Shipwrecks have always been appealing to divers. We see these dives as special, exciting, and more challenging than other dives we make. Offering a degree of mystery, often with a haunting backstory, sunken ships are some of the world’s best diving destinations.
There’s something alluring and fascinating about hidden treasures that lie in their rusty bellies that attract scuba divers to ship wrecks. This is what makes the PADI Wreck Specialty course one of the most popular diving courses for certified divers to enroll on. The course teaches students how to enter, explore and exit wrecks in a safe manner whilst at the same time giving you the skills to get the most enjoyment out of the dive.
Wreck diving does require more focus and planning than a standard dive due to the increase in potential hazards that undertaking such a dive entails.
So to ensure that the dive is completed safely, here are a few tips for you to consider when taking your next wreck dive.
Check into the history of the shipwreck
Do some research and familiarise yourself with the physical shape and layout of the shipwreck as well as its history. This will help with your dive plan, and allow you to more easily navigate your dive. Educate yourself on specific features and points of interests that will give you a better appreciation of the dive site. Try to find a map of the wreck. This will certainly help with your plan and ensure everyone in your dive team is on the same page.
You can gain knowledge by asking a local PADI Professional for advice on the dive and information on the ship or by researching online. Educating yourself on the ships history, along with its story behind it will help bring the ship to life, sparking your interest and imagination.
The Importance of having a dive plan
Two important factors must form part of your wreck dive planning: the no decompression limit (NDL, maximum allowed time at a certain depth) and your available air supply. You can manage both using the rule of thirds. Use a third of your available time limit (NDL) or air, whichever comes first, to swim away from your starting point, another third to return to the starting point and the remaining third of your supply for delays or possible emergencies.
If you get back to the starting point and still have enough time, you can keep exploring a while longer but keep an eye on the mooring line.
Make sure you have proper dive equipment
Wreck dives require specific equipment, some of which will help you to solve specific problems if they were to occur. You will require a clean slate to map the ship (its layout, structural features, penetration points), this is especially key if you have very limited knowledge of the wreck before you descend as you can use your map to plan future dives.
Bring along a couple of torches (one to be used as a spare) these will be required to light up the dark corners of a wreck as you move through with the second torch acting as a reserve if the first was to fail. The use of a reel and line is essential for entering the wreck to mark your path and be able to find your exit point easily when you decide to turn the dive. Bring a cutting tool in the event you experience an entanglement and need to cut yourself free.
Other specialised equipment to consider would include an extra tank of air, either a pony bottle or even stage an extra tank outside the wreck at your entry /exit point. This will give you an extra air supply to help you end the dive safely in the event you are behind time when exiting the wreck
Enhance your scuba skills
Ensure your buoyancy and trim is top notch before ever penetrating a wreck; this is simply done by practice, practice, practice. The more you dive the better you will become or you could consider taking the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course prior to enrolling on a wreck course. The Peak performance buoyancy course will help give you skills, tips and tricks to help improve your diving over time.
Once inside changing and limiting the amount of finning you do will lower the risk of a silt out which would cause a drop in visibility. Adapting your finning style to small frog kicks works well and be sure to move slowly and avoid any sudden movements once inside as this will once again help limit the chance of a silt out occurring.
Know your limits
Wreck diving can be challenging so you should always stay within your limits and comfort zone, while also being respectful of your dive buddy feelings. Make sure you honestly assess yourself before joining any dive and if you don’t feel 100% do not be afraid to opt out of the dive. You can then seek additional training and gain more experience before taking the dive in the future.
Do not become complacent
Keeping your self-discipline on an advanced dive is very important especially for entering a wreck within an overhead environment. A well-disciplined plan should help to focus you and help guard against complacency. Be sure to not take short cuts or look to over reach your capabilities on the dive always look to use your best judgement when planning a dive or in a dive situation.
Being disciplined and diving within your level of training will ensure a safe dive
Part of your dive planning is to ensure you and your buddy cover emergency measures in the unlikely event something were to go wrong. You may accidentally exceed your no-decompression limit on a wreck dive, so plan ahead for a possible emergency decompression stop and make sure you have extra air supply (set up a drop tank for example).
Make sure you have 100% oxygen available on the dive boat and a way to call EMS.
If diving on wrecks deeper than 18m it will be best to dive on Enriched Air Nitrox as to extend your bottom time and reduce the risk of having a decompression dive.
Wrecks Around Koh Tao
Here on Koh Tao we have a few shipwrecks that recreational divers are able to enjoy and dive on, from big old navy ships to wooden fishing boats.
The HTMS Sattakut, an ex-Thai navy boat that was given to the island was sunk in June 2011 and is now the most visited wreck around the island. Just south of Hin Pee Wee, on the sandy bottom 30 meters below the surface, lays the sunken ship and the top of the wreck reaches 18 meters, a perfect depth for a PADI advanced open water course. Two canons were left on the wreck, sometimes inhabited by small scorpion fish. Many penetration points can be found around the hull, the main corridor, at a depth of 24 meters, is perfect for a wreck specialty.
Our new 2017 addition to Crystal’s own dive site Junkyard is the wreck of Crystal 5, a wooden boat that suffered heavy rainfall and that is now resting south-west of the ECO dive site. The wreck is very new, but underwater life will soon enough claim it as its own.
In 2010, a huge fundraiser was organised to buy the MV trident and sink it instead of having it simply destroyed. The ship now lies close to Shark Island. Too deep for open water diving, it’s a great dive site for deep and tech diving.
Enriching your Wreck Diving Experience
As a recreational diver you can have more fun and get more from your wreck dives by combining the PADI Wreck specialty with the Enriched Air Nitrox diver course.
It’s also worth considering taking the Wreck Adventure dive as a part of your Advanced Open Water Course or the Adventure Diver Course as these can credit towards dive 1 of your Wreck Specialty course. If you are working towards the highest level of recreational diving, Master Scuba Diver, then the PADI Wreck Specialty counts as one of the 5 specialties.