions or terrain. If you are making a shore entry from a beach with uneven or sharp ground (for example, loose rocks or exposed reef), you may want to ditch your closed-heel fins in favor of open-heel fins with thick-soled booties that will protect your feet. Similarly, while a shorty wetsuit may provide adequate protection when diving from calm beaches in the tropics, you may want to cover up with a full suit and even gloves when facing rougher conditions. In the event that you do get knocked over by a wave when entering the water, you will be glad of the added layer of neoprene protection. You also need to consider what additional equipment you take with you — is a dynamic surf zone really the best place for expensive camera housings and torches? When shore diving, it is important to remain relatively unburdened, with your hands free during entry. Anything you do take needs to be securely attached, or confined to a BCD pocket.
Preparing for entry
No matter how thoroughly you have researched a dive site, it is important to take a moment to assess conditions on the dive day. You may have been told to expect moderate surf, but if you arrive after a big wind, that same surf will pose a much greater hazard. Observe the waves, and decide whether they are manageable or not. If you decide that they are, watch the sets until a pattern emerges and then time your entry to coincide with the smaller waves. Watch for rip currents or concealed rocks, the former of which is often denoted by a line of sea foam traveling towards the horizon, the latter of which will cause the incoming waves to break irregularly as they pass over the rocks. Armed with this information, you can decide your best entry point; once decided, try to find a static reference point on the shore that corresponds with your place of entry so that you can use it to exit as well. When you are ready, it’s time to don your gear, making certain that all trailing equipment (including your gauges, alternate air source and pressure inflator) is securely fastened or tucked away. When preparing to make your entry, you should have all equipment in place, with the possible exception of your fins.
Taking the plunge
After all your preparation, it’s finally time to get into the water. You should have your mask on, and your regulator in place, in case you find yourself submerged earlier than expected. If there is no surf or it’s relatively calm, you can enter the water with your fins under your arm. Wade in until the water reaches chest level, then put your fins on and swim backwards with your BCD inflated until the water is deep enough to make your descent. You can also enter the water with your fins already in place, making sure to walk backwards to maintain your balance — it’s up to you. In extreme surf, you will need to execute your shore entry slightly differently. It’s a good idea to enter the water with your fins already in place to reduce the risk of losing them should you become overpowered by the waves. Walk into the water sideways in order to minimize the impact of oncoming waves on your body. As soon as you’re deep enough, let all air out of your BCD and descend to the bottom; there, you can use your hands to pull yourself to deeper water in coordination with the pull and lull of the waves crashing above you. When making a simple shore entry, it’s usually possible to maintain contact with your buddy, but in rougher conditions, it’s easy to become separated in the surf zone. For this reason, you may want to agree to surface upon reaching calmer water so that you can reconnect and orient yourself with the shore.
The keys to a successful shore entry are planning and preparation. Before attempting an entry of this kind, make sure that you have all the information you need to remain safe. Never hesitate to cancel a dive if you feel insufficiently prepared or if the conditions seem too challenging on a given day — as with all kinds of diving, there’s always tomorrow. If the conditions are right, however, tailor the tips in this article to the specifics of your chosen site, and prepare to discover for yourself the unique freedom of diving from the shore.