One of the many skills we must have, as Scuba Divers, is the capacity to evaluate conditions, ourselves, of the dive site before plunging into the depths, whether it is on the beach or from a boat (charter).
If you are a dive leader, this responsibility becomes exponentially more important as your buddy and/or your fellow divers are counting on your expertise.
Tides: If you have done your homework and the site is tide sensitive, you have already checked the tides. High slack is traditionally the best time to dive. Timing your dive to when you hit slack is crucial in high tide sensitive areas. If the tide has a rapid turn time, your time in the water will be limited. Many who have dove Keystone Jetty on Whidbey Island, WA have firsthand experience of being caught in the water when the current suddenly shifts dramatically. Even if you checked the tide tables before, evaluate when you get to the dive site. Off shore storms/weather can affect the tides enough to shift slack times. Look for evidence of current. Drifting flotsam, maybe a buoy bent over by current are just a few signs you can evaluate.
Weather: Just as important as tides, weather also plays a key role for the dive. Though we will spend the majority of the dive below the weather, we still have to pass through to get to the calm! Heavy Surge, waves, wind, all are factors by themselves worthy of cancelling a dive. If you are diving from a boat, the boat still has to navigate this weather to get to the site. Motion sickness is not uncommon for some and can add to stress. A surface swim in high seas becomes problematic at best whether it is to the beach or to the dive boat. Wind will often accompany these heavy seas, making for a stronger surface current. Large waves will preclude the use of your snorkel (should almost always dive with one) forcing you to use your Reg, assuming your air management allows this. Exhaustion accompanied by an inability to help yourself is the result.
Divers training/conditioning: Another factor to consider is diver training level and physical and psychological condition of yourself and your dive buddies. Especially in cold water diving, where the hardest part of the dive is often the getting into and out of the water. Long walks or surface swims with heavy gear are not for the faint of heart. Throw in some unruly surface conditions and cause for concern should be automatic. A boat going through heavy seas adds sea sickness to the mix and now you have a recipe for an accident. You may have noticed at Argonaut Diving, many of our local dive adventures require a minimum Advance Open Water training. We recognize that many dive locations require a certain level of experience and/or training levels. Make sure you are not leading your buddies into situations they have not been trained for by professionals. An example of this would be leading an Open Water Diver down to 100 foot depth (OW certified to 60 ft). Know your buddy’s cert level and experience level and whether it is suited for the dives site you are diving.
New Equipment: Finally, taking new dive gear you are not familiar with, into an environment not conducive to trying that new gear out, is not a good idea. In the PADI Night Diver Specialty course you learn that trying new gear on a night dive is not a recommended. Good advice. Have new equipment? Test it out in a more neutral environment and get use to it before tackling more challenging sites.
Ultimately, you have to be comfortable with the dive site. If you find yourself fretting over the site for more than a few minutes, that in itself is a message that perhaps you are not ready for that particular environment. Never feel pressure to not abort a dive for these reasons. As responsible dive buddy’s we don’t argue with a buddy who is calling the dive. We may discuss the issues, but ultimately we accept the call without dispute. This becomes even more augmented when diving from a charter. Just because a charter skipper has evaluated conditions as being acceptable for diving, does not mean your comfort levels are met. You don’t like what you see, don’t dive. Loss of charter fee is not worth your life. Live to dive another day. The good news is the water/ocean will be there tomorrow. And if it is not, well then we all got bigger problems!
Dive smart, dive safe!