Tips for diving in blustery weather

Over the years we have learned a lot of things about diving that are seldom taught in training courses. One of the things we have learned from experience is that the conditions on the surface are not always indicative of conditions beneath the surface, and vice versa.

For example, on a day that is very windy and blustery, surface conditions can be problematic or even dangerous, while conditions a few meters below the surface may be completely calm. A brisk wind can turn the surface into a froth, generate choppy swells, and create or enhance surface currents. In short, the surface of the sea is not a pleasant place to be when it's very windy.

A green sea turtle swims below the surface at Puako, HawaiiMost wind-driven waves and surface currents extend only a meter or two below the surface, thus as divers descend they are very likely to find calmer conditions. Our first tip, then, is to advise divers entering the water on a blustery day to descend as quickly as possible to get below the choppiness and surface current. Regardless of whether you're entering the water from the shore, or from a boat, if a strong wind is blowing and the surface is choppy, plan ahead of time to get below immediately and wait for your dive partner(s) there, not on the surface.

When divers are underwater on a blustery day, they can look up and see the wind whipping across the surface -- just like in the photo on this page (taken at Puako, Hawaii) -- and sometimes the wind actually can be heard from below, too. Our second blustery weather diving tip is this: If you look up and see that it is windy on the surface, try to surface as near to your boat or shoreline exit point as you possibly can. In blustery conditions, do not plan on making a surface swim at the end of your dive. Swimming through chop and swells will tire you, and if there is a surface current as well, it may carry you away from where you want to go.

In fact, when we dive in very windy conditions we consider the rough surface to be the equivalent of an 'overhead environment.' The term 'overhead environment' commonly refers to a situation in which there is literally a barrier overhead preventing the diver from making a direct ascent to the surface. The usual examples are diving in cave, or inside a shipwreck. In the case of extremely rough surface conditions the barrier is not a physical one in the same sense -- you won't bump your head on it! -- nevertheless, we plan the dive as if there were a physical barrier. We consider that a direct ascent to the surface in those conditions is not an option, and we plan the dive accordingly.

In summary, when the surface conditions are extremely rough, it is unwise (to put it mildly) to be on the surface anywhere but right beside your boat, or within wading distance of your shoreline exit point. Descend immediately when entering the water, and don't surface until you are right at your boat or your shoreline exit point.


  1. The surface looks very intimidating from this angle - seems a bit scary.

  2. Yes, Kathy, but it's nice underneath!


  3. I think I would like to do more diving, but I live so far from the sea and although we live very close to a great lake, it is not as interesting (I don't think) as diving in tropical seas.

    I love the colors in your pictures and it looks so interesting.

  4. Thank you, Mary. Our freshwater diving has been very limited, but based on what we did see (and didn't) I think you are right -- unless you are thinking of wreck diving, of course! I do hope you get to do more diving in the ocean one day. Maybe a Caribbean or Hawaiian vacation? :-}


  5. "swimming through chop and swells will tire you, and if there is a surface current as well, it may carry you away from where you want to go."

    this is exactly what happened to me today, i was diving in a windy weather and i finished my dive 20 meter away of the exit point and thought to swim on surface but i could not do anything, the winds took over everything and i was like a ball lol, i hope i learn my lesson, and i wont do that again.

  6. Hello Khaled - I'm sorry you didn't see this article BEFORE your dive! Well, I suppose everything turned out okay for you in the end, since you were able to come here and tell us about your experience. I wish you calm seas for your next dive. ;-}


  7. I am a beginner diver and have had trouble getting back on the boat when water is rough. I am a small female and have been whipped all over the place which has left me a bit anxious. What should I be doing first, second etc?

    1. Hi, Alys. It depends. It depends what kind of boat you are boarding -- a rubber dinghy/Zodiac, or a bigger boat with a ladder or a boarding platform. Also depends if there is someone already on the boat to help you aboard, or if there's another diver behind you who can give you a boost.

      For a low-to-the-water boat:

      If it's a low-to-the-water boat (like a rubber dinghy) that you must climb onto, take off your heavy gear first, like weights, and either hand them to someone already in the boat or lift them over the side into the boat yourself. It's much easier to climb (or heave yourself) aboard when you are not weighted down.

      You might want to take off your BCD + tank while you are still in the water. Inflate the BCD so that it and the tank float on the surface -- but don't let go of it or it may drift away. Someone on the boat can reach down and take it aboard. Otherwise, plan ahead for a way to tie or clip it to the boat until you get aboard.

      Take off your fins and mask last. Once you have the heavy stuff off, you can give a kick with your fins to help yourself onto the boat.

      For a larger boat with a ladder or platform:

      If it's possible to take off your weights and hand them up, then do that -- although it's not always possible.

      If you are boarding on a ladder, take your fins off at the last moment before you put your feet on the ladder. Hand them up to whoever is on the boat, or you might be able to toss them up into the boat. It's hard to juggle them in your hands while climbing a ladder, but it's do-able with practice.

      Another tip: If you are boarding a boat that has its engine running (hopefully at idle!) you may want to keep your mask on and the regulator in your mouth until you are on board, to avoid breathing in exhaust fumes. This can be a problem if there are several divers waiting to board.


We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry