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Drift Diving – 10 Tips for Diving in Current

Drift Diving – 10 Tips for Diving in Current

There’s a reason some of the top scuba diving destinations in the world have stronger currents. Drift diving can lead to some impressive encounters. An abundance of algae may draw in manta rays, and your chances of spotting sharks are usually increased.

Drift diving is also a lot of fun, and with the water helping you along there’s much less effort involved in finning!

Despite this, many newer divers are intimidated by drift diving and end up missing these bucket list encounters. We’re here to demystify drift diving! Check out these top tips to learn how to handle yourself when you’re diving in current.

What is drift diving?

Drift diving means diving with the movement of the water. This could be a current or perhaps a river. A drift dive can be from shore or boat, and you will begin and end your dive in different spots. This type of diving potentially allows you to see a large area, depending on the speed of the current.

What is current?

The simplest definition for current is “water movement”. A mild current may barely affect your dive. Light to medium current could be enough to help you glide along the reef. Sometimes, currents can be incredibly strong and therefore impact how you conduct your dive.

Currents are affected by various factors. Large oceanic systems move constantly, whilst smaller local currents are affected by wind, water density, and tides.

scuba diving in currents

When scuba divers refer to a “strong current”, it is the consistent fast movement of water in one specific direction. However, currents like to keep us on our toes. They can switch direction, push upwards or downwards, or change intensity at different points in your dive. You can also come across surge, which is more of a rolling-back-and-forth motion.

Whilst this may sound intimidating, there’s no need to be daunted by diving in current. Being self-aware in your diving skills will make you better equipped for drift diving, so use these tips for confidence in currents!

1. Plan the dive and dive the plan

We’ve all heard the phrase time and time again, but we shouldn’t underestimate its importance. Knowing the plan, whether on a guided dive or diving with a buddy, is a priority for any dive. It will be especially useful if you’re anticipating current, though.

If you’re confident and experienced enough to be planning your own dives (without a guide or divemaster), timing your dive correctly will be extremely important. This will ensure you get to see the best of the dive site. In tidal areas, currents can vary hugely depending on whether the tide is high or low. Tide charts are your best friends for drift dive planning!

As tides are affected by the moon, currents will generally be stronger around a full moon and new moon.  If you’re not confident reading a tide chart or if you’re unsure whether the area is tidal, seek out advice from a local dive operation. Remember, this should be part of your dive planning anyway – you should always take an orientation dive with a local guide before diving independently in a new area.

2. Get the right gear

If you know you’ll be diving regularly in medium-strong currents, it’s worth taking that into consideration when choosing your equipment. Get yourself geared up correctly by choosing the following drift-dive specific pieces of kit.

“Tech” Fins

Some fin designs are better suited to swimming in stronger currents. Wider, flatter shapes made from more rigid materials will offer powerful fin kicks. These are often used for technical diving, so can also be called tech fins. You may want to avoid more flexible materials and split-fin styles. Here are some of our community fave current approved fins!

  1. Apeks RK3 Fins
    If there’s one powerful, current-friendly fin which our community favours, it’s the Apeks RK3. Many more technical fins struggle to offer smaller sizes which fit womens’ feet, but the RK3 are also available in a size Small.
    Shop from the UK or Europe
    Shop from the US
  2. Scubapro Jet Fins
    These are a classic when it comes to this style of fins. Jet Fins are negatively buoyant, so are often favoured by drysuit divers.
    Shop from the UK or Europe
    Shop from the US

  3. Fourth Element TECH Fins
    These are the new-kids-on-the-block when it comes to this fin style, but they’re certainly not style-over-substance! Plus Fourth Element’s TECH Fins are the most environmentally friendly of these fins, constructed from recycled materials.
    Shop from the UK or Europe
    Shop from the US


Whilst it’s a requirement on most Open Water courses to learn how to use a surface marker above water, many divers neglect to carry their own. Divers often rely on a guide to have one, but it’s especially important in current to carry your own. This is in case of the unlikely event you end up separated from your group.

A woman scuba diver is underwater in bright blue water. She is holding a large yellow inflatable tube which reads "GIRLS THAT SCUBA" in black font.
GTS staff member Lauren deploying our very own Girls that Scuba DSMB


Another incredibly important piece of kit in case you get swept away in a current is a Personal Locator Beacon. There are lots of options, but they’re not all suitable for scuba diving. Check out our guide to learn more about PLBs for diving.

3. Make the most of your guide

In parts of the world with stronger currents, you often have a divemaster with you on the dive. A guide with local knowledge should give you a strong dive briefing. This will help to ensure you know what to expect and how to handle yourself in the current.

Use your guide to your advantage! When you’re amongst a group of seemingly more experienced divers it can be tempting to nod along during the briefing. We often say that we’re more comfortable than we really are. However, having the confidence to say that you’d like a little more attention from your divemaster will make your experience much better. You’ll likely learn something new!

4. Consider a negative descent

Listen to your briefing or plan carefully with your buddy. Make sure you know how you’ll be entering the water and staying paired with your buddy on your descent. When drift diving from a boat and expecting current you may be required to do a negative descent. This can be helpful to avoid stronger currents in mid-water and reach your desired depth faster.

In a positive descent (the kind you will have learned on your Open Water course), you enter the water with a partially inflated BCD. You then fully inflate once you are in the water and meet with your group at the surface. Finally, you empty your BCD to slowly descend together.

how to dive in currents

A negative descent is slightly different. It requires you to enter the water with an empty BCD and swim down to depth as quickly as possible. This is easiest from a back roll entry. You are already in a head-down position and can easily kick downwards as soon as you’re under the surface. However, it may sometimes be done from a giant stride.

Whichever way you’re entering, get your buddy to help squeeze the air from your BCD before you jump in. Don’t be tempted to suck the air out of your inflator hose, though – that’s a quick way to get a lung infection!

The usual practice is to then meet at 5m (15 feet) before continuing your descent, but this may vary from location to location. Ensure you know where you’ll be meeting your group and keep good buddy contact. Remember to equalise frequently and keep an eye on your computer to check your depth. This is a super fun new skill to master, and can be very useful to have at your disposal.

5. Know when to end the dive

Make sure you also know how you will be ascending and ending the dive. Will the whole group end the dive together when one person reaches their reserve air? Or are there more experienced divers who can stay down together?

If you’re diving in a larger group with multiple buddy pairs, you may be able to continue the dive with your buddy, deploy your own DSMB, and wait for the boat to collect you.

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6. Check the current first

Most drift dives are completed from a boat, however, you may also come across current when diving from shore. If visibility allows, check the direction of the current before descending. This tip also applies to boat dives, but will usually be done for you by a guide if diving with one.

You can usually tell what the current is doing by looking at the marine life and topography from the surface.

  • Fish will face into the current, feeding on algae and small invertebrates brought along by the water.
  • Soft corals or seaweed will move in the same direction as the water.
  • If the fish are swimming calmly, the current is likely lighter.
  • If the fish are swimming hard and fast you may face a stronger current.

7. Consider swimming into the current

In certain situations, swimming into the current could be helpful. This is most likely if you’re shore diving in a current and need to return to the same entry when you end your dive.

If you begin your dive by swimming against the current, the current can then help push you back in your desired direction at the end of the dive. This could be useful when you have less air remaining and less energy to swim.

8. Stick to the buddy system!

If you’re diving in a larger group ensure that you know who you’re buddied with. If you’re buddied with someone new, make sure you get to know their equipment during your all-important pre-dive safety check. Pay particular attention to their releases (these can vary on wing vs jacket BCDs) and most importantly their alternate air set-up.

It should be covered in your dive briefing, but it’s always worth reviewing emergency procedures between your buddy pair as well as in the wider group. As much as we don’t want to find ourselves in these situations, you should always know your plan for an out-of-air situation or a buddy separation. You should also confirm the hand signal should you wish to abort the dive.

Maintain that strong communication through hand signals to ensure you’re both comfortable throughout the dive. Finally, ensure that your buddy contact is good. You should always be within two seconds touching distance of your buddy – and it’s easy to end up farther than that when drift diving!

9. Consider using a reef hook

Reef hooks are small metal hooks on an extendable cord used to anchor into rocks in strong current. These must be used cautiously, ensuring you avoid hooking into corals or marine life. Once you’ve hooked into somewhere appropriate, you can then clip the cord to your BCD.

Finally, add a small amount of air to float above the reef, and watch as the underwater world glides by.

diving with current
Girls that Scuba Founder Sarah hooked on in a current

Irresponsible use by some divers means reef hooks have been banned in a number of locations. Be sure to check local regulations before bringing one along on a dive. 

10. Check your gauges regularly

Keeping good general dive habits will make dives in current much easier, and regular checks are a huge part of this.

Keep a close eye on your dive computer. You may want to check it more frequently than you would on an easier dive. If you’re focusing on kicking to keep steady in a current it can be easy to forget to check your depth. You can quickly end up deeper than you intended, or suddenly find yourself with much less no-decompression time than you’ve planned.

This also applies to checking your gas. If you’re swimming hard against a current you will likely use your air much quicker than a comparable dive at the same depth with no current. Communicate your air frequently to your buddy and turn or end the dive appropriately. 

Now that you’re armed with the tools to dive in a current, where will your next drift dive adventure be? Let us know in our Facebook group, or tag us on Instagram!

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