Here's Everything You Need to Know About Night Scuba Diving

Night at beach, two night divers on the trestle road
Photo taken by Kami (Kuo, Jia-Wei) / Getty Images

If the idea of scuba diving gives you a thrill, think about doing it at night. Jumping into a pitch-black ocean may be scary for some, but for others, it's a chance to see creatures that only prowl the ocean at night. Marine mammals like octopus, bioluminescent jellyfish, giant crabs and lobsters, sea snakes, and many more that are near-impossible to spot during the day will climb out of their dens and appear in droves once the sun sets.

But understandably, the idea of jumping into a pitch-black ocean can be intimidating, even for seasoned scuba divers. Once you've done a night dive, you'll learn there's nothing to be concerned about—but you still need to work up the nerve to take the (literal) plunge. Here's everything you need to know about night diving, including how to get over your fear of jumping into the ocean after dark.

What Is Night Diving?

Night diving can be diving in the middle of the night, but it's more often evening diving rather than night diving. Most night dives are done around dusk, which means it'll be somewhat light while you're getting into the water and making your first descent. The sun will set as you're diving, and if your dive has plenty to see underwater, you may not even notice the water darkening around you.

Night dives are a totally different experience from daytime dives, even on dive sites or reefs you've already seen. Colors look far brighter at night when illuminated by your flashlight from a few yards away, and many creatures will appear to change color when caught in the glow of your light.

Choosing a Night Dive Site

Dive sites will usually be selected by the dive shop you're traveling with. While you can night dive anywhere, most night dive sites tend to have a few things in common. They're usually shallower, maxing out around 50 feet. That's generally just to make divers more comfortable, as most divers prefer knowing the surface is just a quick swim away.

While shallower depths can usually mean longer dives, night dives tend to be shorter than your average dive—around 40 or 45 minutes. That's because everyone in your group will need to surface together rather than going up in buddy pairs. Your dive is limited by air consumption and will be based on whomever in your group is breathing through their air supply the quickest.

Sometimes, a good night dive site may seem a little dull during the day but can be thrilling at night. Sites like small shipwrecks can be eerie (in a good way) at night, and rock walls that seem lifeless during the day can come alive with hidden species. Your dive shop will know what sites are best for night dives and will always do a briefing on what to expect before dropping in.

The Extra Skills You'll Need

It may be hard to believe, but you don't need any extra skills to do a night dive (beyond an open water scuba certification, of course.) And that should give you peace of mind – night dives aren't inherently more challenging than daytime dives.

Before getting in the water, your divemaster will review special hand signals. Since you'll be holding a flashlight in one hand, you won't be able to use both hands to signal indicators like air consumption as you would on a daylight dive—and your divemaster wouldn't be able to see them anyway. While dive shops all have slight variations on what signals they prefer, you'll usually use a combination of moving your light a certain way (like making a big circle for "okay" or swinging the light side-to-side to get someone's attention) and using your left hand to make signals while illuminated by the right. While you're signaling underwater, be sure to keep your light shining downwards—it's tough for your divemaster to see the "OK" sign with your left hand if your right hand is shining a light in her eyes.

Your first night dive will likely be exciting (and a bit nerve-wracking), so you're likely to consume your air a little quicker than normal. While diving, be sure to practice long, slow breaths, focusing on keeping yourself calm.

The Extra Gear You'll Need

Fortunately, there's only one extra piece of gear you need for diving: a flashlight. You'll need a flashlight meant for scuba diving to ensure it's watertight. After each dive, remove the battery, rinse the outside in fresh water, and dry it completely to ensure it doesn't get corroded.

Depending on where you're diving, you may want an extra layer of clothing for the boat ride. You'll likely want to bring a sweatshirt or windbreaker to wear during the boat ride home, even in tropical locations.

How To Face Your Fears

Most frequent night divers agree that once you do one or two dives, the magic and beauty of being underwater at night will replace your fears. But for your first dives, it's normal and reasonable to be a bit nervous.

If you're afraid about not seeing what's around you, don't worry: dive lights are very, very powerful and have beams that can penetrate far further than you'd be able to see in the daylight. Even a "budget" dive flashlight will stretch underwater for between 200 and 300 feet—far further than you'd be able to see during the day. That makes it easier to spot your fellow divers and stay with your group. And if you're worried about your flashlight going out, just bring a backup. It's common for night divers to clip an extra light to their harnesses or put a small flashing light on the back of their tank. You could even buy a floodlight if you'd prefer to have a wider beam of light. Night dive guides usually have something unique to make it easy to see them underwater, such as a colored flashlight or solid-color glowing tank light.

One common concern among beginner night divers is around sharks and other predators in the ocean. The simple answer is to pick a site that doesn't have sharks: head to a region not known for sharks (like Cozumel) or do a night dive in a lake or quarry. But the more complicated answer is that just like in the daytime, the chance of a dangerous shark encounter for the average diver is so slim that it's not worth thinking about. And since night dives are always on reefs or shallow bottoms, you don't have to worry about any creatures coming up from below—you'll be able to see the "bottom" the whole time.

And remember: you may not like night diving, which is okay. There are many different types of diving, and everyone has different tastes. As with any dive, you can always end the dive at any time by giving the "thumbs up" signal to your instructor, which means "I need to end the dive," rather than "yes," as it does on land. (Touch your thumb and index finger in an "OK" sign to signal "yes" underwater.) All divemasters know and respect the "thumbs up" signal and will promptly end the dive and get you back to your boat or shore as soon as they see it.