Do you think night diving is scary? Do you believe that there is a huge monster lurking in the deep? Or do you think a big ass man-eating shark is waiting behind a coral pinnacle for you?
The plain truth is that night diving can be intimidating for both novice and experienced divers, but there truly is nothing quite like it. As you start your night dive, you may wonder what you are getting yourself into. As you swim towards the reef, you will try to pick out landmarks that you saw earlier. They seem to avoid your beam of light.
There is a saying about opera when people see an opera the first time it is very dramatic; you either love it, or you hate it. Such can be said for night diving too.
Night diving, why would you?
The ocean is like Las Vegas, it is there 24 hours a day. Daytime Las Vegas and Nighttime Las Vegas seem like different places. The ocean is the same. You could dive your favorite reef till you think you know every square inch of it, but a night dive on that same dive site will bring back the awe. It will show you a different place, one with more color and maybe even more species of marine life and more action than you ever saw on your favorite reef.
At night, the octopus and its cousins the squid and cuttlefish moves away from its camouflage position and starts roaming the reef. If you shine your dive light next to them, you can see their colors and might even see them shift to match the background.
The same can be said for sharks and rays. While it is common to see sharks during day dives, more sharks are active at night because they come out at night to hunt. You may spot blacktip reef sharks, as one example, and notice that their eyes glow in the light beams just like a cat's eyes would. They'll leave you alone as you continue exploring as they're more concerned with finding their usual meal for the night.
On a night dive, the corals appear to be different
At night the coral polyps open to feed, drawing nutrients from the passing currents. The open polyps are colorful. This is mostly a night time event, but it does happen at times during the day if there is a strong current. The colors around the reef may appear more vibrant as well. This is not limited to just the corals but all the marine life around you.
As you learned (or will learn during your open water dive course) light is filtered as it travels through water losing color as it does. Unless the water is very clear and shallow, the absents of color is easy to see. If you are diving at even 30 feet, many of the colors have been reduced with the color red to be the first. At night, the dominate light is the one that you carry.
Instead of the light beam being filtered by 30 feet of water it is only being filtered by a few feet. The light keeps most of its color spectrum so what you see in your beam of light at night are the true colors. This is one of the reasons why night underwater photography is so exciting, so much more is revealed under the artificial light of the camera than in daylight.
On a night dive, your senses are acuter, and you are more aware of your surroundings. Since you can only see what's in the beam of your light, many divers find they get a better appreciation of what surrounds them.
You should experience night diving with big marine animals
Wouldn't it be exciting to be 1 inch away from a manta ray that weighs more than a ton on a night dive? Kona in Hawaii is probably the best place on Earth to get up close and personal with Mantas at night. Watching these graceful creatures feed on plankton is simply breathtaking.
Some of these manta rays weigh around 1,363 kg, or 3,000 lbs, and with their incredible wingspans that can reach as wide as 7.3 meters, or 24 feet, they're amazing creatures that you'll never forget. Check out the video below to see what night diving with Mantas is all about.
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Start your underwater glow in the dark show
One of the neat things you will experience on a night dive is the phosphorescence appearance of bio-luminescence plankton. As the plankton touches something, such as your arm, it will glow similar as a Firefly but by a difference process. When you wave your arms underwater at night, the bioluminescent plankton will react by creating a light, and it looks like your arms are decorated like a Christmas tree.
Another cool thing you should try on your next night dive is to shine your light straight up towards the surface. The beam of light will attract some of the smaller fish that will attract the larger ones. It a good way to see what is around you. Squid and octopus are "easily" attracted this way, but you would then have to shine your light straight down instead of up.
The best night dives are those that start at twilight or dusk.
These dives allow you to prepare for the dive during the last minutes of the day, and when you drop into the water, you descent in the fading light of day. This is the time of the “shift” change; you will see the “day shift” hiding for the night and the “night shift” becoming more active.
How should you prepare for a night dive?
All dives need to be properly planned and organized, and this is even more important night dives. As well as all of the regular rules and guidelines that you should follow there are a few additional procedures that you should take into account.
Communication between divers in the dark is difficult, and the system of communication to be followed in the water should be clearly understood before anyone enters the water. Make sure you agree on what signals you will use during the pre-dive briefing and double check these during the buddy check.
To maintain your orientation and safety, I advise you to choose a shallow and relatively easy dive site to explore at night. Imagine being in the dark in an unfamiliar setting and having to deal with harsh currents, this could be tough and can easily lead to accidents.
Check out the dive site during the day so that you can become familiar with it. Take note of recognizable objects throughout the site so that you can remain oriented during the night dive.
The only additional equipment you will need for a night dive are lights.
You will carry a primary dive light which usually is a wide beam torch. You will also need a secondary light, these are smaller and are often stowed in the pocket of a BCD. You will have your own primary and secondary light. If a primary dive light fails, you can turn on the secondary light, and you and your buddy can safely abort the dive.
Dive buddies that frequently do night dives together might bring an extra secondary light with them. That way if the primary tourch fails, there is still a backup available, and the dive can continue. Many of today's “secondary” lights are as powerful as primary lights were a few years ago.
Once you turn on your light, keep it on for the rest of the dive. The most likely time for a light to fail is when you turn it on. You can always hide your light by pointing it to your body and holding it there if you want to absorb the darkness.
It is also common to attach a small light or a chemical stick to the first stage of you regulator this will allow others to see you even if your primary light is turned off or your back is towards your fellow divers. An concern for some people on night dives is that they get separated from their dive buddy or being unable to find the boat. With a little care, this should not be a major concern.
In the unfortunate event, this does happen you should start the lost buddy procedure as you would on any dive. During a night dive ascend a meter or two to make sure your view of the area is unrestricted, now press your dive light against your body and slowly rotate 360 degrees.
After one or two rotations you should be able to see your buddy's light or tank marker (chemical stick). As the marker is dim, it might take a minute for your eyes to adjust to the low light level to see it. If for some reason you do not found your dive buddy after one minute you should abort the dive, ascent, make your safety stop and get back to the boat. Boats normally suspend a strobe, so that you can easily see where the boat is.
Also read: what to do If you're left behind?
Respect the marine life, day, and night
As you can imagine, marine life can become disrupted by the bright artificial lights of divers. Nocturnal animals can easily be blinded and disoriented by bright strobes and torches, so avoid pointing the light beam at any animal.
Night underwater photography is a challenge for underwater photographers, and the bright flashes will upset marine life. It helps to place a diffusing filter on your flash and remember you should not take photos in rapid series.
In other words, be gentle, careful, and respectful, and don't harass the marine life you encounter during a night dive. Observe from a distance so that you can take it all in without getting in the way of the natural cycle. No matter what, night diving can be magical. The adventure gets the adrenaline pumping and makes any daytime dive site even more astounding.
Whether you'll be diving at night for the first time or you, do it regularly, keep these tips in mind for your safety, as well as the safety of other divers and the creatures you'll encounter.
Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.