Wreck Diving: What to Expect

NC Sand Shark

In spite of all the pretty colorful pictures of warm tropical water diving, absolutely nothing can compare with the thrills of finding potential  sunken treasure buried in a shipwreck. Combined with the adrenaline rush of the challenge of planning, executing, and completing a fantastic and safe wreck dive, it gives new meaning to achieving a pinnacle of scuba diving.


The reasons for scuba diving on a shipwreck are many. For starters, shipwrecks are an oasis for underwater marine life. In short, they attract fish:

LOTSA fish..

Great Barracuda

To be fair, wreck diving is challenging. You must be at least 18 years old and an accomplished advanced rated diver with at least 50 or more open water dives. Preferably in the same as or more challenging environment as the planned wreck dive. Second, you need specific equipment to accomplish this feat. When diving in low-visibility water (ex. less than about 50 feet of clear visibility), and penetrating into a shipwreck with low to no ambient lighting, having dependable lighting is paramount.

At a minimum, you will need a strong primary light, such as the handheld Tek-tite Trek 6000 to easily and fully illuminate your surroundings. Secondly carry at least one, preferably two, backup lights such as the Tekna Lite 6 or Tekna Lite 3 both of which are small enough to easily fit into a BCD pocket. Because bad things can happen underwater when you forgot to change the batteries in one of the lights. A prepared diver is a safe diver.

Next you will need marker strobes for guidance. Note in the image below how placing a strong one, such as the Tektite Strobe 4500 at about 6 – 10 feet from the end of the down line tying the dive boat to the shipwreck, makes for that guiding light bringing you back home safely at the end of the planned bottom time. A Tektite Strobe 3500 can also be used as a multi-purpose strobe. With a simple quick twist of the clear cover, (don’t remove it, just twist back and forth), the LED light changes from being a strobe, to a steady light, and with a third twist, it flashes a visible SOS beacon. Trust me. There’s no more gratifying feeling than to exit the shipwreck and be able to see that flashing brilliant light illuminating the way back home to the boat anchor line. The same feeling as a shore based lighthouse used to be for mariners in a bygone sailing era.

If your dive plan includes penetrating the wreck, it is best protocol to place another smaller strobe at the entranceway hatch/door/hole from the outside into the inside of the wreck so that it can be seen from inside the wreck. This illuminates the exit point for your return trip from inside the wreck, as noted in the image below. Sort of like a breadcrumb trail that the fish won’t eat. The tiny, but incredibly bright Tekna Mark-Lite Safety Strobe is the ideal answer for this situation. They’re very small, fit easily into a BCD pocket, or can be clipped with a safety snap to a D-ring on your BCD.

Why do we need all these lights? Good question. Because there is no, or very little, light down below especially if you plan to penetrate deep into the shipwreck where no ambient light can penetrate into.

When returning back to the dive boat after successfully accomplishing an exhilarating and challenging wreck dive, this is the MOST important thing to do. Don’t forget to unclip and bring back all of your strobes and other gear. Typically, and especially in Northeast U.S. wreck diving, if the crewmember of the dive boat who dives down to unhook the dive boat from the wreck sees a strobe still flashing away on the anchor/down line or in/on the shipwreck, and hasn’t been previously warned that it’s still there, it’s an immediate signal to the the crew and captain that a diver is overdue, may be in distress, and possibly trapped inside the wreck. This will cause an immediate call to the Coast Guard, who will bring out all of their very expensive rescue gear. Including a noisy whirling helicopter and possibly one of their rescue cutter ships along with a search and recovery trained military diver who will immediately begin a search for the ‘missing diver’. It will cause a lot of unnecessary paperwork and embarrassment. So remember to bring your strobes back and have great stories to tell of what you found down there. Whether anybody else believes you or not, is irrelevant. You got to experience it firsthand.

About the Author

Karl Kelso

Karl is an advanced technical diving instructor having trained many divers and logged thousands of dives most of them on shipwrecks off the coasts of New York and New Jersey.
NAUI - 48712
SDI/TDI - 13621

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