If I was a gambling man I’d be tempted to bet that more new divers took their first sea dive under Swanage Pier than at any other site in the UK. I would also bet that many of them, no matter how long they have been diving for, still like a dip there.
The secret to getting a great dive day at Swanage is to bag a parking place on the pier. This can be easier said than done at weekends when conditions are good in summer. Then you need to be there well before the pier opens but in the week and away from the summer holidays things are far more peaceful. Even if you can’t get a coveted pier parking spot don’t worry. Unload by the pier gate and leave a kit minder while the driver parks at the long stay car park just a few yards up the hill behind the pier. Currently, parking costs £9 to stay all day and divers are charged £2.50 each. This charge is waived if you are diving from a boat leaving the pier. The pier trust kindly provides plenty of trolleys for diver use so just grab one or these and use it to shift your kit to wherever you base yourself.
Anyone who knows me or reads my blogs knows that dining opportunities are a key feature of my dive planning. No problems here, there are great breakfast, lunch and dinner options within a very short stroll of the pier. As I write this the pier is completing an extensive renovation programme and I understand the new, on-pier, “1859 Pier Cafe & Bistro” is now open. No need to bring a packed lunch to Swanage!
Diving under Swanage Pier
This is a shallow dive and at high tide, you are unlikely to get below 5m or so even out at the far end of the pier. Conditions here are pretty good for most of the time. The wind direction that can ruin the visibility and bring in the waves is an easterly. I’m a fan of XCWeather for keeping an eye on wind direction and strength when planning a dive. Swanage Bay does have quite a bit of silt on the bottom so after a period of bad weather it can take a day or two for conditions to pick up.
The easiest option for getting in is down the steps just by the gents toilet! Watch out, they can be slippy. There is enough depth by the steps when the tide is up but at low tide you need to take some precarious steps across the stones to find enough depth to swim in. Once in, its an easy and short swim to the pier itself. I have never felt any current here so your dive should be nice and gentle… I have absolutely no issues with easy, chilled diving.
Navigation is dead easy. If its dark up top and there are pier pilings on each side you are under the pier. If not – you aren’t. Just follow the pier out and then when your turn point is reached turn around and come back. When you hit a wall the dive is over.
This is a dive about the little stuff. Look out for nudibranchs, juvenile fish, pipefish, small flatfish, crabs and lobsters. Bass, mullet, John Dory and shoals of sandeels are regular visitors. Do look out for the delightful Tompot Blennies which always remind those of more senior years of Denis Healey. There are also the inevitable resident wrasse – I remember a small but feisty territorial cuckoo wrasse making it very clear that I should depart their territory post haste! If you are a fan of close up and macro photography this is a dream location.
When diving the pier the only real hazard is navigating away from the pier. It is used by fishermen so there is an entanglement risk while boat traffic is frequent so stay under the pier or deply an SMB
Boat Diving from Swanage
Two companies operate from the pier. Divers Down is one of the oldest dive stores and training centres in the UK, dating back to 1958. They operate a compressor offering air and nitrox fills and have a store in case you forgot anything. Divers Down operate two dive boats and visit all the local and sometimes not so local dive sites. They keep an up to date list of trips with vacancies. They also post last minute places on a board outside the shop so you might be lucky if you just turn up in the morning. Many of their trips are shuttles – they accept bookings from buddy pairs, no need to fill the boat and simply take you out for a single dive and bring you back. You can organise your day as you wish, maybe combining a dip under the pier with one or more boat trips during the day. Swanage Boat Charters offer a similar service. They too run two boats with one tending to do charters or shuttles to more distant sites while Mary Jo, generally skippered by the unflappable and helpful, Bryan, covers more local sites. Swanage Boat Charters have a very useful website where, once you are registered, allows you to see all their trips for the whole season and book online.
Boat dives tend to be to local wrecks at slack water with a number of options for thrilling drift dives when the tide is running. Don’t miss the opportunity to drift from Old Harry Rocks or across the Peverell Ledges. The wrecks are many and various. Open Water divers will love the Fleur de Lys, a wreck of a trawler which sank in 1969 and which sits in 13-15m of water. I love taking a trip to the Valentine Tanks; amphibious tanks which sank (who’d have thought that could happen!) during trials before D-Day. There are two tanks linked by a line making navigation between them easy – although I know a diver who managed to get lost here 😉 They contain a prodigious amount of life far out of proportion to their size. Expect lobsters, edible crabs, conger eels, big shoals of pout and pollack.
The iconic wreck at Swanage is the Kyarra. Look at the display outside Divers Down for more detail and if you are on Mary Jo ask Bryan to show you his treasure box which includes old perfume bottles whose contents still retain their scent. This big wreck is in range for an Advanced Open Water or BSAC Sport divers.
Rather than attempt to catalogue all the Swanage wrecks visit this interactive map on the Swanage Boat Charters site.
I am lucky in that I can get to Swanage for a day’s diving and still be home at a civilised time but I still try to build in at least a couple of weekend trips down here. There is plenty of accommodation from campsites, self catering and a whole range of hotels and plenty of great eateris and pubs for post diving entertainment. Why not visit Swanage for a dive or two? As long as the winds aren’t the dreaded Easterlies you won’t regret it.
If you want to find a group of divers who love diving Swanage and go there regularly get in touch with us at Scuba Blue and find a recent trip report here. Scuba Blue organise trips locally and abroad and operate a dive club open to any agency. We can offer training through PADI from Try Dive to PADI Professional as well as wide range of Specialities.
Here are some useful links for anyone planning to visit Swanage.
Anyone Can Try Scuba Diving !! ⭐
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to breathe underwater or to be completely weightless like an astronaut? Well wonder no more, come and experience it for yourself on a “Try Dive” with Scuba Blue 🌊
We run “Try Dives” every Tuesday evening, you need no experience and all you will need to do on the evening itself is have FUN !!!
A “Try Dive” is cheaper than you might imagine, £30 per person or if you come as a pair it is £50 for 2 people. Bring the kids along 👫 anyone over the age of 8 years old can have a go !!
Live life….try something new….come and join us for a “Try Dive with Scuba Blue who knows where it might lead !!!
📲 Call us on 01404 891808 for a chat…… we would love to hear from you!!
A huge thank you to Tony Reed for a fantastic workshop on Underwater Photography last night at Scuba Blue HQ. A really interesting insight into producing high-quality underwater images. The fabulous thing was that he only uses a camera worth £250 to get the incredible pictures he produces meaning that everyone at the workshop could see that it is accessible to all.
We now move to the next part of the workshop….in the field, so to speak. This weekend at Porthkerris we have been challenged by Tony to put the theory into practice.
There will be prizes for the best “Still” Photograph and also for the best “Short Film” of the weekend.
Tony will be on hand all weekend to help you get the winning images !!
Thanks to all that came to a great evening, I don’t think Tony was expecting quite as many people, we are very appreciative of your support.
Since 2015, women from all around the globe have been getting together to celebrate PADI Women’s Dive Day to bond over their love of the ocean and a passion for scuba diving!
This year, Vicky from Scuba Blue invited ladies from Somerset, Devon and Dorset to meet at Brixham to enjoy a scuba dive out to Ladybird Cove followed by a second dive along the Breakwater. Here is her report.
Among the group were relatively new divers, divers with years of experience and some who were just getting back after having a year or so out from diving. It was wonderful to see some new faces to Scuba Blue as well as catching up with the usual lovely ladies from the dive group.
The viz wasn’t great, but in places we enjoyed 3-4m and there was enough life to keep us entertained!! Large edible crabs, lobster, compass jellies, free swimming scallops and some lovely examples of Ballan wrasse.
After the first dive, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Breakwater Bistro, chatting away and sharing our dive experiences from the UK and further afield. We also discussed the upcoming Scuba Blue trip to Curaçao, which many of us are booked on and getting extremely excited about!!
Following lunch, we headed back into the water for our second dive. We emerged to find glorious sunshine for the rest of the afternoon and, after packing all the dive gear away, we enjoyed Sue’s fabulous homemade cake and, of course, plenty of Haribos, whilst sitting on the beach.
A brilliant day had by all and I’m already looking forward to the next Scuba Blue dive trips to Swanage on the 5th August and Porthkerris on the 18/19th.
Contact us at Scuba Blue to find out about forthcoming dive trips. We run regular trips but also just go diving locally on a regular basis. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a dive buddy, we can sort that out for you. Sign up for our email newsletters and follow us on Facebook to stay in touch.
If you haven’t been diving for a while we can organise a skills review to build your confidence again. Whatever it takes to get you diving.
Happy diving everyone!
The next in our series on great local diving looks at diving the wonderful Babbacombe Beach. This is where many new PADI Open Water Divers go for their first independent dive trips. These divers are likely to keep visiting for many years to come as there is so much to see at any time of the year.
Put the postcode TQ1 3LX in your satnav to get to the site. Your journey ends on a steep, narrow lane but the Cary Arms is on this road – If the beer delivery lorries can get down here – so can you! The car park at the bottom is right next to the beach but it isn’t massive. This isn’t a problem most of the time but on summer weekends you should get here early.
No dive day is complete unless some catering options are built in. The beach cafe is open somewhat intermittently but is usually serving at weekends in the season. The Cary Arms is a great pub and restaurant just by the beach and at the top of the hill, Babbacombe has plenty of decent cafes and restaurants to choose from.
Have a look at the Beach Webcam. It sits on top of the cafe and gives a good view of beach conditions. Babbacombe is a sheltered site but easterly winds will spoil the diving here. Maybe think about Chesil Cove when the wind direction is from the east.
Diving at Babbacombe is pretty straightforward but watch your footing getting in and out of the water. Keep away from the jetty if people are fishing there. Boats use the bay so use a marker buoy from the start or have one ready to send up if you hear boat traffic.
There are plenty of ways to dive from the beach. To get a good overview try swimming out towards the jetty (watch out for people fishing though) on a North Easterly bearing. The gradually sloping, rock and weed covered bed will drop off quickly by a metre or so onto a siltier bottom.
In this area, there is likely to be plenty of lost fishing gear so watch out for tangling. I like to take a bag and a cutting instrument and remove some of this. Lost fishing gear can continue to catch and entangle marine life for years.
Swim along this drop-off, looking out for marine life as you go. You are swimming across the bay now. Look out for “Mushroom Rock” which is a well-named feature where much marine life including cuttlefish, anemones, tiny nudibranchs and the like are to be found. Make sure to spend plenty of time around the rockier area on the western side of the shore. Shoals of small pollock are to be found, cuttlefish in season, crabs, lobsters…and much more. Finish by heading back across the bay towards the east before turning in to finish in the middle of the beach – 10 brownie points for being opposite the steps up to the carpark.
On other dives, you could head straight out to mushroom rock on a N bearing from the ramp. You could go further west to find a seagrass bed and look for pipefish, maybe even an elusive seahorse. At very high tide you can get in on the other side of the jetty, or just swim around the jetty if it is safe to do so. There is always plenty to explore at Babbacombe and it seems to change every time you visit.
For air fills why not call in at Scuba Blue, just 15 minutes off the M5 at Dunkeswell.
All the pictures on this page were taken at Babbacombe by the wonderful local underwater photographer, Tony Reed. Check out more of his work at his blog http://cheapandcheerful.blog and look out for his photography workshops with Scuba Blue.
If you found this article interesting check out other blog articles from the Scuba Blue Dive Centre
On Tuesday evening we had our first pool session at Kings College, Taunton. With new kit, new students and new Divemasters we approached this first session hoping that all would run smoothly!!
The weather was beautiful allowing us to run through the theory section of the courses sitting in a fabulous outdoor amphitheatre. This created a lovely, relaxed atmosphere for Open Water and Rescue students as well as those trying Scuba for the first time.
The Divemasters got all the kit ready pool side so when it was time to get into the pool everything ran like clockwork. The new kit all performed just as we had hoped and all the courses ran brilliantly with everyone having a great time.
We must have done a great job as all of the Try Dive Divers decided to sign up to do the Open Water course which is fabulous and makes us very happy bunnies !!
Thanks so much to the whole Scuba Blue team for a brilliant effort in making our first pool session go so smoothly.
A brilliant start to the new PADI Divemaster course today when six students started out the first level of PADI Professional training. After meeting together today and getting an induction and introduction to the role of the divemaster, their next steps will be to work in the pool next week to support Open Water Diver and Rescue Diver courses as well as helping out with some Try Dives. Our trainee divemasters will learn alongside experienced instructors and divemasters who will mentor them as they fine-tune their dive skills and refine their rescue skills. They will learn to predict and solve problems, gain dive knowledge, management and supervision abilities so they become a role model to divers everywhere.
As a PADI Divemaster, they will lead others, supervise scuba diving activities and assist with diver training. We hope they will want to join the Scuba Blue Pro team when they finish the course but maybe some will see it as an opportunity to work at a faraway dive destination. Whatever they choose, they are taking the first steps towards a fantastic adventure.
If you are a PADI Rescue Diver or have a similar qualification from another dive organisation why not get in touch with Scuba Blue and join the next group of folk aiming to become PADI Professionals. We take pride in offering a well-planned programme where you are supported throughout and have time to practice and hone your skills so you will become a confident, skilled and knowledgeable divemaster.
You can find out more about the Divemaster course here – “PADI Divemaster Course” but why not give us a call or pop into the shop so we can start to plan your adventure together.
This is the first of a series on local beach diving sites around the south coast, mostly in Devon and Dorset. We are so lucky to have such an array of great diving on our doorstep with many sites shallow enough and easy enough for buddy pairs making their first independent dives in open water. We at Scuba Blue may have many years of diving under our belts but Breakwater Beach is a go-to any time we just fancy a dip in the sea.
To get to the car park by the beach just stick TQ5 9AF into your satnav. That is the postcode of the wonderful Breakwater Bistro – I am a great believer in the rule that all good dive trips should have excellent dining opportunities built in. The Bistro allows damp divers into the covered area at the front and serves great breakfasts and lunches to sustain the diver (remember – Dive Calories Don’t Count). Sadly parking here isn’t cheap away from the winter months so make sure you have the right app on your phone or bring plenty of coins.
I like to do most shore dives at high tide just to avoid the faff of trudging over exposed beaches but Brixham is dive-able at most states of the tide. Avoid diving if strong winds are from N, NE or E. There is little current unless you are well out from the shore. The beach faces North so navigation is pretty straightforward.
Suggestions for dives include:
1. Dive along the breakwater wall. You must only do this if there are no fishermen/women around…for obvious reasons. Look out for big crabs and lobsters in the cracks between boulders. Please don’t take any, leave them so others can share the delight when they see them too. Anyway, you need to apply for a license to take species including crabs, lobsters and scallops here. Don’t risk large fines.
2. Just head out North, bimble around a bit and head back South. You are likely to pass through a range of habitats including lovely seagrass beds where cuttlefish lay their eggs in season, pipefish hide away and young fish live, seeking protection from larger predators.
3. After heading North from the beach turn East and head around the coastline. Again you will have a number of different habitats available to you depending on the depths you choose. I’ve even seen conger eel in the rocks around there.
The go-to guy for information about diving at Brixham is Baz Drysdale. He can do air fills (call 01803 850444/07527463968) but ask around, he’s probably diving off the beach. He also posts most days on the Facebook Page “UK Viz Reports”.
You can also pick up a boat dive from the breakwater. Warwick Saunders runs a rib out of there and will take small groups out to a whole range of local sites. He is very good and will match the site with the interests and training level of the divers. Call him on 07771 888545.
On my last trip, in May 2018, we were fortunate enough to witness the undersea world awakening from winter. We had mating cuttlefish in the sea grass beds, pipefish and hundreds of sea hares, also intent on reproduction. Tiny, but colourful, nudibranchs wandered slowly on nearly every boulder or rock. A few big wrasse, who had overwintered here, raced around while much smaller fry shoaled in the sea grass, hoping there was protection in numbers. We were there trying out some new gear for Scuba Blue and our team included Tony Reed who, besides being a top bloke and ace diver, is a great photographer. All the pictures on this page are his. Go over to check out his website at http://cheapandcheerful.blog and look out for his photography workshops with Scuba Blue.