Jun 2015

How to Deal with Currents while Diving

By Mike Waddington

Currents evoke different reactions in different divers. Some divers love the thrill of zooming along a wall with the moving water, just hovering and watching the marine life pass by. Others may be terrified by the idea that they might suddenly get swept away from the dive site or the group into the open ocean.
Currents are a natural, important aspect of the ocean, and if you want to dive there, then you should learn how to deal with a current, and what to do it you get carried away by one.

What is a Current?

A current is basically just moving water. There are many different things that affect currents, such as tides, wind, waves and even difference in the water salinity. The rate the water moves at can then be amplified if the moving water then has to pass an object such as a reef, or a strait between two islands or landmasses. There are temporary currents that can appear and disappear with the conditions, or there are permanent currents such as the Gulf Stream that flows from the Caribbean across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Europe.


How do I deal with Currents?

There are multiple ways to deal with currents while diving. If you are diving around a pinnacle or wreck, currents can be annoying as they can make it difficult to stay at the dive site. Luckily the closer you are to the sea bed, the weaker the current is (usually but not always) so descending is a way to get away from the worst of it. If a current is hitting one side of the pinnacle that you are diving, then the opposite side should be completely calm. You can spend most of your dive sheltered from the current, and only have to deal with it when you ascend.

If you are diving along a wall and have a specific exit point (if you were shore diving for instance) then the recommended practice is to swim into the current for the first portion of the dive. When you begin the dive you will have more energy than later on, so spend the first 2/3rds of the dive swimming into the current, then when it is time, simply turn around and allow the current to take you back to the boat. If you were to start the dive swimming with the current you may accidentally travel much further than you had planned, and you would find it very difficult to get back to your starting point.

The best thing to do on a wall dive is just go with the flow. This is called drift diving, and it is very fun. You simple hover and let the water take you with it. Usually a boat will follow, so you will need some kind of surface marker with you. At some locations, divers may find that might move several hundred meters or more on a single drift dive, but put almost no effort into moving.


What if I get swept away by a Current?

There is always the risk of being swept away while diving in currents. Rip currents can drag you out to sea, and a current can take you away from an offshore reef, wreck or pinnacle if you are not careful. The first and most important thing to remember is, DON’T PANIC! You need to stay calm and come up with a plan of action.

You should never dive without at least one audible and one visual signalling device. Inflate your BCD (once at the surface), deploy your SMB and start whistling. If you have already been carried quite far then don’t try to fight it. Even a relatively mild current can be too strong for a diver to swim against, so don’t bother wasting your energy. Most currents don’t maintain the same speeds for very long, especially if it is a rip current or because the water is being swept around a reef. Somebody from the group will soon realise that you are missing, and the boat captain will know how currents work, and where they will take you. All you need to do is make yourself noticeable.


If you are shore diving, you will need to work out how to get back to the shore. If you are being dragged away from the land, then you’re in luck. You are caught in a rip current. These are often very powerful, but usually very narrow currents that are taking the water from broken waves back out to sea. You will never be able to swim against one, but if you swim parallel to shore you will find in only a few meters that the water movement has slowed or even stopped all together. Now you simply make you way back to the shore.

Whatever type of current you find yourself caught in, the rule is never swim against it. Always swim across the current. You will find it easier this way and you will cover more ground (or water). It is essential that you only dive in conditions that feel safe to you. If you have never been diving in a current before then you should start with weaker currents, and slowly add the intensity when you feel comfortable. Currents are a natural part of diving life, and to be a competent, safe diver, it is essential that you learn how to deal with currents so you never get caught off guard. A good way to get introduced to diving in currents is by taking a Drift Diving specialty course, which teaches you how to safely complete a drift dive under the supervision of an instructor.

‘How to Deal with Currents while Diving’ was written by Mike

Photo Credits: P A D I & ScubaDiving com

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia