How to Get Started with Night Diving

night diving

If you thought the ocean was beautiful when you were diving during the day, then wait until you see it at night. Night diving has a completely different character; it has a taste of curiosity and mystery. What aquatic life will you find? What does the darkness hide? You might be surprised to learn that the night life of the ocean is often much richer than during the day. Many fish are nocturnal and shy, and they will only come out under the safety of darkness.

When diving at night, you obviously need to bring your own light source. You will need to use a wide beam light to illuminate a larger area, and a narrow beam light for narrower environments. When using an underwater flashlight, your field of view naturally narrows, and you will notice a lot more details. You’ll quickly see that the underwater world at night is beautiful in its own way, its mystery is alluring.

In this article, we will go over what exactly makes night diving such a fun activity and how you can get started. We’ll cover topics like how you can stay safe while diving at night, the kinds of aquatic life you can see, and great locations for night diving. Read on to learn more.

What is night diving?

Night diving, by definition, is a dive that you do between sunrise and sunset. Recreational divers partake in night diving activities so that they can see the same dive site in a different way. Just like how there are nocturnal animals on land, night is when the nocturnal marine life expose themselves. These creatures are normally well-hidden during the day, so nighttime is the only way you can see these creatures. As such, the marine life is completely different when it’s dark.

Where should you dive at night?

For safety reasons, you should only dive in places you are already familiar with. In other words, you should dive in places you have already been before and know the environment inside out. Once a coat of darkness falls over it, you’ll have the best chance of navigating it safely without getting lost. This is especially important if an emergency happens. The entry point should also be marked with light that is visible underwater.

You’d be surprised at how a change in lighting can affect the appearance of a location. What was once familiar suddenly becomes exciting and new again. Even if you think you know where you are, the darkness may be enough to confuse you. On one hand, this can be seen as an inconvenience. On the other hand, it adds to the variety and makes diving fun for you again. However, not every dive site leaves an interesting impression just because it’s dark.

With that said, some amazing night diving locations are only accessible by boat, and therefore their location is known only to guides. Thus, these night escapades are additional services that dive centers offer. It’s worth trying out, because the guide will help you safely navigate the unfamiliar environment, and often the night dives are what leaves a lasting impression after the trip is over.

The most important rule of night diving

Actually, the most important rule of diving in general is to plan your dive and dive your plan. The planning process for night diving specifically must take into account several additional elements compared to day diving. First, the darkness both above and below the water will affect your orientation. Adjusting any equipment can be difficult unless you have the muscle memory for it.

Thus, it is necessary for you to have a sufficiently powerful underwater flashlight as well as good surface lighting. This will help you don and adjust your gear easily before you head underwater. Furthermore, the entry point should be lit up so you know where you must return to. There is a correlation between night diving and good lighting – your enjoyment and safety increases in proportion to how much light you have.

To experience what this is like, try exploring a forest with just a small candle as your only light source. Then try walking that same path with a bright flashlight. Depending on your dive light, it can literally feel like night turning into day with how much illumination a good wide beam light provides. The same holds true underwater – good lighting is the basis for a successful, fun, and safe night dive.

How much light is enough?

diving at night

So now that you know how important lights are for night diving, the next question is how much light is enough? The brightness of a dive light is often measured in lumens, which is a measurement of how much light it can emit over a unit of time. Essentially, the higher the number, the brighter the dive torch is.

With that said, brighter is not always better. If your light is too bright, it can scare off fish and be a blinding hazard if you accidentally shine it at somebody’s face. Furthermore, if you are taking photos or filming video, a concentrated beam of light will overexpose the shot. In order for you to get the right kind of light, you have to first understand what types of dive lights there are.

We can broadly categorize dive lights into narrow beam lights and wide beam lights. A narrow beam light typically has a beam width of 8-12°. Due to its highly focused beam, you do not need as much lumens; a minimum of 300 is recommended, but ideally you should get one that produces 500 lumens or even 1000 lumens. The benefit of a narrow beam light is that it can penetrate through murky water, and can also be used during a silt-out.

The second category of lights, wide beam lights, have a beam width of 40-100°. It illuminates a much wider area with less intensity. We recommend getting a wide beam light with an output of 500 lumens, ideally 1000 lumens or more. This is the main light you’ll be using to illuminate your surroundings.

Since dive lights can get so bright, there will be settings that allow you to decrease the brightness when you don’t need it to be so bright. This can help conserve battery and make it less blinding for you, your dive buddies, and the fish. Lights capable of reaching very high lumens tend to be bulkier, more expensive, and heavier than lights with lower lumens.

Lastly, keep in mind that dive lights are often designed to be used underwater. They rely on the cooling properties of water to prevent the bulbs from overheating. If you try to use a dive light on the surface, you run the risk of overheating it quickly.

Types of lights you need for a night dive

When diving at night, you’ll need more than one light. Divers often use halogen, LED, or HID torches. The most popular lights are LED lights because of their excellent price-to-performance ratio. Here are the types of lights you need to dive at night:

  • The main light: Your primary dive light is the one that you’ll be using for the entirety of the dive. That means that it must not only be bright enough, but should also have enough battery life to last for the whole dive. If you plan on diving for a long time, your dive light must have fantastic battery life. We recommend keeping the light on a low brightness setting for the majority of the dive, switching to the highest setting only when you need to.
  • Backup light: A spare light is necessary in case something happens to your main light. For the backup light, you do not need it to be as big, bulky, or bright as your primary light. The purpose of a backup light is to help you safely ascend to the surface, NOT to continue your dive. If your main light fails, the dive is over. Return to the surface. The backup light must be small enough to fit into your BCD pocket.
  • Permanent backlight: This light is turned on for the entirety of the dive as well, and lets divers know the location of other divers nearby. This is a fantastic way to increase safety during night dives. There are various solutions on the market, the most popular of which are scuba tank lamps or chemical lights.

How to use your dive torch during night dives

There’s a bit of nuance to using your underwater flashlight beyond just pointing it in the direction you want to illuminate. You can use a light to accomplish the following:

  • Light up the area (of course).
  • Read your measuring instruments.
  • Communicate with your fellow divers via signals (e.g. I’m okay, danger ahead, look at me).
  • Indicate underwater and surface locations.

You also don’t want to commit any flashlight blunders, such as:

  • Shining the flashlight on someone’s face. If you want to shine it on your partner, shine it at their chest, never their eyes. Receiving 1000 lumens to the face is disorienting and extremely painful and you don’t want it to happen to you either.
  • Waving your light rapidly and drawing attention to yourself when there isn’t an emergency.
  • Trying to communicate with hand signals without shining the light on your hand. Also, you’ll have to get your buddy’s attention first by shining the light in the direction they are looking at so they can quickly see your light. Once again, do NOT shine it directly at their face.

Check out this video to see how divers communicate underwater at night.

Planning a night dive

When planning a night dive, there are some extra considerations you must take into account. Ideally, you are already familiar with the dive site so you can better plan your dive. You’ll be able to plan your entry/exit points, points of interest, depth, and so on much more easily. If you are unfamiliar with the dive site, you will have to rely on your guide. Pay particular attention during the dive brief.

It’s optimal to arrive at the dive site before dusk so you can prepare and set up the equipment before it is totally dark. Otherwise, bring adequate lighting (i.e. something other than your underwater dive light) so you can see what’s going on when you’re installing your equipment.

Night diving tips

Night diving techniques are fairly similar to any other dive. You can enter the dive site from the shore or from a boat. If you’re diving from the boat, there should be good lighting on the boat so you can do all of your pre-dive checks easily. If diving from the shore, the area where you prepared all your equipment should be well-illuminated. Additional lighting lets you set up everything quicker.

Before entering the water, you must do a check-in. You and your dive buddy will discuss the exact dive plan and all the protocols that you will follow. This includes what to do in the event of an emergency and what your hand signals mean. During the pre-dive check, check your partner’s equipment, dive weights, and that the lighting is attached securely.

Safe diving involves constant monitoring of your measuring instruments. You don’t want to exceed your dive time and depth. Therefore, the instruments must be illuminated so that you can easily check on them. In the case of gauges, you will have to manually shine your light on them. However, most dive computers and dive watches have a backlight or have components filled with lume which glows in the dark. Thus, you should be able to conveniently use them in the dark assuming they are bright enough on their own.

Dealing with emergencies during a night dive

You hope it never happens, but you have to be prepared for an emergency situation anyways. Emergency protocols for night dives are not any different than daytime dives, with the obvious exception that there is limited lighting. Here are the most likely emergency scenarios you’ll encounter and how to deal with them.

Losing your dive buddy: If you’ve lost sight of your dive buddy, try to find their flashlight. If your own light is making it hard to find theirs, temporarily cover your flashlight with your hand. Do NOT turn off your flashlight, just cover it with your hand and uncover it afterwards. If you still cannot find your partner’s light, then begin your ascent to the surface and follow the established procedures.

Primary dive light failure: Sometimes your main light will fail. Perhaps it ran out of battery, got damaged, or malfunctioned for some reason. It happens from time to time, and that’s why you should always carry a spare flashlight. Your spare light should be in an easily accessible BCD pocket, and you must be able to reach for it and turn it on in almost total darkness. Once the spare light is on, signal to your dive buddy that you’re ascending. Remember that the spare light is for ascending, not for continuing the dive.

Backup light failure: If both your main light and backup light fails, you will have to rely on your partner to be your light source. Maintain physical contact with your dive buddy – hold hands or hold onto each other’s equipment. Ascend to the surface together.

Low on air: The procedure for a low-on-air emergency is the same as during a daytime dive, except you must shine your light on your partner’s chest.

What to avoid

Night diving is like day diving but on hard mode. Basic things that would otherwise never happen to you, such as losing your orientation, become much more likely in the dark. It’s important that you make visual contact with the bottom or the descent rope while you are descending to avoid this.

Furthermore, entering a wreck or cave is already dangerous during the day. It’s downright suicidal if you try to do it at night. Holes that are normally easy to see in the daylight can be hard to spot at night.

Frequently asked questions

Why dive at night?

Is scuba diving starting to get a bit stale for you? After you’ve gained enough experience, it’s only natural for a diver to want to try out new types of diving. Night diving is a great stepping stone for you to be a more well-rounded, advanced diver. It uses mostly the same gear (you might want to get a better flashlight) and is not too much of a departure from daytime diving. Therefore, transitioning to it will be much smoother than, say, to start ice diving or cold water diving.

Additionally, nighttime is when some exclusive fish come out. Just like how there are nocturnal animals at the surface, like owls and bats, there are also nocturnal fish that sleep during the day and only come out to hunt at night. It’s a completely different world when you’re diving at night. We promise, it’s enough of a difference from day diving that it’ll feel like a whole new experience.

You can also participate in a UV (fluoro) night dive which looks absolutely amazing. Check out the video below to see what we mean.

How do I get started with night diving?

If you want to get started with night diving, then the first step is to take the Night Diver course. It is not a requirement that you take this course, however taking it will equip you with the right skills and knowledge so that you can safely scuba dive at night.

Next, you’ll also want to get some reliable, high-quality dive lights that allow you to light up the reef-scape and penetrate through murky waters. Not only should the light be powerful, but it must also have a long enough battery life to last the entire dive. Lights that can output 1000 lumens are sufficiently powerful. They should also have a brightness setting so you can conserve battery life.

Dive lights are an essential part of night diving, which is why we have spent a significant portion of this article discussing it, and why we are bringing it up again. The dive light is how you can see underwater and communicate with your dive buddy. Ideally, it should also have an SOS capability to better alert the divers in the vicinity.

Another benefit of learning about night diving, aside from the fact that it’s really fun, is that you can choose it as one of your Adventure Diver courses to meet the requirements to be an Advanced Open Water Diver.

Is night diving scary?

For some, being several meters underwater is enough to feel anxious. But just like how beginner divers eventually get over their initial anxiety, beginner night divers will also slowly get accustomed to diving with only a limited amount of light. As long as you come to the dive site with enough training and preparation, there’s no reason why night diving should be any scarier than daytime diving. Once you’ve passed these hurdles, you will have another type of diving you can safely enjoy while on vacation.

How do I deal with anxiety when night diving?

If you’re still feeling anxious about the night dive, don’t keep it to yourself. Let your dive guide and dive buddy know about your worries. It doesn’t do you any good to hide your lack of experience. By talking about it, you can usually receive some good advice on how you can overcome your fears. You can also get the very practical benefit of a dive guide and dive buddy keeping a close eye on you.

Remember that if you are having an anxiety attack, you can say no and sit out the dive. If you are already underwater, don’t feel compelled to finish the dive. Communicate to your dive buddy or dive leader that you are ascending and abort the dive. Your comfort and safety should be prioritized above pride, ego, or embarrassment.

What kinds of aquatic life can you see at night?

Diving at night gives you the opportunity to see creatures they would never see during the day. Not only that, but they will look majestic once you see them because of how colors appear more vibrant and true when you are pointing an artificial light directly at them. The same is true of the reef-scape; the scenery will be absolutely breathtaking at night.

You can expect to see such sea creatures like cuttlefish, squid, octopus, lobster, shrimp, eels, crab, sea urchin, crinoids, and more. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll spot a bigger fish like sharks and manta rays. Manta rays are such a popular attraction for night divers that there are even dive centers that advertise that they specialize in manta ray dives.

Nighttime is when the daytime fish sleep, and if you have a keen eye, you may be able to observe some fishes sleeping in crevices and between corals. You may also be able to find the occasional sea turtle slumbering in a small cavern.

Is diving at night dangerous?

Yes and no. Scuba diving, in general, can be considered an extreme sport, yet at the same time, it’s safe enough that there are training agencies located all over the world, and courses are being taught to millions of people each year. By taking a night diving course, you will learn the safety procedures and best practices so you can safely dive at night.

If you follow all of the procedures and are a risk-averse person, then the decisions you make will probably lead to a very safe dive. In other words, scuba diving, and night diving specifically, is as dangerous as you want it to be.

Naturally, night diving is riskier than day diving because of limited visibility. Depending on how powerful you and your dive buddies’ flashlights are, you may be able to light up the reef-scape so much that night seemingly turns to day. The darkness also poses challenges like making it difficult to orient yourself, judge distance, or obscure any danger before it’s really close.

There are also the usual risks of scuba diving that you must contend with, however you must do so under the cover of darkness. If you are low on air for instance, you need to be careful not to surface too quickly because of the aforementioned orientation and distance issue. Equipment malfunctions are particularly nerve-wracking during a night dive, especially if it’s your light source dying on you, but that’s why we bring backups.

Dangerous encounters with marine life are extremely rare. Most marine life are shy and are more likely to swim away from you than approach you. However, if they feel trapped or threatened, then they are liable to attack you. That’s why divers are taught to observe from a distance and to never lay their hands on an animal.

Another safety precaution is to night dive in a dive site you are already familiar with. This helps you “feel at home” so to speak if you’re diving in your old stomping grounds. With your nerves calm, you will be in a better state of mind to deal with any emergencies. There is also the more practical benefit that you know the ins and outs of the dive site, so your spatial awareness should be better.

Having a dive buddy you can rely on also helps mitigate a lot of the danger. If your equipment malfunctions, and even if your spare somehow malfunctions, then hopefully your dive buddies’ equipment is working fine and you can safely ascend together. Thus, with enough training and preparation, night diving is reasonably safe.

What kind of light do I need for my camera?

One of the great things about night diving is the opportunity to take pictures of creatures that only come out at night. When you shine a light on them, their colors become more vibrant and the entire underwater world just looks more impressive at night. Naturally, you’ll need to use an underwater camera to take pictures at night.

First of all, if this will be your first time diving at night, we recommend forgoing the camera and focusing entirely on the dive. Once you have enough experience with night diving, then you can consider bringing out the camera.

Now, something you may have realized is that when you are using a narrow beam light, it’s really easy to over-saturate the subject of your shot. The light is so bright that the fish or corals are completely clothed in a coat of white. Also, the beam is exceptionally bright in the center, but much darker around the edge of the light beam. This uneven lighting lends to bad pictures and videos where the contrast is all out of wack.

Cameras designed for nighttime use typically come with additional lights. With that said, any internal lighting from the camera is inadequate, and even if your torch provides sufficient ambient light, an additional strobe light is recommended to take the best shots.

If it isn’t obvious by now, narrow beam lights are terrible for filming, but a wide beam light with even lighting is optimal. A wide beam light will illuminate more of the background so you can see not only the fish, but the ocean floor around it. Furthermore, the even lighting prevents high contrast shadows and will result in a better photo or video overall.

Parting words

When you’re vacationing at a tropical destination for the holidays, it’s the perfect time to do some night diving. The atmosphere during such a dive is exciting and mysterious, especially after a bonfire or a meeting with friends. In the evening, the air becomes cold enough that the water actually feels warmer than the surface; you’ll not want to leave the water and it’s not just because the experience is so wonderful.

Some of the most unforgettable views you’ll experience are when you extinguish your flashlight, let your eyes adjust to the darkness, and look up at the starry sky from beneath the water’s surface. You’ll also find much to look at when exploring the depths; fish that sleep during the day finally come out to hunt, and you may even be able to see a shark or manta ray.

Additionally, some aquatic life are bioluminescent, meaning they glow in the dark on their own. Even if you can’t find any bioluminescent creatures, you can artificially experience this by doing a UV night dive. Pictures and videos from such a diving experience will remain in your memory for a long time.

Hopefully you have a good idea of what it’s like to get started with night diving. We have tried our best to be as informative as possible, however the best thing you can do is to take the Night Diver course from a nearby dive center to receive a comprehensive education. Nothing beats hands-on learning and individual feedback, plus you can ask the instructor any questions you may have. Good luck, and enjoy night diving!