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Okay, I'm not sure exactly where to post this so I'm posting it here. I reason that the least experienced night divers, or the majority of them, are in the newbie range or in the experienced "tried it once in Cancun, it was Okay but not my type of thing" group. If you've recently made your first night dive and were left feeling a little uncomfortable with your experience, you might find some of this familiar ...

I love night diving. I love the richness of colours on a night dive. If I ignore the sound of my breathing and the scratch! scratch! scratch! sounds created by numerous fish removing algae from rocks, I love the quiet of a night dive. I love seeing creatures that I rarely, if ever, get to see in daylight hours. And I love the “what might be there just out of the reach of my torch’s beam” sensation that accompanies me on every night dive.

Which might all seem rather strange … well, excluding the latter point … considering that I did my first night dive in 1998, spent the whole dive so concerned with losing sight of everyone else that I saw nothing, and then waited another 2 years before making another night dive.

I really did not like the experience at all. On subsequent holidays, which were always in the summer when the nights came late, I always used the excuse “can’t be bothered to wait for the sun to go down” to dodge the night dives. It was a pain to finish the usual diving day and then spend 3 hours at the hotel before setting off for the evening’s night dive (especially when those who had declined to make the night dive were on their 3rd or 4th bottle of beer and deciding where to go to eat that evening) but this was really no more than a convenient reason to escape the night dive.
I did not like night dives. I didn’t like the fact that my vision was restricted to the extent of a torches beam. I didn’t like the fact that lionfish joined the night dives (they enjoy hunting at night with the aid of a divers light. Who says fish are stupid?) with poisonous spines that you could bump in to if you weren’t too careful and were probably just above your head for most of the dive. I didn’t enjoy the sound of urchins either, who covered nearly every available space at night and, guess what, they turned out to be venomous too. I didn’t like this business with my torch and gauges where I was expected to, whilst not actually looking at my gauges, shine the torch at my gauges and then after check the contents of my cylinder. What?! I could be in an OOA situation before I even see I’m in an OOA situation. I didn’t like the hand signals had to change for a night dive. I didn’t understand why, when all the manuals said it was recommended, that in a group of 9 divers we only had one spare torch (and where, for that matter, was the light suspended under the boat?).

So for the best part of my first 7 years of diving, I made about 4 night dives in total and schemed like crazy how to get out the myriad of others I had the opportunity to make during that time.

And for a recreational diver that is fine; if you don’t enjoy night dives, you don’t have to make them. With hindsight, I went to a lot of trouble getting out of night dives when all I needed to say was “No thanks, it’s not my thing”.

Fortunately for me, although it didn’t feel like that to me at the time, one of my first pieces of work in Sharm was acting as a private guide for a couple of American divers. One of the Americans was a very experienced diver, who had an import & export business dealing predominately between the States and Egypt, and had been diving around Sharm for 20 years. This gentleman required a day, 2 dives, shore diving at one of our local sites, Ras Umm Sid and a night dive at the same place. I spent the whole of the first two dives worrying about the night dive and then it was time for the night dive. Ras Umm Sid is a beautiful site but can be subject to very strong currents, especially if you venture to close to its corner and I was aware of this so we went so, so slow. We went so slow that nudibranchs were pushing us out of their way to get past. And it was amazing! All this life had seemingly sprung up out of nowhere on the reef, as if the majority of the reefs denizens were just hiding and waiting in the daylight hours for the sun to go down. There were sea fans (Basket Stars in actuality) that had sprung from where there had been none before, that curled in on themselves if you lit them for too long. As did the countless brittle and feather stars. There were so many shrimps of so many types that the reef wall practically glittered like the wall of a precious stone mine. And the corals! The corals had come alive! The polyps, mostly hidden in the day, were out feeding and the corals, which until this point I had thought quite vibrant in the daylight, were just so full of colour that I realised the day was mere monochrome. Even the urchins, which I’d thought were mostly black, turned out to be of the deepest reds or purples.

Night diving literally was “less is more”.

I’ve now made hundreds of night dives and they are my favourite type of dive for all the reasons I’ve given and more. I now know that most of my original fears were based on two things: lack of buoyancy control (which led me to worry about bumping in to creatures & critters) and the unknown or, if you prefer, lack of knowledge and experience. Buoyancy is such an important skill for diving, even more so when you can’t see the floor or wall that you are diving on. I believe only people who have mastered proper buoyancy control should make night dives. I appreciate we only learn and build our experiences, in all that we do, by attempting things and, often, failing them but it is very easy to damage an environment as fragile as the coral reef when you can’t see what you are doing AND can’t control your position well. As for the unknown factor, the lack of knowledge and experience, there are places where you can go for help. The first place, books. There are lots of books (and periodicals) that can give you information on diving and night diving in particular, area specific marine life, and their habits. The second place is in the water. It’s a cliché I know but, by confronting our fears we conquer our fears. Ultimately, you only gain experience of something by going out and … er … experiencing it. So, if you want to become an experienced night diver there is only one way to do it, make night dives.

Before making a night dive, there are some points you should consider:
• Choose a dive site you are familiar with or, at the least, have had the chance to dive or snorkel on in the daytime.
• Only dive if conditions are good, and the water is relatively calm.
• Prepare your equipment in daylight hours when possible.
• Try to eat something, especially if you’ve already been diving the same time. Remember though that diving involves exercise, and to allow for at least an hour after eating before starting the dive.
• If possible, dive with familiar buddies, people you feel comfortable with in the water.
• It’s best to bring a non-diver as a surface marshal and in case there is a problem.

This list is in no way meant to be conclusive and, if you’ve not made a night dive before, full training from a recognised diver training agency is recommended.

Enjoy the night!
 

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For UK diving, the distinction between day and night dives is blurred. Even on the brightest day, you can still find yourself in total darkness under the water. That said, I've still encountered UK divers who don't want to do night dives - I think it's a psychological thing: setting off on a dive after dark just feels like an adventure, even though the dive itself isn't that much different.

I'll add one more tip to your list:

- Turn on your torch before entering the water. I recently did a night dive from a boat and didn't attempt to turn my light on until I was on my way down the shot. It didn't come on, and I ended up on the sea-bed without a light. Thankfully, I had a back-up torch in my BCD, which I used to get myself safely back to the surface. If I'd discovered the problem with my torch before I started the dive, I could have sorted it out or borrowed one.
 
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