Skin divers often find exploring underwater rock formations an exciting and interesting adventure. Several tips on how to safely enter rock formations are discussed.
No matter where you dive, rocky shores are waiting to rip your wetsuit and bruise your pride, while providing access to some exciting scuba diving. Diving off a rocky shoreline offers great fun and scenery. The challenge is conquering the rocks!
Over-the-rocks entries all use the same basics, modified by the size of the rocks, swells, water depth and diver skill. Nothing beats patience, local knowledge and watching someone else enter/exit from your prospective route. If you are unsure you can safely navigate a particular path, trial runs in skin diving gear are great confidence builders. If you can’t easily and confidently enter and exit from a site in skin diving gear, do not try it with full scuba gear.
Shore boulders can be angular or; smooth, encrusted with mussels or slick with moss and seaweed. Translation: Rocks are slick and ready to shred your skin and suit! Wear full protection when traversing rocks – wet-quit, gloves and boots will save your hide. If you plan to regularly enter across rocks, consider having long kneepads on your wetsuit for knee and shin protection. It is easier to replace a kneepad than an entire wet-quit.
Table of Contents
- SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
- SMALL BOULDER ENTRY
- STEPS FOR FINS-ON ENTRIES:
- STEPS FOR FINS-ON EXITS:
- BIG BOULDERS WITH OPEN CHANNELS
- STEPS FOR CHANNEL-TYPE ENTRIES:
- STEPS FOR CHANNEL-TYPE EXITS:
- BIG BOULDERS WITH A SHEER CLIFF FACE
- STEPS FOR LEDGE OR SHEER FACE TYPE ENTRIES:
- STEPS FOR LEDGE OR SLOPING BOULDER EXITS:
The following basics apply to all rock entries:
- Maintain a lower center of gravity.
- Count the timing of swells.
- Both divers need to be ready to go at the same time.
- Be prepared to move quickly over the rocks.
- Eliminate as much dangling equipment as possible.
- Be patient and wait for the optimal moment to enter.
- Let the water float you, do not try to swim against the flow.
- If in deeper water, let the water flow over you while you hold onto a rock.
- Practice, practice, practice until you are confident of your ability.
SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
Although the basics are similar, there are different schools of thought on how to make the same entry. It depends upon how you originally learned, what feels the most comfortable and how agile and sure-footed you are. You will end up in either the “carry the fins to deep water” or “put on the fins first” school of thought. Try it both ways after you read the following techniques. As with other scuba diving techniques, there are many ways to accomplish the same task. How you enter at a certain location may change from day to day, depending upon whether it is high or low tide and the size, strength and timing of the waves.
SMALL BOULDER ENTRY
If you are entering the water from an area with basketball sized boulders barely under the surface and no clear open channel to deep water, there are two choices. You can put your fins on at the shore and crawl to the water. Or, you can try to walk on the rocks until it’s deep enough to comfortably put on fins and kick away. The problem with the “fins on” technique is that slippery rocks are hard to walk on and twisted ankles or wrenched knees are a definite possibility. This method requires lots of agility and relatively calm water. You can’t fight breaking waves while balancing on slippery rocks. When you get to deeper water, you will be bobbing in the swells with booties and may have trouble keeping your balance while you put on your fins
STEPS FOR FINS-ON ENTRIES:
- Sit on the shore and don all your equipment. Both buddies need to be ready to go at the same time. Don’t set gear down on rocks that might be washed by the waves or it will leave without you.
- Get on your hands and knees and inch toward the water. Stay low and wait for a swell to pass and float you. Use your gloved hands to pull yourself across the rocks. If the backwash leaves you high and dry, stay on your stomach and wait for the next wave.
- Move quickly through the shallow water. If waves are washing over you, hold your mask and tuck your chin down to avoid losing it. Ride the outbound flow toward deeper water.
STEPS FOR FINS-ON EXITS:
- Basically, you reverse the entry procedures. Kick toward shore and ride the incoming swells.
- If a wave breaks over you, tuck in your chin, grab a rock or seaweed and try to maintain your position.
- When the water is shallow, get into a crawling position and inch your way toward the exit point. Get high and dry before you remove your mask or fins. Remember to slide your fins up on your arm and put your mask around your neck. Gear laid down could be swept away.
BIG BOULDERS WITH OPEN CHANNELS
Big boulders, such as a breakwater or a rock-lined shore, usually have a rocky route from a dry staging place directly to the water. If you can find a path to the water, then the problem is to make the transition from the rocks to the water.
Watch the ebb and flow of the waves. The key is to time your entry so you slide into the water with the high, outflowing water. This gives you a quick ride away from the boulders, before an incoming wave throws you back. Kick while riding the water flow to move as far from shore as possible. If you do not make it all the way, try to hold your position when the next wave comes in, so you can ride the outflow again.
As soon as you are out of the rocks and into deep water, inflate your BC slightly and wait for your buddy to join you. This is a good time to study the shore carefully from the ocean perspective, so you will recognize the exit point. A rocky shore looks very different from the water. Usually the easiest exit is the point of entry.
STEPS FOR CHANNEL-TYPE ENTRIES:
- Watch the wave sets and estimate the time between waves. Look for a pattern of small and big waves.
- Plan to enter during the longest lull between sets of small waves.
- Put on all of your gear.
- Slip into the water or bellyflop from a crouched position.
- Kick to ride the outflow and try to reach deep water before the next wave rolls in.
- If you get caught, tuck your chin in and try to let the water flow over and around you. If possible, hold your mask and find a rock to hold onto.
- Once clear of the rocks, inflate your BC and rest on the surface while waiting for your buddy.
STEPS FOR CHANNEL-TYPE EXITS:
- This is really tricky, because if you misjudge the timing, you get slammed against the rocks.
- Sit outside the waves and carefully time the sets. When you begin the exit you are committed, as there is usually no turning around.
- Allow the front of the wave to pass over you and kick on the back of the wave.
- Use the power and height of the wave as it hits the shore to lift you up on top of the rocks.
- Once you are above the rocks, be ready to hold on tight as the backwash drains away.
- As soon as the backwash is no longer pulling on you, scramble up to a higher and drier position.
BIG BOULDERS WITH A SHEER CLIFF FACE
Sometimes deep water comes right up to a boulder-lined shore. A temptation is to enter with a giant stride or dive in head first. Be sure you know what lurks beneath the surface! Water depth changes with the tides and the bottom may be different than the last time you were at the site. Be sure there is sufficient depth to avoid hitting the rocks. Diving into a lake or ocean when you can’t see the bottom is one of the most frequent causes of debilitating injuries for swimmers.
If you are certain the water is free of obstructions, don your gear and make an appropriate entry. In skin diving gear, this could be a head first, shallow, bellyflop dive. From a crouched position (low center of gravity), with mask, fins and snorkel in place, lean forward and fall flat into the water. Hold your hand over the mask faceplate. Extend an arm in front of your head to act as a deflector, if needed. This low energy entry keeps you on the surface, where you are less likely to hit a rock or get tangled in kelp. From here you are ready to kick; head out toward deeper water.
If you are 110 percent certain the water is deep and you will not hit the bottom, rocks or seaweed, then put all your gear in place for a giant stride entry. Try to keep your head above water during the entry. Swim away from the rocks as quickly as possible and wait for your buddy.
STEPS FOR LEDGE OR SHEER FACE TYPE ENTRIES:
- Put on your gear and move toward the entry point.
- Watch for the occasional oversized swell that could knock you off the rocks.
- Either plan to bellyflop from a seated position or enter feet first when the water is the highest.
- Hold your mask and/or tuck in your chin.
- Kick vigorously to move away from the shore while riding the outflowing backwash.
- Inflate your BC and wait for your buddy to enter.
- Before you make a sheer face entry, know for certain you have an exit point. If the waves die down or the tide recedes during your dive, you may not be able to ride the water back up to the ledge.
STEPS FOR LEDGE OR SLOPING BOULDER EXITS:
- This exit is like the channel exit. It requires excellent timing and quick action.
- Move close to the exit but outside the breaking waves. Let the wave pass over you and ride the back of the wave.
- With the water level at its highest point, you should be lifted up onto the boulder face or shelf.
- If you misjudge the wave strength or timing you will get stranded short of your exit point. Hang on and wait until the next wave comes in; it should give you a boost the rest of the way.
- As soon as you are beyond the water action, crawl up to a high and dry position.
- When you remove your fins depends upon your agility, the slickness of the rocks and whether you can crawl to safety on your hands and knees. Leave your fins on if there is any chance you might be knocked back into the water.
Rocky entries open many new diving locations that are often rich with marine life. Practice using the power of the waves for a free ride and learn how to avoid slamming into the rocks.