In early March, a Florida scuba diver made local and national headlines when he was diving close to the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant in Florida. He got sucked into a pipe that pulled in approximately 500,000 gallons of ocean water per minute. The pipe is 16 feet in diameter and a quarter-mile long.
The diver said he wasn’t aware he was near the plant at the time, and he lost full control of the situation within seconds of being pulling into the suction. It took 5-6 minutes of tumbling through the pipe before he spotted a small patch of light, which he was quickly hurled towards. It ended up being a pond within the nuclear plant itself. Workers who saw him when he finally landed and gained control told him he was “really lucky” as they were about to leave for the day.
Though being sucked into a power plant or other industrial pipe is rare — so rare that the story has been in the news for weeks — currents are something that virtually all dedicated divers have to deal with at some point. Strong currents have the potential to create a scary and dangerous situation.
If you are not going with a dive guide, talk to the local dive shops and experts to learn what to expect. Even if you’ve dived the site previously, underwater conditions can change even within a few hours. For example, some sites are virtually current-free at slack tide, but can turn into a raging underwater river on an outgoing or incoming tide.
Weather and time of year can also have large impacts on currents, so again, do your research and talk to local divers. Being unfamiliar with a site can be extremely risky — after all, the reason the aforementioned diver was sucked into a power plant pipe was because he wasn’t aware it was there.
When you make your initial descent, use a line or chain to ensure you have something to hold onto to prevent you from being swept away from your group while everyone is descending. The line will also provide you with a visible reference of where you need to go to return to the surface. Having a landmark will help you in case the current carries you away from your initial descent point.
Currents are often more mild at the bottom, so head as deep as you safely can to avoid the strongest and most dangerous waters. The majority of dive accidents actually happen near or on the surface.
Following the walls will help you avoid the full power of the current, and will also help give you a landmark in case you start to drift away. It’s fine to grab a rock to keep your bearings, but be careful — you don’t want to grab for a rock and get a handful of stonefish instead — or damage coral.
When you’re in a current, small and fast fin kicks may be more effective than slower and big kicks. It’s known as a “flutter kick” and it may give you more power under the surface. Having the right scuba fins makes a big difference too. Consider paddle fins instead of split if you know you need maximum thrust. Learn more about choosing the right fins in a previous post.
Panicking is easily the worst reaction for any potentially bad situation. If you start feeling out of breath and tired, alert your dive buddy. If possible, anchor yourself in place against a rock or structure until you catch your breath. Try to relax and regroup. Getting your bearings and determining what to do next will go a long way in ensuring you complete your dive trip safely.
Though currents are a natural challenge (and sometimes a thrill) when diving, be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. There are beautiful dive sites that are suitable for all experience levels, from beginner to advanced divers. Don’t let yourself be pressured into diving in conditions beyond your fitness and experience level — you may put yourself and others at risk for serious injury or even death.
Consider taking a refresher or advanced course if you feel you wouldn’t be prepared to dive in currents! Scuba Toys offers year-round courses. Visit our shop in Carrollton, Texas or visit us online!
Have you ever had challenges with currents while diving? Let us know what happened in the comments section below!
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomasbrenner/ (Drift dive, Red Sea)