What is Night Diving?
A significant hint is in the name itself.
‘Night diving’ is when you embark on a scuba or snorkeling trip when there’s little to no ambient light.
A night dive might not actually need to occur at night – the term and concept encompass all diving trips where lighting would be an issue.
Types of Night Dives
Let’s take a look at a few different types of night diving:
Many scuba divers feel that diving as the sun sets is the most relaxing type of dive.
It’s a great introduction for new divers into the world of night diving because you can start during the day, which most people will be more comfortable with, and then slowly transition into the dark.
During the day many types of creatures hide from predators but as soon as it gets darker, they come to life – combining with the change of the water’s color to provide you with a vivid and profound experience.
Speaking of memorable experiences, surfacing to witness a setting sun can also be part of the dusk diving magic.
Diving at dusk is also a way to ensure you’re competent enough to apply for a PADI Night Diver Course, which includes learning to communicate, diving with a flashlight, specialist navigation techniques, and mastering night diving safety.
If you're a first time night diver, please note:
Cave diving is not for the inexperienced.
Let’s try that again, with more emphasis.
Cave diving is NOT for the inexperienced.
Cave diving offers a more extreme version of underwater diving that provides unique challenges, such as limited visibility, navigating small spaces, and generally having nerves of steel.
Cavers, the term used for cave divers, are a bit like explorers. To be a caver you need to be an individual who’s not prone to panic, can problem solve during pressured situations, and lives for adventure.
If you’re the type of person who wouldn’t let fear stop them from rappelling 1000 feet into an air cave, only to grab a rebreather to explore new caverns, as Bill Stone did, then you might be one of the rare breeds who might thrive in the world of cave diving. Bill Stone’s TED talk on cave diving:
Diving in Very Murky or Limited Visibility Water
While we all hope for crystal clear water, sometimes you need to take the plunge into murky waters. Murky water can be caused by several factors; from turbulence in water currents, runoff from mountainous areas mudding the waters, or kicked up sediment.
Visibility conditions can change at the drop of a hat.
(That doesn’t mean you should bring a hat)
For some, it’s a conscious decision to dive in these less than ideal conditions, such as fresh water recovery divers. It’s advisable to double check equipment before heading out in murky conditions, and if for any reason you’re uncomfortable with going ahead, rather don’t.
Deep Diving Along a Cliff Under an Overhang
Swimming alongside a coral wall is a memorizing experience. With sharp drop-offs and overhangs, lighting can become a problem very quickly. Also, you need to beware of your depth gauge as well as the direction of currents.
Deep diving is an experience bound to deliver spectacular vistas and loads of marine life.
So, when you think about it – a night dive might not even need to occur at night.
Why Go Night Diving?
A big question for a simple answer: it’s a totally different experience. Here are just a few of the main reasons why scuba diving at night should be on your radar.
Seeing Animals Which Shy Away From Daylight
During a night dive, marine life and nocturnal animals come out in force.
This changing of the guard transforms the underwater landscape, proving a completely new visual experience.
Out of the inky depths, you will see creatures venturing from deeper waters to shallower waters to feed, like tasty zooplankton in the shallows feeding on microscopic algae that need sunlight to grow. These little animals also emit bioluminescence, which creates a stunning ceiling of lights above the divers’ heads.
Diving at night allows the diver a front seat view of the food chain in action. Sharks start their hunting, while octopuses, lobsters, and squids venture out from their hiding spots in the reef.
Manta rays are another highlight that you’ll be thankful to witness. Of course, their appearance is heavily dependent on where you’re diving, but in areas like Makako Bay, they’re regular visitors to the buffet of plankton.
But not everything that ventures out at night is on the hunt; you’ll be able to find species’ performing mating rituals after dusk, while certain corals will release spawn.
Another benefit to the night dive comes from your dive lights, which will attract curious animals - you don't have to find them - they'll find you.
Some of the more curious creatures include krill, shrimp, jellyfish, and tentacled squid, to name just a few.
I think it’s fair to say that while you can dive at a spot many times during the day, try the same spot at night and you’re in for a completely different experience.
To View Daytime Sleepers
While some nocturnal animals become more active at night, the daytimers will take a break under ledges. That’s right; fish do sleep, they just don’t have eyelids like mammals.
When they are sleeping, they experience periods of inactivity, and slow down. Some parrotfish secrete a mucus cocoon at night before going to bed. This layer acts as an early warning system against predators, as well as covering their scent.
Seeing Animals That Give Off Light Through Bioluminescence
As a night-time diver, you’ll also be greeted by creatures that emit their own light – bioluminescent animals.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, scientists estimate that bioluminescence exists in 90% of animals living in the open ocean, in waters below 165 ft.
That’s a lot of creatures with their lights on!
But it does mean if you want to see organically generated light, it’s an experience reserved for those who night dive.
One of most stunning bioluminescence experiences can be seen when you touch a sea pansy. Found in the Western Atlantic, they inhabit the shallows feeding on plankton and when touched or stroked they emit beautiful waves of light.
Certain sea fan species have parasitic coral polyps that also glow when stroked.
So far, there are 15 000 known species of fish that luminesce, and this list is constantly growing.
Other creatures that make the list of bioluminescent organisms are:
- Sea stars
And sharks (yes, sharks)
There are many reasons why these creatures evolved this ability – everything from mating to protection, warning, and feeding.
Be warned though, when conditions are right, small, red, single-celled dinoflagellates bloom in dense layers at the surface. They become poisonous when they bloom and can make fish, marine mammals, and people sick when eaten.
However, don’t let this dampen the wonderful night diving experience of swimming through a cloud of dinoflagellates. It’s truly phenomenal to see them light up and glow blue when your fellow divers swim past.
To Observe Phosphorescence Under UV Light
Just like a cat’s eye on the road, there is life under the waves that are phosphorescent when exposed to UV light. These include corals, worms, sponges, and even deep-dwelling fish.
While this can easily be seen in a fish tank, experiencing on it on dive is slightly more impressive than pressing your face against a fish tank. It becomes a truly immersive experience.
The evolutionary reasons for phosphorescence are similar to those of bioluminescence, the difference being that it requires an external source of light to activate the effect.
Hunting Game Animals At Night
Hunters of the night can easily become the prey. For example, lobsters scavenge during night hours and are bottom feeders - which means they’re in the open.
Catching them at night also means you can utilize your torch to stun them and grab them with your hands (which is required by law).
As always, play by the rules when bagging them. Depending on which state you’re in you may require a license, and you should only fish for them during the fishing season, normally the winter months, as they breed during spring and summer.
Also, there will be limits on the size and quantity you’re permitted to remove. These rules aren’t in place to ruin your night hunt – they are there to ensure that the lobster population doesn’t become overfished.
To Swim with Large Creatures
While we’re talking about predators, larger animals are often attracted to light sources. Animals such as manta rays, squids, and sharks!
Manta rays are known to follow their food source, plankton, which is attracted to light. Most night diving professionals say that this is a fairly regular occurrence in the dark at locations like Makako Bay.
Squids are amongst the most intelligent invertebrates and some, such as the Humboldt squid, hunt cooperatively, spinning up from the depths at night coordinating their movements with others, vertically and horizontally.
Spotting these creatures from the depths will mean diving near a marine abyss, which requires a boat. One such spot is the Black Water diving experience in Palau.
Also, certain species have unique camouflage and bioluminescent emitting lights.
Another night dweller is the nocturnal tiger shark. The tiger shark is an omnivore and will come inshore at night to feed, retreating to rest during the day. On overcast days it will feed close to the surface.
The ocean comes to life at night as the world’s largest migration takes place, so who knows what else will crash the party.
To Photograph Underwater
Capturing amazing underwater sights on camera at night means more vivid colors and more likes when you post your shots on social media!
This is because, during daytime dives, sunlight absorbs and steals color from the water.
Make sure that you plan your lighting when scuba diving at night, as you’re exploring an environment that is a dark void. You will need to bring along a spotting light that will help you locate marine life.
If you are planning to do some flash photography, you might want to bring along a strobe light.
Strobe lights are used for “flash photography”. Maybe change to “light” or “spotting light”.
A focus light is an important tool for night time photography to create ambient light, which is critical to the camera and its ability to focus on a subject. Make sure not to point your light directly at the targeted marine life.
If you plan ahead you could also bring along a UV light to capture phosphorescent creatures and make your friends eternally jealous.
To Experience Zen
After taking the first step into this new foreign world there’s honestly nothing more relaxing than just floating in the void.
Breathing slows and it feels like time has stopped. The worries and stresses of the world float away – at least for awhile. Trust me, even the relaxation of a world-class spa can’t compare to this.
The perfect remedy for the 9-5 job.
Where to Night Dive? The Best Dive Sites.
If you’ve been won over by the idea of exploring the underwater world by night diving, you’ll be wondering where to find the best dive site.
Firstly, you’ll need to complete a specialty course that allows for night diving trips.
After that I recommend that before selecting a location, rather determine the time you embark.
Start with a diving session at dusk rather than in the middle of the night. This will help you ease into the world of night diving.
From a Commercial Dive Boat
As this is a specialist skill, you will need to be joined by other qualified individuals. After all, you can’t just head off into the darkness on your own. Well, you can – but we don’t advise it.
To get the full experience you might want to considering staying on-board a night diving boat for a while. By the end of that experience you’ll be supremely comfortable with the experience.
Keep it up and who knows - with a commercial certificate you’ll be qualified to explore wrecks, weld underwater and maybe even start to earn a living from your love of the sea.
From a Private Motor or Sail Boat
If you are night diving qualified but not keen to give up your day job just yet, and the spot you want to explore is difficult to reach, you might need to rent your own transportation.
Remember that you’ll need to recruit a skipper to man the helm while night diving. Even though you hired them, on the sea they are the boss. Always follow the instructions of the crew when aboard a boat.
Everyone is assigned a spot to store their diving equipment, so keep it tidy and remember to batten the hatches when embarking on the journey to the dive spot. And make your presence known – this is always true but doubly important when diving at night.
If your dive spot is reachable from the shore, there are a number of things to remember.
First, you’ll need to redefine what a night dive is. With the setting sun dipping beneath the horizon, less light is able to penetrate the water’s surface.
So, while it may be bright above the surface, it’s dark beneath.
Most night dives tend to be in shallow waters as divers want to embark from as close to their chosen spot as possible.
Also, as a rule of thumb, you’ll be going slowly and hopefully, in a familiar area.
In Clear Tropical Waters
As we’ve said before, diving in the dark means less visibility and more “opportunities” for mistakes. Tropical waters are beautiful but you might encounter coral reefs, so take it slow and remember to shine your light at the coral not the fish.
If you can keep that in mind, you’ll find that tropical water diving is an easy experience and most animals should come to you without much hassle.
Cold, Limited Visibility Shore Diving
If you’re wanting to explore something other than the cliché beautiful coral reefs, venturing out into a cold environment from the shore could be for you.
Expect to explore kelp forests and cold coral reefs.
When venturing into colder waters you also need to remember to pack additional equipment such as, dry bags, booties, and dry warm clothing after the dive. Also, you might want someone to be on the shore to watch your equipment and to mark where you embarked from with a light.
In Grottos and Caves
As mentioned earlier, cave diving is arguably the most nerve-racking environment to explore.
Remember to stay calm. A flustered diver is one who makes mistakes. Also, in confined spaces, you’re bound to spook a few creatures - so if you are prone to flinching in scary movies this might not be for you.
In the Open Ocean
There is nothing like staring into the vastness of the open ocean, and at night it’s truly memorizing.
With larger spaces comes more opportunities to see larger creatures.
At the end of the day whatever venue you choose, just make sure you’re comfortable you’re your surroundings are a fit for your abilities and experience.
Does Night Diving Require Special Training?
By now you should be aware that scuba diving during the night is not beginners. If you want to prepare for the pleasures of the night dive, here’s what you need to do:
Open Water Training
As with any scuba diving experience, you require an Open Water Certificate from PADI or NAUI.
But before you go jumping into the water after nightfall, you will need some additional qualifications.
Special Night Diving Certification
With this course you will be taught how to handle lighting equipment and communication techniques. As well as entering, exiting, and navigating in the dark.
You will also be taught about how to identify plants and animals and get lessons in how their behavior changes at night.
There are loads of online training videos. After all, there’s not much you can’t find on the internet.
It’s always a good idea to read as much as possible before venturing into a new world.
You’ve found this guide so congrats, you’re already off to a good start!
Resort Classes and Briefings
If you happen to be holidaying in the tropics, certain resorts will offer night time diving packages.
In the realm of night diving, venturing out in crystal clear tropical waters is safer than most other destinations. But as always, you need to be shown the ropes before you go in.
Specialized Cave Diving and Training
This is a highly dangerous environment to explore and individuals do need to be trained.
If you are looking to explore underwater caves, you’ll be required to prove that you’ve logged at least 20 dives and completed a Cavern Diving Certificate.
Compass Navigation And Other Skills
Normally, during a daytime dive you can easily navigate by eye-sight. But when visibility is low you will not only need lights but also must be able to use a compass to navigate around the dark waters.
As mentioned, you will also need to be able to communicate via hand signals and be able to use other gauges on your diving rig.
Night Diving Tips
While night diving is exciting, it can be a daunting activity. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:
- If at any stage, you feel uncomfortable you should pull out. Whether it’s due to a lack of training, bad weather conditions, or water conditions, an unconfident diver is always a liability to the team.
- Never attempt to night dive if you’ve consumed alcohol or taken recreational drugs, or other chemical substances that will impair your decision-making abilities.
- Always go with a group of divers who can look out for each other.
- Don’t dive in military-controlled zones. While the reefs will be undisturbed, it is a huge risk and illegal.
- If you’re planning on fishing for game without the proper permits - don’t. It’s illegal, immoral and will land you in hot water.
- Don’t go diving at night from an unmanned boat - even if it’s tethered to your arm.
- Cave diving takes training. Don’t embark on a cave diving expedition if you’re not trained.
- If a decompression situation occurs without air, know that this is a given in most situations, it’s just amplified in the low light conditions.
- Lacking local knowledge can be dangerous. Not knowing where dangerous currents or animals are can easily lead to a bad situation quickly.
- Always make sure you have a dive knife on you - read our Guide to Diving Knives to learn more.
- And finally, if your lights aren’t charged properly, turn around. It’s very dangerous to attempt a night dive without the right lighting.
What Extra Equipment Will You Need During a Night Dive?
It should go without saying, but you’ll need lights when diving at low light conditions. There are three lights you will need.
A main light that has a powerful beam, something around the 1,100 lumens and a long battery life, as being left in the (literal) dark is not wise.
Those who are not prepared are preparing to fail. Make sure to pack a second, smaller back-up light. It doesn’t need to be as bright as the main light.
The third light should be a signal light that flashes. This works as a beacon on the water for boats to know where you are.
As mentioned before, certain phosphorescent animals beneath the waves respond to UV light. If you want to see them, you’ll also need to take a waterproof UV light with you.
Usually, during daytime seeing your diving gauges is easy, but if you’re on a nighttime dive, you will need instruments that can be read in the dark.
And while it is unlikely, a radio signal beacon is useful for emergencies such as being lost or swept away in a current.
Most importantly, you must ensure that all the lighting equipment is fully charged or stocked with fresh batteries before setting off on a night dive.
Let’s take a closer look at some dive lights you could use.
The Best Night Dive Lights
At Underwater Kinetics we’re as passionate about lights as we are diving. For five decades we have designed and produced some of the most reliable and revolutionary dive lights in the world.
Whether you’re just starting out or already an experienced night diving pro, these are the lights we would recommend.
For main light options, choose from our 4 brightest lights. The C4 and C8 come with a pistol grip while the Light Cannon eLED L1 offers an optional lantern grip. All can be used with alkaline c-cell batteries and can be made rechargeable with an upgrade. The Aqualite Pro2 is a powerful primary dive light. The narrow concentrated 20° beam option reduces backscatter, which is the reflection of particles and waves – essentially visual noise. With its hand-mounted strap accessory it’s always (literally) in reach.
When you need a back-up, the SL4 MK2 is the gold standard. It’s the diving light with a legacy recognized by everyone in the community - only this model has somehow managed to improve upon that stellar legacy.
Another back-up light that outshines its rivals in the field is the Mini-Q40 MK2. Producing 250 lumens for 5 hours, that is some mighty fine reliability.
The SL4 UV is equipped with a UV light to really showcase those gorgeous phosphorescent creatures and create memories that will last a lifetime.
If you’re looking for a photo/video choice; the Aqualite Pro2 has a 100 degree wide-angle beam option to cover a variety of different underwater lighting solutions. The accessory Travel Grip makes for an easy, all-in-one solution for underwater photography and videography.
Finally, we when night diving you always want to be seen by your fellow divers. Make sure you have the brightest dive beacon.
Night diving is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
Those who do will feel blessed to be transported to another world.
It can be exciting fun. It can be movingly profound. But diving at night is never forgettable.