Tropical night diving is fun, easy and safe with the use of proper lighting equipment, clothing and techniques. Divers who are doing it for the first time need only to enhance their basic skills and confidence during a daytime dive.
You may get your first chance to “do it in the dark” off a romantic, tropical island. The gin clear water, able resort staff and the tropical evening air will lure you to try night diving! Tropical night diving is great fun. You might not have been too keen about plunging into a dark quarry or worried about the surf at home but on a tropical vacation you can set those concerns aside and discover the thrill of underwater night life.
After sunset diving offers a chance to see all the critters that were hidden in holes during the day or that transform themselves in the twilight. You may also see creatures behaving differently than they do during the day.
Animals “get in your face” at night. Instead of swimming away, they are attracted to your light or their reflections, mirrored in your facemask. They march right up and check you out at close range. Other animals are mesmerized by the light and stop in their tracks. You can approach quite close as long as the light remains focused on the animal. When you move the light, the creature swims away looking slightly confused.
Parrotfish sometimes spin mucous cocoons around their bodies at night. The brightly colored fish looks like it is in an oblong acrylic case that got tucked into the reef. You can pick up the fish in its cocoon and take great photographs, just remember to gently return it to a safe spot. Animals in different areas exhibit other unusual behaviors. Experienced resort staff members can tell you what to look for on a particular dive.
While you are mesmerizing fish, try not to blind your buddy. If you shine your dive light in his/her eyes, all your buddy will be able to see for a while is sparkly dots. Keep your light pointed at the reef. If you need to get someone’s attention, wave the light beam back and forth across his/her line of sight or, in the worst case, across the lower part of your buddy’s body.
Resort Night Diving Is Easy
If you have never been night diving, doing it with an experienced group makes it much easier. Most resorts regularly schedule night dives. Plan ahead at the beginning of your trip so you dive the same reef in daylight. This will boost your confidence. Resort divemasters know the reefs, are used to handling nervous tourists and know the marine life where you will be diving. The divemaster can give a very thorough briefing about the reef, which takes away much of the fear of the unknown.
Most resort night dives are from a boat. This really makes it easy – no long surface swims and you have an anchorline for descending and ascending. If you go down an anchorline feet first, clearing your ears will be easier. Shining your light around the whole area will help set aside any fears you may have that something big and nasty is going to swim out of the dark.
Tropical water is usually very clear and you will be diving on a shallow reef, so with a good light (especially if there is a full moon) you’ll be amazed at how much you can see.
Most resort night dives begin at twilight, so you can have dinner after the dive. Not having a full stomach is a good idea on your first night dive. If you have a tendency to get seasick or disoriented, an empty stomach is better.
Some divers worry they will get separated from the group. If you have a regular buddy, remind him/her you want to stay closer together than normal. If you are paired with another resort diver, insist that he/she stay no more than an arm’s length away. If he/she doesn’t agree, ask the divemaster for a different buddy. Once underwater you will be surprised how easy it is to see each other with the dive lights and chemical lightsticks resort personnel tie or tape to your tank valve or snorkel. These lightsticks glow and are good for one dive. They throw off an amazing amount of light, won’t distract you and make it very easy for the people in the boat to track your path underwater and on the surface.
Some resorts offer larger boats and have the space and equipment to hang generator powered high intensity lights in the water. For beginners it is comforting but more advanced night divers often think it is like diving in a well lit parking lot. It’s fun to try because you can shut off your personal light and dive in the glow of the big overhead lights.
To have a safe and enjoyable night dive, you will need some additional equipment and extra dive planning. The most obvious piece of equipment is a dive light. These can range from flashlights for less than $20 to larger lights with six volt or multiple battery power sources. These larger lights have a handle separate from the barrel of the light and are powered by dry cell or rechargeable batteries. This style light ranges from $20 to $100, depending upon the case material, power source and type of bulb assembly.
There is no one “right” light. It all depends on the amount, location and activities planned for your night dives. You may even want to choose a secondary light (small enough to take on day dives for hole peeking and color enhancement), along with the larger primary light.
The one light or two light debate could go on for pages but this author’s opinion is that common sense ought to prevail. If you are clear, warm water boat diving with a group (a la Caribbean resort style) then one average light per diver is common practice. On the other hand, if two divers are night-wreck-game diving, each ought to take two of the heaviest duty, most reliable lights available and also consider wearing an arm strobe for emergency signaling. The conventional wisdom from the training agencies is to take two light sources.
Features to consider when selecting a light are:
- Narrow beam or wide beam?
- How heavy is it on land and how far do you have to hike to get to the dive site?
- Does it float and is that an advantage/disadvantage where you dive?
- Can you turn the switch on/off easily with one gloved hand? Too easily? Will the switch get bumped on accidentally?
- Is it durable enough for your typical dive environment?
- How often will you night dive? Dry cell batteries are less expensive if you don’t use the light often.
- If most of your night diving is done on vacation, which will be easier/more available/cheaper – disposable or rechargeable batteries?
- Does the light have a means of attaching a wrist lanyard?
- How bright is the light – does it seem bright enough for the color and clarity of water where you usually dive?
- Does the O-ring seal appear to stay in place when opening the light or will it be easy to lose or crimp (and flood) when changing batteries?
- What is the depth limit?
- What is the manufacturer’s warranty period?
- Does your local dive store stock the common replacement parts?
- What do your dive buddies use and would they purchase the same lights again?
Buoyancy control is the number one skill to concentrate on while night diving. Improper buoyancy control is tough on the reef if you come crashing down on the fragile coral. If your feet are kicking wildly, the chances are you are going to break plants and smash animals. So, it is critical you are not too negative. Ideally, a diver would hover slightly above a reef, never coming in contact with anything alive. If you want to stop and kneel down to watch, do it on a bare patch of sand.
Maintaining this accurate buoyancy control is a little harder at night, because your depth perception may be off a little and your hands are busy with a light. If you are not used to carrying anything while diving, just the manipulation of a light can be enough to make your movements awkward. If you have a chance to carry a light during a day dive, it is good preparatory training.
Being too buoyant is a problem as well. If you keep floating to the surface, your buddy is going to have a hard time keeping close contact with you. Test your buoyancy during the day dives, so you are confident you have the right weight for the thermal protection and type of tank you plan to use at night.
Some people add one or two pounds to their weightbelts the first few times they night dive – you overbreathe when anxious or worried. The extra weight helps offset the buoyant effect of taking bigger breaths. When you calm down after several night dives, return to wearing your normal amount of weight.
Even if your buoyancy control is excellent, chances are you will brush into something during a night dive. To avoid skin irritation and cuts, wear some type of protective suit. In the warmest waters this may be a Lycra skin. In cooler tropical waters it might be a one-eighth inch jumpsuit with long arms and legs. If you only have a lightweight shorty, then consider wearing heavy tights and a long sleeved T-shirt under it. lt isn’t a glamorous outfit and you might take a little kidding but it beats having welts on your arms or legs from touching something.
Once the sun goes down even the warmest tropical climates cool off. Without the sun shining, it can be a colder dive and a cold ride back to the dock. You will be more comfortable if you wear a warmer suit at night. Bring a jacket and warm clothes for the ride back to shore.
Night diving is a wonderful underwater experience. Consider plunging into a world where a wave of the hand produces a phosphorescent trail of twinkling light, where the critters come to see you and where you can experience many organisms feeding and looking totally different than they do during the day.
There is also an inner experience that comes with night diving. Your senses come alive and you hear new sounds, such as shrimp clicking and reef fish grunting. You also confront your personal fears about the unknown and gain a new confidence from a successful night dive. Night dive on your next tropical vacation for a spectacular underwater experience!