A recent trip to a local inland dive site after a few days of heavy rain resulted in some what less than favourable conditions with visibility around the several inches mark. As my buddy and I were navigating our way through the murk I first thought that this is terrible but why should we always think of the negatives. Yes, out of preference I'd rather dive in absolutely clear water but having the ability to dive in those sort of conditions has surely got to be an advantage as well. Diving in visibility conditions must contribute to making me and my buddy better divers. If I can comfortably dive here my skills, control, mental attitude, experiences and overall pleasure of diving in ideal conditions can only be increased. What are the biggest issues that not being able to see affects when diving? I can think of three main things.....navigation, communication and separation.
Navigation during a nice tropical, clear water dive is easy....'that point on the reef or wreck WAAAAAAY over there is where I want to end up', then you start finning. Your navigation and compass skills really come into their own when you can't see more than a couple of feet or less in front of you. So what do you do? Preparation is key here. If you know the dive site well it's a lot easier to find your way around as you have a feel of the site and can recognise references when they come close enough. If you don't know the site why not draw yourself a general layout on a slate with some idea of scale, distances and bearings for travelling between points of interest. This is particularly useful for wreck diving as there are usually a number of large, recognisable objects that can be used as reference and navigation points.
Communication also becomes very difficult in low visibility or low light conditions. The answer is to just stick closer together. Like driving a car and driving to the conditions, your diving style needs to adapt to the diving conditions. Hand signals become near impossible to see so consider adopting light signals instead. Waving your torch in a recognised pattern is a lot clearer than making a hazy hand signal in front of someone's mask There are plenty of standard practice signals you could use or if you dive with a particularly buddy regularly you could always develop your own.
Separation is a big issue and one of the main contributing factor for diving incidents. Staying with your buddy is extremely important, especially if you are both each others only source of air in an emergency. As with overcoming the issues with communication the answer is to stick close to each other. A dive torch is probably going to be next to useless for seeing with if there too much silt and particles floating in the water but it's perfect for your buddy to locate you and vice versa. Strobes are also excellent devices to wear in low visibility as the high intensity burst of light really cuts through the darkness. I regularly get laughed at because I dive with a pair of red fins but you'd be surprised how often we come out after a less than ideal dive and my buddy will say something along the lines of 'if you didn't have those fins on I'd I have lost sight of you back there'. Wearing colours that stick out when even the smallest bit of light can highlight them can really make the difference. Yes black is 'cool' and 'techie' but its hard to see in dark environments. If needs be break out a buddy line or if all else fails, hold on to each other.