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Old 12-06-2017, 10:37   #1
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Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

Hi - hubby and I are planning on a 5 month cruise from the Chesapeake Bay this fall and having a hard time finding info on the basics for diving off your own boat. We are experienced divers but new to cruising, so really looking forward to learning more! Are there resources you can direct us to? Looking for things such as:

How does one go about diving off their own boat? Is Abacos easier than crazy busy keys? Do Cruisers normally buddy up with each other to make sure someone is always on the boat or is it safe to leave your Rib while you go diving? How do people normally fill tanks? Dive guides / plans for DIY dive sites? What is it like (dive conditions, tips to avoid crowds, recommendations?)

Sorry if these have all been covered in prior posts, but can't seem to pull up related results on my searches.

Thanks!
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Old 12-06-2017, 11:27   #2
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

The best way, if you have enough crew, is "live boat" diving. Especially in areas with current. Two down one following in the boat. Or two down, two up and switch after the first dive. When you surface, the boat swoops in and picks you up. This can be done with the "mother ship" but is often easier from a suitable dinghy. Especially considering the sketchiness of maneuvering a keel boat around a shallow reef.

Not sure about the Keys, but there are often "no anchor" zones around many of our good dive sites. So a dingy with some range to get from the anchorage to the dive site is a good thing.

If diving from the mother ship, it makes things easier to leave a few lanyards trailing into the water, and maybe a couple of milk crates. You can deposit cameras, masks, etc into the crates, shrug out of your rig and clip it and weight belt to the lanyards. Then board with ease and haul up the gear from the deck.
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Old 12-06-2017, 13:00   #3
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

I found it super easy to join local diving schools for cheap as chips trips. They do not mind me not taking lessons as much as I pay the ride. This frees me from carrying any material. That's pretty cool. Esp. that they know local spots best.

Example of scuba school in 2012 West Indies: 5 days initiation course (2 divings each day) = USD 600. Now myself and my partner just going with the school then diving in the same spot = USD 150. This is like 10 rib rides to and fro, 2 people = USD 7.50 per person/ride. Deal.

Off the boat, we always dive from the dinghy (even when the dinghy is simply tied to the side of our mother ship). I found current is the most likely thing to give you challenges, and so it is the perfect solution to have someone in the dinghy who will pick you up, should the current take you away.

My 2c. I am not much into scuba anymore but I still love free diving.

Big hug, keep safe,
b.
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Old 12-06-2017, 13:15   #4
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

I may add that you should make sure you can climb the ladder with whatever gear you may be wearing. It is possible to climb aboard with full gear on, but it requires a lot of upper body strength. you may want to clip a line to the ladder that you can tie the BCD to and haul it up after you are on board. Still not easy but doable. Secondly, get fins with straps, not the full foot ones. Reason is that you can put the fins on your wrist so if you fall off the ladder you still have your fins with you.
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Old 12-06-2017, 13:39   #5
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

The problem you face is one every diving couple faces, diving alone with someone in the boat or diving with a buddy and no one in the boat. I choose diving with a buddy. You don't mention what kind of boat you have and that makes a difference. If you have a high free board sailboat your solution will be much different than a cat with ladders on the steps or a powerboat with a swim platform. Until you are comfortable with diving from your boat or dinghy stick to areas with low current. There are plenty of these in Florida or the Bahamas. We hang a line with a clip on it from the boat or dinghy so that we can take our tanks off in the water and get in the boat. I don't advise diving from a hard dinghy. If you like drift diving use the dinghy and a couple of 100 ft lines attached to it. I put a loop in the end and hold on, and have done 3 mile drifts in the Bahamas. If diving in a current and anchored the first thing you do is check the anchor and make sure it's not going to move, then swim up current so that you drift back to the boat when you are tired at the end of the dive. It's also a good idea to tie a float to about 100 feet of line and let it drag behind the boat in case you get swept past it. You should also carry a rescue sausage in your bc just in case you get separated from the boat. You might also consider one of the new VHF radios made for divers. I've been diving from my own boat for nearly 50 years and rarely have anyone actually in the boat. When traveling far from the boat in the dinghy I try to buddy up with another dinghy of divers in case we have a problem with the dinghy motor. A couple of years ago I bought a hookah and rarely use tanks anymore. It also solved the drift dive problem as we leave the hookah in the dinghy and are attached to it by our 100ft air lines.

Lastly, if you are diving from an inflatable boat, you should master the backflip entry technique. It allows you to board without a ladder or any other boarding device. There are you tube videos showing how to do it. it's probably a good technique to learn even if you don't dive since it allows you to reboard your dinghy should you get tossed overboard. It looks like it might be difficult but is actually quite easy. I'm 65, 6 feet tall and 230 lbs (Ok not exactly my youthful physique) and I can do it, so most people should be able to manage it.
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Old 12-06-2017, 14:16   #6
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

Even though i have a complete scuba outfit onboard, usually I only use a hookah setup with 100ft of hose so I don't get into trouble. My wife doesn't dive, so she manages the mothership or dinghy. Otherwise, it's joining organised dives for me with safety in numbers.
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Old 12-06-2017, 14:16   #7
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

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Originally Posted by bearkeley View Post
Hi - hubby and I are planning on a 5 month cruise from the Chesapeake Bay this fall and having a hard time finding info on the basics for diving off your own boat. We are experienced divers but new to cruising, so really looking forward to learning more! Are there resources you can direct us to? Looking for things such as:

How does one go about diving off their own boat? Is Abacos easier than crazy busy keys? Do Cruisers normally buddy up with each other to make sure someone is always on the boat or is it safe to leave your Rib while you go diving? How do people normally fill tanks? Dive guides / plans for DIY dive sites? What is it like (dive conditions, tips to avoid crowds, recommendations?)

Sorry if these have all been covered in prior posts, but can't seem to pull up related results on my searches.

Thanks!
The answer to a lot of your questions is dependent on where you are. There is a big difference between the Keys and the Bahamas. It is cheap, fast and easy to get tanks filled in the Keys and there are many parks with balls you can (and often are required to) use when diving in the Keys; not so much so in the Bahamas, but there are a few. There are places in the Bahamas where you can fill tanks but keep in mind there are over 700 islands and over 2,000 cays in the Bahamas and once you get away from maybe 10-20 larger towns you may not be able to fill your tanks, and it may be a days trip to a full up and a days trip back.

It would help to know what type of boat you have and to some extent your age/level of physical fitness. Some boats have ladders/whatever that makes exit/entry easy while others not so much so. I have sugar scoops that make entry easy and a ladder between the hulls of my cat that makes exit easy. I have a nice rope ladder setup on my inflatable that I can climb up but I have been with folks who are simply not strong enough to do that.

I sorta agree with the idea that in the Keys maybe 15 days a month have good vis while in the Bahamas it is more like 20 days a month. But if you go West of Key West it gets closer to the Bahamas good vis frequency; and it is 70 miles from Key West to DT with many good dive sites. The Bahamas has way too many places to dive to list.

You mention the Abacos and leaving in the fall. Thing is the Abacos are in the Northen Bahamas and in the fall and winter cold fronts can bring strong winds that reduce vis not to mention chilly water. The fronts seldom get as far South as say Georgetown, a place that can get crowded in season. If you want to avoid crowds I would suggest the Jumentos.

There are several guided dives with sharks in Bimini and Nassau that get good reviews; but some folks gripe about feeding sharks. There are so many places to dive I have not mentioned and no doubt others I have not been to that others may mention. You won't be able to do them all, in fact you will not scratch the surface. Just remember the idea is to have fun and don't try to do too much.
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Old 12-06-2017, 14:23   #8
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

I assume you're asking about diving off of an unattended boat.


I have about 2000 dives off my own boat in northern CA.* My buddies and I always made it back, thank god.


I strongly recommend getting a current line.* We used the yellow nylon floaty stuff.* Attach something that floats at the end that you can see from the surface.


Always always always go down the anchor line and start your dive from there. *if the viz is not so good and we wanted to venture off more often than not, one of us used a dive reel (you need to know how to use one of these.They seem simple but getting them tangled can kill you).* We drop the reel, take a compass heading and go out and back to the reel line then back to the anchor and up the line.


We always knew where the boat was and had something to grab on to if we needed it.


One time we did a 170 ft dive on a weekday.* We started the dive with zero current or wind.* At the end of the dive we saw that the line had a very heavy curve to it. *


The current kicked up to 3+ kts was my guess and almost took my mask off many times.


We got to the surface and luckily the first guy made it to the ladder at the back of the boat...and then the second one did as well..


We still had the 300ft current line but it wasn't necessary that day.


You're getting great advice in this thread.* All great points.


The #1 rule when diving off my boat was that everyone always gets back on the boat.

Good luck to you guys!

-rugger
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Old 12-06-2017, 20:56   #9
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

Wow - definitely a lot of very helpful info - thank you! Most of our dives have been off of boats but with dive ops. Almost always had a guide (other than shore dives we have done on our own) and always someone on the boat. Even had someone help me pull up my gear (I weigh less than a hundred pounds with a bad back so always prefer to take off my gear in the water).

We are fortunate enough to be able to do this before we turn 50, so still physically active, but as divers, we want to do everything the easy way, right, so please keep the tips coming!

We have a small 27ft trawler with a swim platform, so a giant stride wouldn't be a problem. Although we only draw 2 1/2 ft, I'd probably prefer to dive off the dinghy....especially if we can tow it along with us, like many of you seem to have done! We have researched dingys a lot line but now need to try a few out. Given comments here, it really seems like an investment in a hard bottom rib makes sense (planing, distance travel, stability and being able to practice those interesting back flips!)

Oh - we were concerned about the water temps in the Abacos, but as first time Cruisers, seems as though Abacos may be the only place we can go with our trawler...other parts of the Bahamas may be too much of a crossing.
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Old 12-06-2017, 22:44   #10
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

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Originally Posted by bearkeley View Post
SNIP
Oh - we were concerned about the water temps in the Abacos, but as first time Cruisers, seems as though Abacos may be the only place we can go with our trawler...other parts of the Bahamas may be too much of a crossing.
Not sure why you pick the Abacos. The most common route is leaving around Miami and heading to Bimini, not even a 50nm crossing. Next stop is some place in the Berrys or Morgan's Bluff to the South or up to Grand Bahama to the North. All these passages are around 75nm but if you go to Grand Bahama you have to cross deep water from the Bahama Bank to the Little Bahama Bank. It is a little closer from places North of Miami to Grand Bahama but you are hitting places with heavy commercial shipping (compared to the rest of the Bahamas) and lots of tourist development. Not a lot of cruisers go to Grand Bahama Island. Not a lot on the North Coast of Grand Bahama and lots of shallow water. More places on the South Coast but it can be a little longer trip to get to Little Abaco. Problem is in the fall you will get the full fury of any cold front that hits and it is common to be in port for 10 days waiting for a weather window.

It is not just the water temp but the wind and waves associated with the fronts that make even some protected anchorages uncomfortable. If you are South of the Little Bahama Bank the islands themselves and shallow water reduces the strength of the fronts.

Not saying I don't like the Abacos, just that conventional wisdom is the time to go there is later in the season when things get warmer in the South Bahamas. Get on Active Captain and plan out various routes and compare crossing distances.

As an aside you may want to spend some time in the Keys and take a shake down cruise to the Dry Tortugas. It is a real passage that requires basic nav skills but is still in the US with Tow BoatUS/Sea Tow coverage and for parts of the trip you will even have cell phone coverage. There are also lots of good dives there. No question Dry Tortugas should be on your bucket list and a cruise there will give you a chance to test out your boat, dive arrangements, and have a lot of fun while gaining good experience. One of the biggest shocks some folks have is the need for very good ground tackle. If you find you need to upgrade yours it will be a lot easier in the Keys than in the Bahamas. This is just one of the things a shake down cruise will let you get up to speed on.
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Old 12-06-2017, 22:52   #11
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

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I found it super easy to join local diving schools for cheap as chips trips. They do not mind me not taking lessons as much as I pay the ride. This frees me from carrying any material. That's pretty cool. Esp. that they know local spots best.

Example of scuba school in 2012 West Indies: 5 days initiation course (2 divings each day) = USD 600. Now myself and my partner just going with the school then diving in the same spot = USD 150. This is like 10 rib rides to and fro, 2 people = USD 7.50 per person/ride. Deal.

Off the boat, we always dive from the dinghy (even when the dinghy is simply tied to the side of our mother ship). I found current is the most likely thing to give you challenges, and so it is the perfect solution to have someone in the dinghy who will pick you up, should the current take you away.

My 2c. I am not much into scuba anymore but I still love free diving.

Big hug, keep safe,
b.
This works well, if the dive sites are close to shore/civilization. In more remote places, like small Polynesian islands, etc, finding a dive operator/someone with a compressor is more difficult.
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Old 13-06-2017, 12:30   #12
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

Here is another thought. Leave the tanks at home. The Bahamas have excellent shallow diving and most of your reef dives will be in less than 20 feet. Besides you loose most of the color after 40' anyway. I gave up tanks over 30 years ago. I'll be in the water a good half hour before the tank divers get wet. You do not say what type of dinghy you have but I'm guessing a small inflatable. Try putting all your gear in it and see how much room you have left. If you plan on diving off the mother ship you sound to inexperienced to be poking around the outer reefs with your home. Just a few suggestions. PS I live here!
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Old 13-06-2017, 12:49   #13
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

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Here is another thought. Leave the tanks at home. The Bahamas have excellent shallow diving and most of your reef dives will be in less than 20 feet. Besides you loose most of the color after 40' anyway. I gave up tanks over 30 years ago. I'll be in the water a good half hour before the tank divers get wet. You do not say what type of dinghy you have but I'm guessing a small inflatable. Try putting all your gear in it and see how much room you have left. If you plan on diving off the mother ship you sound to inexperienced to be poking around the outer reefs with your home. Just a few suggestions. PS I live here!
We haven't bought the dinghy yet, but planning for a small (under 9ft) hard bottom superlight rib given our limitations with a 27ft boat. Assuming hard bottom is best given our interests and feedback from this group. So are you suggesting we snorkel / free dive or hookah?
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Old 18-06-2017, 05:32   #14
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

My wife and I have logged in excess of 5000 dives from a variety of boats, both power and sail.

We always dive together and often leave the mother ship or dinghy unattended. There are three major concerns when diving this way: (1) making sure the boat stays put (2) making it back to the boat and (3) making sure you can get back on board.

#1: Be meticulous in anchoring, allowing for conditions that might change while you’re underwater. Put out more scope than you think is necessary. Set the anchor well. Be CERTAIN that your anchor rode is attached to at least two different places on your boat. Start your dive going down the anchor line, checking all key elements of your ground tackle as you do. When you reach the bottom, confirm that your anchor is firmly and correctly set. Take a moment to watch the boat’s action as it moves on the swell and confirm that you have set out enough scope.

If you’re tying off to a mooring ball, inspect the painter, the down line, the hardware attaching the down line to the mooring pin and the mooring pin itself. Mooring pins do fail. So do bolts embedded in heavy blocks of concrete.

#2: Before suiting up, hang a weighted line over the side and check for current strength and direction. Throw a tag line out from the down current side of your boat that is as long as conditions allow. Attach a boat fender or the dinghy to the tag line to keep it afloat and visible. If the tag line is really long put multiple floats along it to keep another boat from getting entangled. On the bottom, take a depth reading at the anchor and note the surrounding topography. Grab a handful of sand and check the current on the bottom. It’s not always the same as the surface current. Knowing details about where you anchored will help you find it on the way back. During the dive, look behind you periodically, noting the topography. As much as possible dive up current from your boat. Dive the “rule of thirds”: 1/3 of your air out, 1/3 back and 1/3 in reserve. The last thing you want is to find yourself down current from the boat running out of air.

#3: Your boat has a swim platform. Great. When you reach it, take your gear off, hang it from the tag line and inflate the BC enough to keep it floating. Keep your weight belt on if it’s separate from your rig. Get out of the water. Help your buddy out of their gear and onto the boat. Retrieve your gear. I am not an advocate of climbing out of the water with all your gear on unless you have one honking big, strong commercial dive boat ladder. Sooner or later you’ll slip, or the ladder will break, and you’ll be in the water, drifting away from the boat with no fins and some part of your body in pain and maybe bleeding. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

If you dive from the dinghy rather than the mother ship, the biggest difficulty will not be getting back into the dinghy. It will be gearing up in the dinghy. I highly recommend becoming adept at putting your gear on in the water. One diver goes in without their gear and hangs onto the dinghy. The other diver holds their buddy’s gear over the side and helps them into it. It’s now much easier for the diver in the boat to get into their gear.

As your boat only draws 2 ½ feet, I think you’ll be able to do the vast majority of your diving from the trawler. Have at least two reliable depth indicators. Make sure they show depth under the keel not depth of the water. You have to anchor the mother ship somewhere if you dive from the dinghy. Why not anchor over or near the dive site and leave the dinghy as your tag line float? Also the dinghy can be hard to see if you come to the surface far away, especially in low light or with the sun in your face. The dinghy is also very small. Which means the target you’re returning to is small and much easier to drift past.

Hope this helps. Have a great adventure. Come home safe.
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Old 18-06-2017, 05:41   #15
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Re: Scuba diving for first time cruiser - Keys & Abacos

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Originally Posted by Nani Kai View Post
My wife and I have logged in excess of 5000 dives from a variety of boats, both power and sail.

We always dive together and often leave the mother ship or dinghy unattended. There are three major concerns when diving this way: (1) making sure the boat stays put (2) making it back to the boat and (3) making sure you can get back on board.

#1: Be meticulous in anchoring, allowing for conditions that might change while you’re underwater. Put out more scope than you think is necessary. Set the anchor well. Be CERTAIN that your anchor rode is attached to at least two different places on your boat. Start your dive going down the anchor line, checking all key elements of your ground tackle as you do. When you reach the bottom, confirm that your anchor is firmly and correctly set. Take a moment to watch the boat’s action as it moves on the swell and confirm that you have set out enough scope.

If you’re tying off to a mooring ball, inspect the painter, the down line, the hardware attaching the down line to the mooring pin and the mooring pin itself. Mooring pins do fail. So do bolts embedded in heavy blocks of concrete.

#2: Before suiting up, hang a weighted line over the side and check for current strength and direction. Throw a tag line out from the down current side of your boat that is as long as conditions allow. Attach a boat fender or the dinghy to the tag line to keep it afloat and visible. If the tag line is really long put multiple floats along it to keep another boat from getting entangled. On the bottom, take a depth reading at the anchor and note the surrounding topography. Grab a handful of sand and check the current on the bottom. It’s not always the same as the surface current. Knowing details about where you anchored will help you find it on the way back. During the dive, look behind you periodically, noting the topography. As much as possible dive up current from your boat. Dive the “rule of thirds”: 1/3 of your air out, 1/3 back and 1/3 in reserve. The last thing you want is to find yourself down current from the boat running out of air.

#3: Your boat has a swim platform. Great. When you reach it, take your gear off, hang it from the tag line and inflate the BC enough to keep it floating. Keep your weight belt on if it’s separate from your rig. Get out of the water. Help your buddy out of their gear and onto the boat. Retrieve your gear. I am not an advocate of climbing out of the water with all your gear on unless you have one honking big, strong commercial dive boat ladder. Sooner or later you’ll slip, or the ladder will break, and you’ll be in the water, drifting away from the boat with no fins and some part of your body in pain and maybe bleeding. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

If you dive from the dinghy rather than the mother ship, the biggest difficulty will not be getting back into the dinghy. It will be gearing up in the dinghy. I highly recommend becoming adept at putting your gear on in the water. One diver goes in without their gear and hangs onto the dinghy. The other diver holds their buddy’s gear over the side and helps them into it. It’s now much easier for the diver in the boat to get into their gear.

As your boat only draws 2 ½ feet, I think you’ll be able to do the vast majority of your diving from the trawler. Have at least two reliable depth indicators. Make sure they show depth under the keel not depth of the water. You have to anchor the mother ship somewhere if you dive from the dinghy. Why not anchor over or near the dive site and leave the dinghy as your tag line float? Also the dinghy can be hard to see if you come to the surface far away, especially in low light or with the sun in your face. The dinghy is also very small. Which means the target you’re returning to is small and much easier to drift past.

Hope this helps. Have a great adventure. Come home safe.
Nani - very helpful. We have done a lot of dives off of boats and what you outlined makes perfect sense....we just never had to think about all of these details before because we had the dive ops handling all of these! We definitely will plan to reread this post over and over as we get set up for our adventure! Thanks!
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