Picture a street or a plaza during the day; think about the type of people walking around, the brightness, the colours and everything that’s going on. Now picture the same area at night-time. The people, the brightness and the all the activity is very different. The exact same goes for the ocean. The things you may see on a typical daytime dive vary greatly to the opportunities that are present at night. It’s something that every diver must experience, and it’s certainly something that a diver will never forget.
Diving itself already carries with it so much mystery and intrigue, as there is no other recreational activity that lets you explore something so vast and so untouched as the ocean. So much of the ocean hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting humankind, and so it is up to us to explore the unexplored. It’s this mystery and unfamiliarity that makes diving so interesting and addictive. What will the environment be like when you get down there? And what creatures will be waiting on the reef for your arrival? Take that excitement and that fascination and multiply it by one hundred – as that is the effect of the night. The ‘unknown’ element of every dive drastically increases, but it’s not something you wonder about before the dive which is then cleared up for you as soon as you jump into the water – it’s something that you wonder about for the full duration of the dive, as in every moment you are never aware of your full surroundings. Unlike a typical dive, all that you are completely aware of is the thin line of light in front of you, illuminated by your dive light. For those who live for adventure and thrill, this overwhelming fear of not knowing is priceless. Granted, night diving is not for everyone, and once you do it you will either love it or hate it. However, I personally have never met anyone who has hated it.
So where do you start? Do you just get on a boat in the night, head out and plunge down into the abyss? That’s certainly one way of doing it, but the best night dives are the ones that begin at sunset, or dusk. This gives the best experiences. So whether you’re doing a beach entry or you’re taking out a boat, you’re still granted that last sliver of light during the golden hour. Not only does this mean you get to ride out into a picturesque sunset and give your camera a real workout, but it also makes the kitting up process much easier. Having to get your equipment ready and strapped on in the dark is no small feat, so doing it during the fading daylight is a much more sensible option. Although, most dive boats that undertake night diving will be equipped with floodlights to help you get in and out of your gear, so it’s never really a problem.
There’s not a great deal of special equipment required for a night dive, as it is still very similar to your typical daytime dive. There is though one crucial item that you’ll want to equip yourself with prior to entering the water, and that’s your dive light. Although it may seem obvious, I’ve seen divers jump into dark water, descend a few meters and only then realise they can’t see anything. To properly defend yourself against any such situation, the safest way to do it is to get a light that you can clip on to either your wrist or your BCD – because the last thing you want to do is end up on the bottom of the ocean without a light.
As the sun sets and you ready yourself for one of the most memorable experiences you have ever had, you may look into the water you’re about to plunge into and think ‘why am I doing this?’ Cast those thoughts aside and take the giant stride into the water. As there is still some daylight present, during your descent you may be lucky enough to see the very last few rays of sun shooting through the dark blue water, creating a pattern of glassy lines. This brightness however will soon become but a distant memory once you’ve acclimatised to the darkness. Some people are aware of it and other’s aren’t, so you may notice how quickly the light fades to darkness, transforming your surroundings, or you may be one of those people who suddenly find themselves in a cloak of darkness as they thought just a second ago it was light. If you don’t notice it, it means there are much more interesting things in front of you to focus on – which is a good thing!
You may also find that when the darkness finally sets in, your senses are slightly enhanced. You notice when even the smallest creature swims beside you, or perhaps it’s just the current from your buddy’s moving fins. You’re listening out for sounds around you, to give you clues about your environment that unfortunately your eyes cannot provide. This is a very unique feeling of tranquillity mixed with a dash of fear.
The thin line of sight illuminated by your torch is your primary focus, although a few looks and peaks into the darkness either side of you are not uncommon, when your curiosity finally gets the better of you. Often with first time night divers, their ability to keep their torch facing down on the reef rather than facing other divers right in the eye is limited. So the best thing you can do on your first night dive is be sensible with your light – remember that you’re down there to see the reef and not to blind your buddies. As well, try to make your movements with your light slow and cautious, as rapid and frantic movements with your light will often convey a sign of emergency and may cause other divers to come to your rescue, or the dive may even be called off early. In the rare case that you lose your buddy or get separated from your group, there is a procedure that many divers undertake that is different from any daytime protocols. Take your dive light and shine it on your chest, ascend 2-3m, so no surrounding coral or rock faces are blocking you, and spin 360o once. This will hopefully signal to your buddy your location and they will reach you promptly. Many divers also like to just clip a chemical luminescent rod to either their regulator or BCD, so they can quickly find their regulator in the dark, and so other members of the group can constantly keep eyes on them.
So what makes it different to a daytime dive? Aside from the drastically different environment, enhanced senses and the need to use a light, what you see will also be a great change from the day. Everybody is aware that large, and even small, predators hunt at nightime. It’s when they’re best camouflaged and they can creep up on their prey with the greatest ease. But relax – they’re not there to hunt you. During a night dive, it’s not uncommon to encounter larger species of marine life that are otherwise shy or sleeping during the day. This can vary from sharks and manta rays, to eels and octopi. Not only do you see creatures that would be difficult to find during the day, but you also see them in action. During the day you may find a White Tip Reef Shark laying on the sound inside a cave, whereas at night you will see the very same shark swimming and darting after its dinner. These hunting spectacles are often on a large scale, depending where you go, and if you’re lucky and you pick the right spot on the right night, you will be exposed to one of the greatest shows on earth. You can pick a spot, relax and watch the ocean’s nightime activities unfold. Sharks twisting and turning after their prey, free-swimming eels searching for a meal of their own and manta rays flipping and tumbling above you, taking full advantage of your bubbles. It is this commotion and poetic chaos that can only be experienced at night, making a night dive a crucial step to becoming a truly veteran diver.
If you have dived before, then you must be well aware of the underwater spectacles that await you below the surface, and if you haven’t, now you are. But the phenomenons present during the day are vastly different to those at night. The hustle and bustle in the darkness of the night contrasts with the clarity and tranquillity that can be experienced during the day. But either way, much like out on the street, you must experience both the night and the day for a full and complete perspective of the environment. So grab a light, build up the courage and head on out into the night.