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Scuba Diving at Night: Safety Rules, Fun Facts, & More

Table of Contents

Night dives. Some people love them, and others refuse to ever do them and that is understandable. Delving into the underwater world, in pitch darkness, with only your dive light to illuminate your surroundings, can be a scary prospect.

Those that look past the eerie feeling of diving at night, and push themselves to go outside of their comfort zone, will surely not regret it.

The reef comes alive at night. Your favorite shipwrecks may appear haunted but yet full of creatures. Diving at night will help you see your favorite dive site in a different light.

Night Diving Equipment

As we stated above, there are a few different pieces of equipment you’ll want to take with you when going on a night dive. The first piece of equipment you’d want to bring is a dive light. These can come in many forms, from a dive light to a flood light. A dive light concentrates a light beam into a more precise location, whereas a flood light casts a weaker light over a larger area. This is also used to signal other divers, the boat, and see all the marine life below. Without a dive light, you just can’t dive, I even recommend bringing a back up even if it is a cheap one so you don’t miss out on the dive.

The second piece of equipment you need to do a night dive is a tank marker, that helps show other divers or boats where you’re in the water. Common options here are chem sticks, a tank marker light, or even a strobe light. It can be a bit annoying at times and at certain dive sites due to all the microorganisms flocking to the light at night, but safety comes first when diving.

A quick side note is that we do not recommend you mark yourself with chemical glow sticks. They are also not environmentally friendly and can contaminate the environment if they leak and are single-use plastic contributing to marine debris.

Another piece worth highlighting on a night dive is a dive compass. While many divers do and should carry a dive compass, on all dives, it’s extremely important to take one on a night dive.

But a more important part of carrying a dive compass is understanding how to use one properly. You’ll have a harder time using natural features to navigate the waters, so the role of a compass and directions will be crucial. It will also help to have that compass set when you are on land in the light and set to the direction that you are going in the water or where you are meetings the boat.

We recommend making sure your dive gauges, compass and other gear are able to be illuminated at night time, whether they glow in the dark or you’re shining a light on them. Most dive gear is but you should always check if you are unfamiliar with the gear.

Surface Marker Buoys (SMBs) are carried a majority of the time but can be useful to help locate a diver on a night dive. Since it is dark you will have to take out your dive light and shine it up the length of the SMB and make sure it is not connected to you in the event it gets caught when the boat approaches.

A few other pieces of safety equipment that one should bring are an audio signaling device (usually a whistle on your BCD) or a noise maker. In the event of an emergency or if the boat driver can’t find you, this device can be heard from far away and help to get you located.

scuba diver night diving with a dive light

Change in Signals

While signaling in the daytime when visibility is good is quite easy, at night it will be a bit more difficult as you will have to face the other diver and adapt the signals to the dark.

When night diving, you’ll have to change up a few of the signals you’d normally use on a dive. Make sure to shine your flashlight at your hand and not the diver’s eyes as they won’t be able to see the signal if you bling them.

The most important one is the “Ok” sign. This is done at night by taking your dive light and moving it in a circle. If underwater with your buddy, you can shine the light on your hand while doing the normal “Ok” symbol.

Another signal to learn is expressing that something is wrong, by moving the light from side to side. The speed of the movement generally can help communicate the urgency of the issue. When diving you will want to take it slow and not make a lot of big movements as this could be confused as a sign of distress.

If you want to point out something to your buddy underwater, we recommend circling it with your light a few times, to help draw attention to it. Circle around what you want to show your buddy and don’t shine it on the creature. It blinds them, they might hide, and also other creatures will see them more and may move in to eat them.

As you can probably guess, it won’t be easy to tell your dive buddy about the amount of air you have with the normal hand signals due to both of you holding a light. You can either adapt the signals like for 100 bar you light pointed at your hand to make the T or instead, just shine a light on your dive gauge to let your buddy how you’re doing on air.

Prepare for Night Dives

There are a few things you can do to help prepare yourself for a night dive. The first thing is to dive into the same site once before (ideally recently), so you’re more comfortable navigating it, and understand how to navigate it. If you can’t do that hiring a local guide that knows the area well is worth the money. They will know where the creatures normally are and also all the safety measures.

The second thing you’ll want to do to prepare for a night dive brings a dive light, and ideally two so that in the event the first one goes out, you’ll still be able to signal to your boat. If you’re only diving with one light, and it dies, your dive is over. The second light does not have to be fancy just adequate.
Diving at dusk makes the entire process a lot easier and more comfortable. You get to see the wildlife change and it is much easier to get in the water and orient yourself. On top of that, you usually catch a beautiful sunset. It’s a win-win. Ideally, you prepare everything right as the sun sets, and enter the water shortly after.

You could also try diving at dawn and it is a good option for more remote places or places that are very busy during the day. Although it can be a bit harder logistically if you have everything set up the night before and have gone over the dive plan it can be done safely.

Why Night Divers are different

Night dives are much different than normal days times for a few reasons. The first reason night diving is so much different is that rather than being able to see everything inside your field of vision, you’re only able to see what your diving torch is pointing at.

While this sounds like a silly tradeoff, it really allows you to focus on the small details and appreciate them more, which may make you see things you may not otherwise saw

Another difference is the nocturnal behavior of reef life at night. You’ll see bioluminescence from corals, invertebrates, fish, and more! Bioluminescence occurs when an organism has a chemical reaction to produce light. Depending on your location you may be able to just wave your hands quickly and it will bring them out. I usually do this at the end of the dive in shallower water and turn off the lite so if anything goes wrong with it, it is not an issue.

Another interesting behavior you’ll encounter at night is fish sleeping! Yes, fish do sleep, which a lot of people did not know. Nocturnal animals also come out at night, allowing you to see completely different marine life than you otherwise would. This also goes for your surroundings, you can’t see where you are going and something that was not there in the daytime might be there are night and could injure you. Sea Urchins seem to come out of nowhere to start feeding like crazy on the reef and could hurt you but don’t worry they won’t kill you.

Another sight that is to behold is that the Manta Rays come out to start feeding on swarms of plankton. Great barracudas are on the hunt for their next meal. Shrimps, crabs, and lobsters, all come out to snack and are easily identifiable by their eyes standing out in the darkness.

Nudibranch at Night

Face Your Fears

You will hear that people that were afraid of night dives or would never do them change their minds after the first dive or two. The magic of being underwater at night will help you to shed your fears. It is normal and reasonable to be nervous and even scared, everything is scarier in the dark even your home.

If the reason you are afraid is that you can’t see what’s around you, don’t worry have a dive lights get two if you are worried about the first one not working. These dive lights can reach between 200 feet (60 M). If you stay in view of your buddy’s light you will not have an issue.

Another common concern with beginner night divers is sharks and other creatures in the ocean. The chance of a dangerous shark encounter for a diver is slim to none. At night time when they are more active, they are in open water and most night dives are always on reefs or shallow bottoms. You do not have to worry about that.

Last of all remember it is ok if you don’t like night diving, that is ok. If it is a really uncomfortable thought for you make sure to tell the dive guide or your group before the dive. In the event you may not like night diving just have a signal to tell the guide and surface, there are a lot of other options to choose from.

Tips for Night Diving

  1. Be Careful- At night it’s harder to see and the corals can hurt you or damage them. Be a responsible diver be vigilant and take care of the corals and marine life.
  2. Clip Everything you can- Clip your flashlight and any other gear that you can to your BCD on a D-ring or put it into a pocket. If you have a strap for your flashlight that is also great as well, a lot of dive gear is negatively buoyant which would means it will sink if you drop it.
  3. Stay Visible to Your Buddy- This goes for all dives but should be said., There’s no need to hold hands or stay on top of them, it is easier than you think to stay in view of your buddy.
  4. Don’t Blind Everyone and Thing- Don’t shine your dive torch into your buddy’s face or directly at the fish, it can be dangerous to all involved and just rude.
  5. Don’t Drift Dive at Night- This is more for those that have never night dived before or an area you are unfamiliar with. With the combination of nighttime and a strong current, it could cause issues. Nighttime drift diving is a more advanced skill set.
  6. Look Into the Darkness- While most look at the wall or in the sand take a peek out into the blue or black. You can see some larger things that are looking for prey or just the odd cuttlefish bouncing around.
  7. Keep it Shallow- A night dive is usually a shallow dive and a shore dive. You don’t want to be doing a deep dive at night or exploring new areas. Most creatures are in shallower water anyway.
  8. Descend Feet First-Descend feet first and looking down, shining your light underneath you to see where you are going is a good idea. Don’t blind yourself buddy and be mindful not to hit the corals.
  9. Be Mindful of Your Gauges- Make sure to check your depth and air throughout the dive. It can be a bit disorientating diving at night and you may forget to look at it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Scuba diving at night does not require any extra certifications or licenses outside of an open water certification. It is good to have been trained by a professional and taken a course though, your advanced course would have that option and I would suggest taking it. PADI, SSI, and NAUI all offer night diving certifications to help you gain knowledge and comfort for night diving. Do you need a night diving certification to dive at night?

No, we wouldn’t say night diving is any more dangerous than daytime diving, and as we covered in a different post about this topic, scuba diving is not a dangerous sport. The main thing you have to worry about is dealing with limited light and running into a coral or stepping on a Sea Urchin. This is why divers carry extra safety gear in the form of multiple dive lights, a tank marker, and sometimes even a flare.

If you end up losing your buddy or the boat at night, there are a few things you can do. Do not turn off your light in case it fails, but you can put it to your chest or cover it with your other hand and in theory, the only other illumination would be your buddy’s dive light or the boat’s light. If you cannot find them wait for a few minutes then the surface. Have a plan before you go out so you know what to do in the event this happens. This is also why everyone should have an SMB, backup flashlight, and a noise device at all times on all dives.

Conclusion

Overall, we recommend everyone to try night diving once in their life. It will completely transform the way you view your favorite dive sites.

If you don’t like it after that one time, we won’t blame you for not trying again.

But we’re confident that night diving will bring you to appreciate the incredible hobby that is scuba diving even more, and create some memories and experiences that were never before possible.

Do you have a night dive story to share with us?

Let us know in the comments!

  • Welcome

    My name’s Austin Tuwiner, a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving under my belt, I’ve accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation!

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