Drift Diving 101: A Complete Guide

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scuba diver with under water with a scuba diving light

There’s nothing more frustrating than a dive entirely into the current.

Instead of focusing on all the beautiful sites of the dive, all you can think about is how bad your leg is cramping.

But what if there was a way to consistently dive with the ocean currents headed in the right direction?

Rather than exerting energy the entire dive, you get to move along with the current, and take in all the marine world has to offer.

Just like when Crush from Finding Nemo drifts along on the East Australian Current.

Come on… we know you’ve seen it dude!

It’s one of the most pleasurable scuba experiences, so add it to the diving bucket list!

Read on to learn all about how to do it safely and get the most out of your drift diving.

What Is Drift Diving?

Scuba diver drift diving

Drift diving is when you go scuba diving and ride the ocean currents from your entry point to your exit point.

There’s no need to use your fins, just harness the power of the ocean and let it take you for a tour of the underwater world.

Why Go Drift Diving?

When you’re drift diving you can cover so much ground. Or shall we say, reef! The currents you get on drift dive can attract big fish and huge pelagics.

You might even be lucky enough to watch hunting and feeding.

Like in Komodo at Manta Point, one of the most famous places in the world to drift dive where you can watch oceanic manta rays filter-feeding!

Because you’re going along with the current, it can be the most chill scuba diving you can do.

If you wonder what it feels like to fly, then try drift diving. It’s the closest a human will get without having to strap on a pair of wings and jump off a cliff.

Drift diving isn’t for everyone – you have to be a skilled diver, with peak perfect buoyancy and confidence in currents!

Read on for all our top tips on where to go and how you can enjoy this thrilling kind of scuba diving.

Where To Go Drift Diving?

a plethora of underwater sea life including a whale shark

You can find epic drift diving sites all over the world.

From Indonesia to the Maldives, and from Mexico to the Galapagos Islands! There are places to go drift diving on almost every continent.

Komodo National Park is infamous for its currents! But with them come huge megafauna like manta rays, sharks, and dolphins.

Mexico is home to one of the drift diving capitals – Cozumel! Epic vis and cracking currents take you past some of the world’s most stunning reefs and walls.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most renowned places in the world for scuba diving.

Drift with schooling hammerheads and giant mola mola. But beware – at some dive sites you must have at least 100 dives under your belt due to the extreme conditions!

Some of the best drift diving sites are along reefs, shorelines, walls or wrecks. At some dive sites, the only diving you can do is drift diving.

This is because the currents are so strong. Divers with the strongest legs can propel themselves at a top speed of around 1.5 knots which is nothing compared to the strength of some currents.

In some places, even if you were finning with all your might into the current, you’d still be going backward. So, don’t fight it, just ride it!

How To Go Drift Diving?

Diver getting ready to start a dive

Head to one of those awesome drift diving sites around the world and find a dive operator you trust to take you!

Drift diving is most often done via boat diving.

You drop at the start of the site, do your drifting, then the boat picks you up at the end.

It’s possible to do it as a shore dive if there’s an exit point along the way. Remember when you exit you’ll somehow need to get back to where you started! In this case, it’s handy to organize transport back.

To enjoy the ride safely, always plan your dives and consider your equipment before you go.

Listen to your divemaster’s briefings and ask questions you have before you dive in.

Tips For Beginner Drift Divers

1. Plan Your Dive

Know your dive sites. Speak to locals about the waters and conditions. Read about the dive sites, currents, tidal movements, and especially dive sites to avoid due to rising and falling tides. If you’re new to drift diving, always go with a guide!

2. Practice Peak Performance

Muck Diving in the Philippines

As a responsible diver, you should always practice proper buoyancy. It’s especially important when drift diving because you can be moving faster, and be more prone to collisions. It can be super dangerous to both the diver and the reef. Practice your skills with games and such at rest stops if you want to work on them. 

As always, breathe deeply and move slowly. Use subtle movements of your body to steer yourself and guide the dive.

3. Don't Always go With the Flow

Don’t swim with the current! When drift diving, you’re more likely to need to swim into the current especially if it’s strong. Otherwise, you can move too fast, and run out of reef or wreck before you run out of air, and the dive is over!

Read the current and work with it. Water moves slower nearer to the reef, so stay as close as you can to the benthic region as you can. Watch your guide and follow their lead.

End the dive if you find yourself in over your depth, or in currents that are too strong.

4. Seek Solace in The Reef

Diver Spending Time on reef

As you drift, use breaks in the reef and bombies to catch a breath behind. Use natural areas to have a break like behind caves and coral heads! Not only will you be able to have a break from the currents, but you might also see some marine life. They seek solace from the currents there too! 

5. Get Your Gear in Order

Scuba divers doing a Gear Check

Always carry a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB)! This is important so that boats and anything overhead knows that there are divers below. It’s especially important so your boat knows where to pick you up from. 

You should be able to deploy your SMB from depth by yourself, in case you’re ever separated from your group. Learn how to do this in calm waters first! Getting separated is more likely during a drift dive for obvious reasons and if you are you could be there a bit so make sure you have put on your reef-safe sunscreen to protect yourself and the corals. 

If this happens follow standard dive procedures. Look around in all directions for one minute then ascend no faster than 60ft/s (18m/s) without doing a safety stop. Deploy your SMB and reunite with your group at the surface.

Clip a whistle to your BCD. In case of an emergency, it could be a game-changer.

Keep a reef hook handy. They’re only necessary for super-strong currents but they can be a god-send! Check local regulations for the protocol. In some areas they’re banned, in some, they’re required.

Reef hooks can stop you from becoming overexerted if currents get wild, if you’re waiting for your group, or if down currents catch you.

They also keep you off the reef comfortably without damaging corals when used correctly. Always protect and respect marine life!

reef hook for drift diving

Carry a join line if you’re boat diving with a large group. This way you can attach yourself to the downline from a safe distance, alongside your whole group.

Only take what you need. Don’t take new or bulky equipment with you. Big cameras could be a hazard and get in the way!

Triple-check everything before you get in the water. It can be tricky enough in calm conditions to fix equipment issues while diving – so imagine what it’s like in strong currents!

6. Get Streamlined

Make sure your kit is streamlined. Don’t have hoses or cameras hanging off you. If they hit the reef or the seabed they can cause damage to the underwater environment and your equipment.

It’s the same for any diving you do. But strong currents can seriously exacerbate issues!

Move slowly while you’re drift diving.

7. Do Your Dive Operator Research

Scuba instructor talking about a dive location

Go with recommended dive operators and read reviews! If you’re renting gear, check it all carefully before you get in the water. Know emergency procedures and first-aid operations.

Be prepared before your dive and be confident of your safety before you enter the water, or even get on the boat! 

8. Focus, Focus, Focus!

Diver taking a photo of a sea turtle underwater

It’s best to stay aware of your surroundings on a drift dive. Changing conditions and currents could drastically affect your experience. Stay in your comfort zone and focus on your technique to stay safe and enjoy the ride. 

9. Do a Drift Diving Speciality Course

Get comfortable with drift diving by doing a specialty course. This can help you hone your skills and give you the experience to feel comfortable and confident with drift diving!

Do the PADI Drift Diver course and learn how to handle currents from professionals. Once you’ve nailed this, you can travel the world and hop into drift dives knowing you can handle it!

It's Time to Go on a Drift Dive

Now you know all our top tips for drift diving, it’s time to get in the water and try it out for yourself!

Drift diving is awesome and an experience all scuba divers should try.

Always stay safe and prepare for your drift dives.

Know your limits and follow your instincts. Stay aware and you’ll be ready for the ride of your life.

Nestle your hook into the reef, hold on tight, and watch the world go by!

Do you have any questions about drift diving?

If so, leave a comment, and one of our expert divers will promptly answer you.

Do you have an incredible drift diving experience you’d live to share with us?

Let us know in the comments!

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