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Drift Diving Gear and Technique

Submitted by admin on 2008-12-22 | Last Modified on 2010-06-15

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Swift water divers need to think of everything, since this is one area where the forces at play dictate that no stone can be left unturned in maximizing use and maintenance of equipment. Most of these actions revolve around one basic goal: to eliminate snagging.

The forces and currents lay waste to many SPG gauges, which is why river divers fix a piece of plexiglass onto the face for protection against the abuse they sustain. Consoles are tucked in the small of the back to add to streamlining.

Carrying a diving knife on the lower leg is out of the question because it adds to the snagging risk. Suggested placement is on the inside of the left leg to a right-handed diver, with the straps tied in the opposite direction to prevent it moving in place. All knife straps should be trimmed and tucked away. A second small knife is carried on the wrist.

Primary consideration should be made to incorporating instrument cuffs to store the knives and other equipment, so that loss of the holster reduces the risk of damaging dive suits by accident. The most experienced river divers will recommend not attaching knives to the BC hose as currents may inadvertently cause accidents with the retrieval process passing too near across the diver’s throat.

Lights can also be fixed to the instrument cuffs (find pic) in order to incorporate a hands-free illumination system. 'Cotton-backed textured neoprene laboratory gloves' are worn over normal gloves for extra protection. Durable Kevlar impregnated gloves are worn standard.

Jet diving fins can too easily become impaled on object resulting in entrapment and, worse, the consecutive loss of the fin. Any holes, vents or splits will cause this and therefore need to be avoided. Mask Straps should ideally be taped and trimmed. Snorkels are generally eliminated or tucked away somewhere very practical.

The strong currents can result in a loss of the weight belt due to a lack of resilient fasteners. In certain cases, two buckles have been incorporated to counter snagging. This is being adopted more frequently in penetration and specialty diving due to its practical success. The operation however requires is experience and practice as it is high risk loosing a weight belt under water.

Nothing less than the durability of a commercial suit (dry for the colder climes) is recommended and seasoned river divers will tell you that ditching a BC while diving with a dry suit is a death wish.

    Remember that inflator hose-octopus systems will not rise to the occasion- the air flow requirements in the currents are to high for them. Aside creepers and sticks a range of helpful equipment finds its way into drift river diving. Among them are:
  • A Secchi Disk: used to measure water transparency using a device consisting of a pattern drawn onto a disk lowered into the water with a measured line. The point where the disk pattern can no longer be seen gives a good indication of the transparency.
  • Fisherman’s thermometer for temperature measurements.


    Moving with the current instead of against it sounds easy. Doing so with control is another matter. A few points should be adhered to:
  • Drag your fins along the bottom with your legs spread like a spider in intense bottom currents (see the section on fins for which types are required under these circumstances to prevent impaling and loosing them.) Keep your fins lower than your butt at all costs, otherwise you will loose control and pivot.
  • Cruising sideways down the river assist in keeping the visibility clearer because your fins won't be dragging the silt up and you will be able to face your buddy.
  • Use a river stick to control the velocity of the current and pull yourself upstream when necessary. The idea is to keep moving, or sticking and gliding. The stick forms a point of connection between the two buddies in low viz circumstances as well as if the one stops to recover something to avoid separation.
  • The inchworm is a technique used to move upstream without exerting excess energy. It's important to note however that the technique itself requires stamina. The river stick is placed firmly in the ground (where the river bottom allows) The diver then arches his back allowing the current to further pin him to the bottom, and then extending the stick, anchoring it, and reassuming the inchworm arch cycle.
  • The creeper is a device used for moving upstream in a zig zag motion. Forged from steel, its forms a tripod- like cage with a flattened top designed to anchor and navigate. Using a creeper can be strenuous however it has its advantages. It comes in especially handy for fixing the surface flag rig to in strong currents and as an anchor for the rig, in both cases relieving the divers of the burden of towing.
  • Flying is an exceptional adrenalin fix for drift divers. The name speaks for itself, referring to positioning oneself with the current and allowing it to carry you along. Considerations such as visibility need to be take into account in order to avoid the risk of colliding with objects at what can become high speed.
Click here to watch a St Claire drift dive on You Tube.


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