dive flagImportant Stuff
the New Monterey Diver
Needs to Know

Chuck Tribolet

This page is written for the certified SCUBA diver who has not dived Monterey before, whether a  visitor or a diver who is newly moved to this area.

The diving in Monterey is world-class and incredibly rich in marine life.  Compared to the tropics, the water is cold and the viz usually not as good.  However, it's all relative: one transplanted Brit says that Monterey has warm water and good vis.

If you are a tropical diver, quarry diver, or lake diver, Monterey is NOT what you are used to.  Remember that your C-card says you are qualified to dive in conditions similar to those you trained in, and that wasn't Monterey.

You may think I'm being a bit emphatic here, and you're right.  It's because the number of "new to Monterey" divers that have lost their lives here is disproportionately higher than their population in the water here.  And there often seems to be a complicating factor like "night" or "deep" or "boat".  Start with something easy (the Breakwater), get your act together, and then move on to night, deep, or boat.  If you are newly moved here, even if you brought your buddy and partner in life with you, find a dive club: http://www.garlic.com/~triblet/ba_diving/links/clubs.html

And fitness counts.   There seem to be a disproportionately higher fraction of obviously unfit divers dying.  

Water temp is typically 50F (10C), can be as low as 44F, as high as 57F. Probably 70% of the divers on any given day wear wetsuits, 10% semidrys, 20% drysuits. It's probably more like 50, 15, 35 measured by number of dives (dry suit divers do more dives per day and dive more days). Wetsuits are typically 7 mm farmer john, jacket, and hood. More experienced wetsuit divers wear a 3 mm or 7 mm hooded vest instead of the hood.  The every-weekend divers almost universally wear drysuits.

The visibility is typically in the 20-30 foot range.  I've measured 90 feet (twice in 1300 dives), 60 feet happens two or three times a year.  Vis in the 10' range happens occasionally.  I can remember one time I ran into the bottom before I saw it.  All the tiny creatures that make the bad vis provide food for all the beautiful creatures we enjoy when we dive.

If you aren't used to cold water, watch your buoyancy carefully.  All the compressible neoprene or dry suit undies that provide the extra warmth means larger changes in buoyancy compared to tropical diving.  You'll need to adjust your buoyancy when you change depth by more than three or four feet.  Without a little bit of extra vigilance about depth and buoyancy, it's easy to get into a runaway ascent or descent

Monterey has beautiful kelp forests, but they require specialized knowledge.  There's no Kelp Monster, the kelp isn't going to attack you, but if you aren't careful, you can feel that way.  Secure all loose gear.  Duct tape your fin straps or, better, put an inch of bicycle inner tube on the them, so they don't snag the kelp.  If you find yourself finning like crazy and not going anywhere, stop and find the strand you snagged and unsnag it.  Most importantly, don't swim through the thickest part of the kelp, swim a few feet to the side and go around it.  And remember that the kelp strands will break like a carrot if you bend them sharply in two, or you can bite through them.  There's more information about diving in kelp at http://www.garlic.com/~triblet/ba_diving/kelpdiving.html.

You don't want to be out of air in the middle of a kelp bed.  Plan on being on the surface with 500 to 800 psi to swim back to the boat or beach underwater.  Crawling over the top of the kelp is not a fun experience.

While you are doing a safety, you bubbles will rise up and part the kelp.

Navigation skills are important so that you surface near the boat or the exit point.

Sea conditions in Monterey can change greatly from day to day or even hour to hour.  ALWAYS eyeball conditions before unloading your gear, and again before entering the water.  Monterey weather info is at http://www.garlic.com/~triblet/swell/wamglance.html.

There are a couple of good books on beach diving Monterey listed on the ba_diving bibliography page: http://www.garlic.com/~triblet/ba_diving/bibliography.html.  The best place for a first Monterey dive is probably the Breakwater.  And Monastery Beach requires specialized techniques most days that it's diveable.  Don't dive it without someone who knows that beach.

There are also several day boats.  See http://www.garlic.com/~triblet/ba_diving/links/boats.html.

There are four dive shops in Monterey, and many more in the greater Bay Area.  If you are a visitor, with a couple of days notice, any of the Monterey shops, and some of the others, can set you up with a guide (at a price of course).  This is a REALLY good idea for a visitor.    Details are on http://www.garlic.com/~triblet/ba_diving/links/shops.html.