If you are like me, you want to get as much in-water snorkeling time as possible. For many, sunset usually marks the end of their snorkeling day. If you are one of these people I will let you in on a little secret; it doesn't have to end at sundown. Night snorkeling is often times just as rewarding and fun as going during the daylight hours and most times, even better. The evening is when the reefs come alive, corals open up like flower gardens with shrimp scampering about them like honeybees. The crab, lobster and octopus that were so elusive come out of hiding and the night comes alive as other nocturnal marine life awake to pick up where the reef inhabitants of the day shift left off. This this also the perfect opportunity to see the tiny bioluminescent creatures as they give their miniature fireworks shows with every move you make in the water. Anyone who has snorkeled at night will tell you that it is a whole different world beneath the waves. Because this is considered a specialized activity, it is going to require some extra equipment and you and your buddy will need to be even more thorough with regard to the planning and the procedures involved. The aspects of this activity are broken down into the following categories:PRE-PLANNING
When you and your buddy (What is a Snorkeling Buddy) are deciding on a site remember that it is always best to pick an area that you both have snorkeled during the day. You will already be familiar with the underwater terrain and where to enter and exit. Pre-planning also includes letting someone know that you and your buddy are going out in the water, where exactly you are going and what time you expect to be out of the water. Even if it is to leave a note in your hotel room. Make a check list of the gear needed as well as any incidentals you will be bringing. Gather everything in one area and inspect your gear to make sure it is all functioning correctly.
You also want to check the weather forecast. Ideally, nights with little or no cloud cover are preferred because they offer the most ambient light from the moon and stars. If storms, hurricanes or high winds are predicted, cancel and plan your night outing for another date. The best time to plan your night adventure is during high slack tide which is the time frame between the end of high tide and the beginning of low tide. (Watch our video below) This information is available online, Tide-Forecast but should also be available from a local dive store.
Because you will be going in the water at night, you will need to add a few more items to your equipment bag. An underwater light is a requirement and it needs to be water proof and designed for in water activities. Each person that goes in the water needs to have their own light for both safety and enjoyment. If you do not own an underwater light, they can usually be rented from the local dive store for about $5.00. Chemical light (where permitted) or a battery operated beacon light attached to the snorkel is highly recommended for above water visibility. Exposure protection such as skins or a light 3mm wetsuit are a practical addition as the water temps at night will be a little cooler than it was during the daylight hours. It will also add a good measure of protection against accidental contact with marine life. Whether it is day or night, having a whistle, attached to your snorkeling vest for safety, should be considered a standard piece of equipment whenever you go in the water.AREA ORIENTATIONS
Once you are at your chosen location, it is time for you and your buddy to review a few things before putting your gear on and getting in the water. Take a look around and make note of any prominent land features that can be used as reference points while you are in the water. These could include buildings or lighted piers or docks. You also want to double check both the entry and exit areas and make sure that the water conditions are favorable. Once you have the "lay of the land", discuss and review communications and emergency procedures. Agree on a plan of the area that you want to explore and remember that you are exploring it together. Recheck all of your gear and make sure that your underwater light is on while you are entering the water. For more information, read How to Snorkel from the Shore.COMMUNICATIONS
Communications with shore, boat or your buddy incorporate the use of the dive light. When communicating with your buddy using conventional one handed hand signals, you will need to shine your light on your hand as if someone were in front of you holding the light rather than illuminating the signal from your point of view. If your buddy is too far away to see the hand signals then you can draw a few with your light. Asking them if they are ok using your light is as simple as drawing the letter "O" using your dive light as the pen and the light beam as the ink. When drawing the 'O', it is important to exaggerate its size as if you were drawing it on a schoolroom chalk board. If you are giving the ok signal at the surface (to shore, buddy or boat) make sure that the "O" is drawn so that it is completely out of the water. A surface variation is to hold the light over your head pointing beam down so that you are illuminated. If you want to get your buddy's attention (underwater) to show them something shine your light across their light beam in even back and forth motions. Do not shine a light in your buddy's eyes. Watch our video to the right with your buddy for more underwater communication skills.
If an emergency occurs, the whistle or light signals are used to communicate to your buddy, shore or boat personnel. A rapid back and forth horizontal light signal above the water is used. If your light has failed or is unavailable then rapid blasts from your whistle are treated as an emergency.
By Roy Jamason
Written Nov. 29, 2014