9 Tips for Drift Diving in Cozumel

Cozumel Drift Diving the Easy Way

Cozumel has some of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean. You can thank the currents for that. The western shores of this Mexican island are washed by a steady stream of clear oceanic water that nurtures a colorful crop of corals and sponges. And in case the idea of diving in a current has you worried, don't be. Dive operators in Cozumel practice what is known as a “live boat drift,” which is one of the easiest and most enjoyable types of diving you will ever experience. That said, there are a few simple tips to follow that will ensure the best possible Cozumel diving experience.

Good buoyancy control allows you to “fly” closer to the dramatic coral formations of Cozumel's Reefs.
Good buoyancy control allows you to “fly” closer to the dramatic coral formations of Cozumel's Reefs.

1. Go Lightly

Maintaining proper buoyancy is important on any dive, and doubly so when you are drifting.  Your goal is to achieve neutral buoyancy so that you can glide over the reefs without constant up-and-down corrections. During your initial checkout dive make sure you are carrying just enough weight to allow you to float neutrally at safety stop depths when the tank is down to reserve levels. This will keep you from having to add large quantities of air to your BC order to compensate for excess weighting. A lesser volume of air in the BC also makes it easier to fine-tune your buoyancy when making depth changes.

2. Trim Out

Drift diving can make you feel like Superman in flight. And just like a superhero taking to the air, you'll want to maintain a near-horizontal body position. This not only allows you to “fly” closer to the reefs without making contact, but it also provides maximum control, as you will easily be able to move left, right, up or down with just a few flicks of the fins. Leveling out is partly about body control and partly about trimming your gear. To adjust your swimming attitude, experiment with small changes in the height of your tank within the BC harness, and with the position of your dive weights. Proper weighting also keeps you from having to add excess air to the BC, which tends to place you in a vertical attitude.

Cozumel dive guides typically carry surface markers on up lines to mark the group's position.
Cozumel dive guides typically carry surface markers on up lines to mark the group's position.

3. Tuck it In

It's never a good idea to have your octopus or gage console dragging across the bottom, and this is especially true when you are being pushed along by a current. Leave something dangling, and there's a chance it will catch on a coral or wedge into a crevice. Not only is this bad for the reef, but it could also damage your gear. In a worst-case scenario, this could cause a second stage to pop off its hose fitting and create a catastrophic air loss. A more likely result will be some mile embarrassment as your forward progress is halted as you get hung up on the bottom.

4. Carry an SMB

Cozumel's dive operators provide knowledgeable guides to lead each drift and carry a marker float. Stay within a reasonable distance of that guide and you'll be able to ascend and end the dive with the group. But just in case you get separated, you'll want to have your own surface marker buoy (SMB), which you can send to the surface to alert the dive boat and any other marine traffic to your position. When choosing an SMB, don't scrimp. Choose a substantial marker in a high-visibility color such as orange or yellow and learn how to deploy it from depth.

Staying at the front of a dive group may provide additional chances for marine life sightings.
Staying at the front of a dive group may provide additional chances for marine life sightings.

5. Be Ready

Drift dives go best when the entire group starts together and descends together. The best way to make this happen is to be ready to hit the water when the captain calls “dive, dive, dive.” As the boat approaches the drop point, have your gear on and adjusted, your air turned on and final details such as your mask rinsed taken care of. The goal is to avoid any last-minute fumbles or adjustment that might hold up the entry process. When you hit the water, take a couple of fin kicks away so that the next diver can follow without delay, then wait for the guide's signal to descend.

6. Up Front or Out Back?

The marine life in Cozumel isn't shy or skittish. That said, veteran drift divers know that there's always a chance of seeing something extra if you are first on the scene. Given the chance, they will stay slightly ahead of other divers and scan the waters for potential subjects of interest. Of, course, there are also advantages to bringing up the rear, as fish will sometimes circle away from an approaching dive group, then drop in behind. Both positions have their merits, and both are considered preferable to being in the center of the pack.

The down-current side of a high-relief coral head often provides a place to duck in out of the current.
The down-current side of a high-relief coral head often provides a place to duck in out of the current.

7. Go with the Flow

Trying to swim against the current can be tiring, and bad for air consumption. It's rare you will ever need to directly fight the flow, but there are times when may find yourself working harder than you need to. This is the case when you suddenly notice something of interest off to your left or right. To get there, you'll likely have to swim diagonally into the current. A better plan is to look ahead and anticipate any moves to one side or the other. This way, you'll be able to make a down-current beeline for the target without any hard finning. 

Fish often seek out sheltered areas to stay out of the current.
Fish often seek out sheltered areas to stay out of the current.

8. Work the Water

If you can visualize the flow of water across the reef, you can use the underwater topography to pause in a sheltering eddy and take in your surroundings or do some fish watching. Look for places down current of coral heads, under-hangs or around other structural features where you can duck in and get out of the water flow. These eddies are often used by fish to hold position, and they are prime places for critter spotting.

At the end of the dive, the boat comes to you, making exits fast and easy.
At the end of the dive, the boat comes to you, making exits fast and easy.

9. Ascend Carefully

Whether you are ascending with the guide or following the tethering line of your own SMB to the surface, you'll want to ascend with caution after completing your safety stop. Listen for the sound of approaching boat traffic, and scan to locate your dive boat once you reach the surface. Give the “OK” sign, add some air to your BC, and then just relax and wait for the boat to come to you.

Ready to experience the reefs of Cozumel and the best drift diving in the Caribbean? We have a wide variety of Cozumel dive packages that put you in the best resorts and connect you to the best dive operators. To learn more, give one of our expert agents a call at 800-330-6611 or send a note to sales@caradonna.com.