Diving in Dorset

Diving

The Dorset coast is one of the most popular diving locations in the UK, with its wealth of wrecks and scenic reef dives to explore. In Dorset there is a wide choice of modern charter boats for hire, diving schools offering PADI or BSAC courses, and many dive shops, as well as plenty of diver-friendly accommodation. If you have your own boat there are lots of slipways to launch from (check them out on the iCoast  map).  There are also many locations where shore diving is possible.

What do I need?

Diving in Dorset should only be carried out if you are either a certified diver or with a qualified instructor.  If you have your own gear ensure that it is all in excellent working order.  If you do not have the kit then dive shops offer kit-hire. If you fancy giving it ago and want to learn to dive most dive schools or clubs will offer try-dives – check them out on the iCoast map.

When is the best time to do it?

The UK dive season generally runs from March to October, when the water is warmer, seas calmer and visibility is generally better. Many of the charter boats will be out of the water over winter but a few offer year-round diving, particularly in Weymouth & Portland, so it’s worth checking. And of course, you can shore-dive all year round – providing conditions are safe.

 

Planning your trip

Off the Dorset coast wrecks are a big attraction for most divers with large structures covered with wildlife.   Dorset waters also have some of the best rocky reef habitats in the UK, where you can often see sea anemones, crabs, different types of sponges, corals and the rare pink sea fan. Fish to look out for include: wrasse, pollock, cuttlefish bass, and the large trigger fish.

Do your bit:

Watch out for wildlife

Follow these steps:

  • If you’re going to collect seafood whilst diving, please only take enough for yourself. Remember that the following minimum legal catch sizes apply;
    • Lobster – 87mm (It is illegal to take lobsters if they are carrying eggs or if they have a “V” notch in their tail. Larger individuals produce more offspring, so please leave any really big shellfish that you see).
    • Scallop – 100mm (110mm if you are east of 2o W)
    • Spider crabs; male – 130mm, female – 120mm
    • Edible crab 140mm
    • Download the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities minimum landing size guide and take it with you when you are out diving
  • Report live strandings of cetaceans, and injured/entangled marine mammals to British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) on 01825 765546 (24 hours). Report all other live injured or entangled animals to the RSPCA 0300 1234 999

Unless you hold a commercial fishing licence, it is illegal to sell anything that you catch. More information on responsible seafood can be found on the Marine Conservation Society website.

  • Follow the code of practice for wreck divers –Some wrecks are protected for their archaeological or cultural importance, these wrecks are a common resource for all so it is important that you follow the BSAC code of practice for wreck divers. This code includes information on what to do if you discover a historic wreck and informs that you cannot dive on a protected historic wreck site without a licence.
  • Declare any wreck material you have recovered to the Receiver of Wreck within 28 days of recovery. Wreck materials include things found on the sea shore or in tidal water that have come from a ship, aircraft or hovercraft. This could be parts of the vessel, its cargo or equipment. If you think the wreck you’ve found might be of historical interest, you should contact English Heritage
  • Be considerate to Dorset’s local fishermen, do not interfere with their lobster/crab pots.
  • Avoiding anchoring, dragging and boat wash in eelgrass (seagrass) sensitive areas. These areas can be found on the iCoast map.
  • Diving in Ports and Harbours –Ports and Harbours are very busy places; to reduce conflict and respect other harbour users make sure you follow the rules.
    • Portland Harbour – If you are using your own boat to dive in Portland Harbour then you will need to follow Portland Harbour Authorities terms and conditions and get a dive permit. Diving is prohibited in some areas in Portland Harbour, take a look at the Portland Harbour Authority website to find out where and to download the dive permit and Terms and conditions.
    • Poole Harbour: Poole Harbour Commissioners do not have any recreational diving restrictions because the harbour isn’t very deep, and therefore is only used for dive training.
  • When diving the marine life that you can see off the Dorset coast is outstanding, in order to help keep it that way you should:
    • Take only photographs, not souvenirs
    • OK to look but not to touch
    • Dive boats should avoid disturbing birds, seals and dolphins
Watch out for the environment
  • Take all your rubbish home – do not discard rubbish at sea or on the beaches. Marine and beach litter spoils peoples experience of the Dorset coast, harms marine wildlife and can disrupt industry by getting tangled up in fishermen’s nets. Find out more about marine litter in Dorset.
 

Staying safe

Stay safe by following these simple steps:

  • Get trained up– diving is a technical sport that requires training. Make sure you a properly clued up and are dive fit before you go out.
  • Always make sure that you fly the international code flag ‘A‘ and use a surface marker buoy, these both let other water users know that divers are in the water and where you are. The international code flag ‘A’ flag should not be flown when travelling to or you’re your dive site.
  • Dive with a Buddy so that you can each help take responsibility for each others safety.
  • Always tell somebody responsible ashore where you are going and when you will be backand always have someone onboard to act as a safety lookout, while divers are down.  They will be able to raise the alarm by calling 999 and asking for the Coastguard if they get worried and you are not back on time.
  • Register your vessel with the CG66 – Voluntary Safety Identification Scheme. This scheme gives the Coastguard details of your vessel so that, if you get into trouble, they have all the information they need to mount a search and rescue operation. You can join online and the scheme is free.
  • Check your equipment and boat– The RNLI offer a completely free, friendly and confidential service that looks at safety aspects involved with your boat. Advice Onboard is neither a test nor an inspection and there is no pass or fail. SEA Check is a personal face-to-face safety advice service that takes place on board your own craft.
  • Carry emergency alerting equipment so you can call for help such as a VHF radio, flares, emergency position indicating radio beacons, personal locator beacons, man overboard devices – more information and advice on emergency alerting can be found here.
  • Check the weather and tides and be aware of local hazards– Learn to interpret tide tables and weather forecasts.
  • Wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid –When out dinghy sailing a buoyancy aid is the best thing to wear but if you are out sailing you need to ensure that everyone on board is wearing a lifejacket. Advice on what to look for when choosing a lifejacket
  • Be sun smart
    • Always wear SPF factor 30 and above waterproof sun cream. Reapply frequently.
    • Drink plenty of fluids as you dehydrate faster while exercising.
    • Consider taking a rest and seeking shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Be prepared for “Man overboard”– We understand that man overboard is not really something anyone wants to think about but it is important that if one of your crew fell overboard you would know what to do. The RYA recommend having a regular drill in place, then you could buy yourself valuable time should the unthinkable ever happen. The RYA website has all the information you need to learn and follow in a “man overboard” situation and guidance on what you should do in your regular drill.  

For those in charge of dive boats watch out for other users by:

  • Getting skilled up in seamanship, navigation and the Rules of the Road to avoid conflict and collisions with other sea users. Follow the Government’s guidance on distress signals and prevention of collision.
  • Planning your route– Plan your route using the iCoast map and admiralty navigation charts, then you can ensure that you won’t end up in any busy shipping lanes and you can avoid any known navigational hazards and sensitive areas. You can buy admiralty charts from most chandleries in Dorset, find out where the closest chandlery to you is using the iCoast map.
  • Avoiding sea danger areas – The Ministry of Defence operates in a number of areas along the Dorset coast. In order to keep safe and to avoid disturbing training and operations it is important to avoid the sea danger areas (see sea danger area on the map).
    • The Lulworth Ranges Sea Danger Area – the boundary of this area is shown in iCoast and in the below link. You can find out when the army are firing here by:
      • Reading the Lulworth Ranges – Information for Mariners
      • Contacting your local yacht club – Exact details of the firing programme are sent monthly in advance to all the main yacht clubs in the area.
      • Listening to the radio – Firing times are broadcast on Radio Solent (300m, 221m, 96.1 MHz and 103.8 MHz) during the shipping and weather news at about 0645 and 0745 hours on weekdays.

If you are already out then it’s easy to see when firing is taking place because red flags are flown, and red flashing lights are displayed from the flag-staffs on Bindon Hill, Kimmeridge Bay and St. Albans Head. During firing, range safety boats are on station at the outer extremities of the danger area.

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