What is drift diving?

Drift diving is a specialized form of boat diving allowing you to drift with the underwater currents during your entire dive. The boat is never anchored or moored and follows the group of divers the entire time. Drift diving allows you to:


·         Enjoy the dive more because you don’t have to swim against the current

·         Cover and see a large area in a short time

·         Use the current to move you in the direction you want to go


There are several forms of drift diving, and like all specialty forms of diving, require orientation and training from someone who knows the procedures and techniques used in the area you’ll be diving. The different types of drift diving are: float drift and live boat drift.


Float drift diving

Float drift diving is the safest and most common form of drift diving. This is the recommended way by most certifying agencies and involves the use of a float with a down line or drift line that is towed by the dive leader or divemaster and always lets the boat captain know where the group is. The boat captain follows the float on the surface.


When you enter the water, the dive leader enters first with the group following very quickly. The goal is to descend as a group quickly, so that you don’t get blown off the area you’re trying to dive. Once the group is together, you descend to the bottom following the dive leader and the line they’re carrying. Once on the bottom, the group stays together following the dive leader. It’s the responsibility of each diver to maintain contact with the dive leader. Sometimes the dive leader may be moving faster than the group because the float ball is dragging them along as well as the current.


As members of the group get low on air, they need to ascend as a buddy team up the drift line to the surface. It’s important not to pull on the drift line, just maintain a light touch on the line. Safety stops are made together on the line. It’s important not to separate because you want to surface together. Once you are on the surface, inflate your BC, give an OK sign to the boat crew, and float away from the float so that the boat can approach to pick you up.


Live boat drift diving

Live boat drift diving is used a lot in Cozumel, Mexico. It is also done where there are obstructions in the water column, like kelp forests, which may entangle the line. Live boat drift diving does not require a float and line. Typically, the group enters the water, and the boat captain follows the group’s bubbles. It’s important to stay together as a group so that the volume of bubbles is large enough for the boat crew to follow. When the dive is complete, the team should perform their safety stop together and surface together. Once everyone is on the surface with BCs inflated, the boat can approach to pick you up.


This type of drift diving is more dangerous than float drift diving because there is know line or connection to the surface. Also, the boat crew must pay close attention to the divers’ bubbles so that the group is not lost. Live boat drift diving should not be done in rough conditions because the surface chop can make it very difficult for the boat crew to see your bubbles.


Safety considerations

Drift diving as a whole is safe and can be a lot of fun, but as with other forms of diving there are some safety issues to consider. Staying together is very important. Staying close and knowing where the dive leader is at all times is important. If you become separated, surface and inflate your “see me” tube and look for your boat.


If you’re live boat drift diving, make sure the conditions are such that the boat crew can see your bubbles on the surface. It the conditions are rough, if it’s raining, or if it’s windy, it may be difficult for the boat crew to follow you safely. Always carry a “see me” tube when live boat drift diving.


Avoid staying too close to someone in your group. If they decide to stop to look at something, you may find yourself slamming into them. If this happens, you could knock your mask loose, but usually nothing serious will happen. Just use good common sense when drifting with a group.


Pay attention to where you’re drifting. Don’t become distracted and end up slamming into the reef. This can be extremely bad for the reef and you might get injured. Stay focused and know where you’re going.


Buoyancy control is very important. Good buoyancy control allows you to drift comfortably above the reef and keeps you from hitting the reef or floating too high in the water column. Because there is know anchor line or down line, performing your safety stop while drifting must be accomplished with good buoyancy control. Hanging on the drift line is not an option and should be avoided.


Proper communication with the boat crew, dive leader or divemaster, and group is very important. Knowing the direction of the current, size of the group, experience levels, etc. are all important to conducting a safe drift dive. You don’t want half the group drifting one way and the other half going another way. Stay together throughout the dive.


Drift diving is a great way to see a large area and can be exhilarating while “flying” over the reef. This type of diving is more of a group effort and not individual or small buddy team. It’s important to make your dive plan as a group and stick to that plan.