How To Choose a Dive Site

Choosing the right dive site for the day is the number one way to make or break a day of diving. Every diver out there would probably agree that choosing the best dive site gets easier with experience, but very rarely does anyone explain what to consider in choosing a site.

For me there are six primary things to think about in choosing a site; Conditions, Objective, Experience, Hazzards, Accessibility and Your Buddy. Every one of these should be considered in choosing a site and if something doesn’t feel right about one of these you should consider changing sites. I’m only going to deal with the first three in this blog Conditions, Objective and Experience, the rest will come in future blogs.

Conditions are probably the most obvious things to consider – no one wants to go diving on the south coast in a 3m swell right?! But what are the conditions we should focus on? First of all is swell/wave height. For me anything over ½ a meter swell is more hassle than it’s worth when I’m getting in and out of the water. Generally speaking with swell also comes reduced visibility so even if you think you’re harder than concrete and a bit of swell is no drama, you have to consider that you may not actually see a hell of a lot because of it. Visibility is definitely worth pondering too, given the choice of 1m vis at the “best” site in town or 5m vis at a site that is a little “ho hum” i would expect 9/10 times you would have a better dive at the “ho hum” site.

There are a bunch of great websites that can give you and idea around;, and One key bit of advice around conditions here in Wellington is to look at the wind – wherever you go make sure you are sheltered from the wind this will often produce the best conditions.

Why are you going diving? Your objective or goal for the dive will play a massive part in choosing a dive site. Often when I’m heading out I’m taking people out for training – so for more me I’m looking for the easiest and safest spot (no swell, easy access, good vis, minimal hazzards). Where as when I head of spearfishing for fun I have no issue climbing over rocks for 30m to get to the best spot. Or if I’m taking out my camera I want to go somewhere with very little surge so my photos don’t come out a blur. So before choosing a site work out your objective and decide what elements of the site are going to be most conducive to you achieving that objective.  Some objectives and considerations include

  • Photography
    • no water movement (its harder to take decent photos in surge)
    • easy access (don’t want to drop your camera on a rock right!)
    • familiar site (it’s easy to get sidetracked so knowing the site is always best)
  • Hunting
    • Site location (make sure your not planning on hunting in a reserve!)
    • What are you hunting (crays and scallops for example live in very different locations)
    • Visibility (its near impossible to use a speargun in 1m vis)
    • Surface conditions (if you’re freediving you really need calm surface conditions)
  • Trying out new kit
    • Familiarity (new equipment can throw you off your game so use it in a familiar site first to reduce potential anxiety)
    • Ideal conditions (you don’t want anything like vis, waves or wind to stress you out when you learning how your new kit works.
  • Exploration
    • Somewhere new (a different site is often really exciting even if it’s not the “best” site in town)
    • Navigation( are your navigation skills up to exploring a new site and still reaching your planned exit point)

The list can go on and on, these are just the sort of things you should consider in how your objective can affect your site choice.

Your personal experience and level of skill/training as a diver often gets overlooked. It goes without saying that someone without wreck training and experience should never attempt to penetrate a wreck, but what about less obvious experience. A diver with experience only in great vis may struggle with a dive in the harbour so choosing a less challenging site would be appropriate to help ease them into it – the less stress you have on a dive the more you enjoy it (obviously). Something that pops up a lot in Wellington is heading out on underwater clean ups. Before choosing a site to clean up think about what skills you may need.

When you are cleaning up visibility is, put simply, terrible. So being experienced or comfortable in low vis is important. Also you don’t want to choose a site where you will only pull out extremely heavy object unless you have experience with a lift bag. I don’t mean to say that you should never try anything new – just don’t jump into the deep end. Try to choose sites that will help you build your experience with a particular style of diving slowly and where you don’t have a million new things going on at once.

Conditions, Objective and experience are the first three things I look at when choosing a dive site. All three are closely linked and often one will affect the other. As you build experience your judgement on what conditions are worth while diving in gets better and better. Just remember no matter where you go always let a non diver know what site you are going to and when you will be back! We will cover some of the other considerations of site selection like hazards, accessibility, and your buddy in another blog, but remember you can always give us a call and find out where we think would be best!

Paddy – Staff Instructor

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