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How to get out of a current while scuba diving?

Going with the flow is easy to do when you’re floating along a river on an inflatable tube. However, it becomes terrifying when you’re at depth and a current is pulling you away from your buddy and into the open ocean. While the average diver knows how to mitigate a variety of diving emergencies and threats, not all divers know how to get out of a current when scuba diving. Clike here and watch the diver in the video get caught in a down current and the dangerous ripple effects that follow

What went wrong?

In the video we see a scuba diver get caught in a down current and start to panic. After a while, their dive professional intercedes and helps them. The diver then bolts to the surface from depth and, once they reach the surface, the dive professional insists they need to go back down. Let’s analyze the factors that contributed to this dangerous experience:

  • Panic New divers are repeatedly taught to stop, think and then act whenever they’re presented with a problem underwater. “Divers who panic sometimes breathe too fast and hard, and may bolt to the surface or forget basic and easy lifesaving techniques that they learned in their Open Water Diver course,” says Jo Mikutowicz, managing partner of Divetech on Grand Cayman. By panicking, you place yourself in a potentially fatal situation. You are much better equipped to handle an emergency if you keep your cool.

  • Improper briefing As already stated, panicking will prevent you from properly addressing a dive emergency. In addition to this, there are specific ways of getting out of any current. While divers may not know these methods, dive briefings should cover how to get out of a current when scuba diving in an area with strong currents.

Getting caught in a current doesn’t have to be a nightmare. These are the different currents you may encounter while scuba diving and how to get out of them:

Down current

  • What it is: A down current or downwelling starts in shallow water and typically occurs when water rushes over the lip of a wall or at a right angle to a drop-off. They can also happen when two currents moving in opposite directions meet and move over each other. These currents can quickly drag a scuba diver deeper than their planned depth.

  • What to do: Down currents become weaker the further you are from the wall, so swim out towards the open sea and upwards at a 45-degree angle. If the current is particularly strong, you can inflate your BCD - but be prepared to deflate immediately once you’re out to avoid a runaway ascent. If all else fails, hold onto the wall and climb up, but be careful not to damage coral or touch stinging hydroids. 

Up current

  • What it is: An upwelling comes from the depths and pushes everything in it upwards. Divers caught in this kind of current can be swept towards the surface which may cause decompression sickness, a lung overexpansion injury or arterial gas embolism.

  • What to do: Empty the air out of your BCD to slow your ascent and swim away from the wall or drop off at a downward 45-degree angle. If you can’t escape the current, flare out your arms and legs to slow the ascent and remember to exhale continuously.

Tidal current

  • What it is: These type of currents travel to and from the shore - towards it during a rising tide and away from it towards the open ocean on a falling tide.

  • What to do: Tidal currents are best managed by understanding local tide tables. Always consult local professionals about the tides and dive at slack high tide when you’ll experience less current. Carry appropriate gear like SMBs and audible signalling devices and plan for multiple exit points. Make sure someone knows your dive plan and is waiting for you at the shore, so they can take action if you miss your planned exit.

Washing machine current

  • What is it: This occurs when the bottom topography bounces currents around. It can move you in all directions and create a feeling of disorientation, especially as bubbles move around and you can’t tell which way is up.

  • What to do: As with vertical currents, swim out at a horizontal angle and hold onto your gear, as the force of these currents can dislodge masks and regulators. If this doesn’t work, wait for the current to dissipate and end the dive safely.

Vortex current

  • What it is: Very little information is available on vortex currents as they are very rare. However, telltale signs of this is a horizontal snake of bubbles in the water that can be seen in this video.

  • What to do: The best way to manage this type of current is to avoid it altogether by being aware of your dive environment. However, should you get caught in a vortex current, remain calm and conserve your energy until you can feel it weakening. Then swim out at a perpendicular angle.

Don’t let currents get you down (or up and sideways for that matter), cruising with the current on a drift dive can be an amazing experience. However, when doing drift dives, choose a dive pro you can trust.

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