Apr

29

By Capt. Lawren McCaghren

The diver down flag indicates there are scuba divers and/ or snorkelers in the water. Boaters and PWC’s should remain 200 ft. away from the flag. If you need to approach within 100 feet, use extreme caution, go slow and look for bubbles. The divers and snorkelers also have a responsibility to remain within 50’ of their flag. The intention of the flag isn’t a restriction, but to keep everyone safe, so boaters and divers can all enjoy the water together.

Divers/ Boaters in Alabama (Alabama Code Section 33-5-22)
1. A diver’s flag must be displayed on the surface of any water where skin divers are operating as may be stipulated by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
2. The diver’s flag will be at least 300 mm (12 inches) square, colored red with a white 500 mm (2 inch) stripe running diagonally from the top staff corner to the bottom fly corner.
3. Legal Requirements of Boating Other Equipment & Regulations gets specific about how far you can be from your dive flag: 50 feet.

4. For Boaters in Alabama, vessels shall keep at least 100 feet clearance of displayed diver’s flag.
Divers/ Boaters in Florida (Chapter 27, Florida Statutes 327.331)
1. “Diver” means any person who is wholly or partially submerged in the waters of the state and is equipped with a face mask and snorkel or underwater breathing apparatus.
2. Divers-down flag specifications:

1. The flag must be square or rectangular and have a wire or stiffener to hold it fully unfurled and extended in the absence of wind.
2. The flag must be red with a white diagonal stripe that begins at the top staff-side of the flag and extends diagonally to the lower opposite corner.
3. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed on a float towed by the diver is 12” X 12”. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed from a vessel or structure is 20” X 24”.
4. Any divers-down flag displayed from a vessel must be displayed from the highest point which provides that the visibility of the divers-down flag is not obstructed in any direction.
5. Divers shall make reasonable efforts to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag on rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. Any person

Mar

4

The water is warming and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season. The talk of another short snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip. Some of us have been diving and spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock, but for many, their first trip is this month. Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful. They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear sheepheadafter shooting 1 or 2 and usually allow for a close shot. They are usually plentiful during their late winter spawn which usually lasts thru April. I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating or, the wave of spring break charter fishing trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers, on single sites like we do now. Because of their rib cage, some fisherman believe they are too hard to clean. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all the sheephead you bring in, knows the mild flavor and white, flaky meat and is hoping you don’t discover it.

Their smaller size and liberal creel limits make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills. Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan. Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia. The challenge of wrestling the larger species isn’t an issue with the smaller fish, like sheephead and mangrove snapper. I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Koah2Many underwater hunters think of March and April as their tune-up season. Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back. Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season…spearfisherman will brush up on rigging, loading and shooting their spearguns. The difference is spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets. Thus, the big attraction of sheephead in March.  Many local divers have upgraded thereKoah1 older spearguns, and are now shooting one of the excellent guns from Koah’s lineup.  The Koah Fatback series is the hardest shooting, quietest and most accurate production gun I have ever dove with.  John Ippolito of Koah Spearguns, is producing custom quality guns, but with a production gun price tag.  Whether you are upgrading, or this is your first speargun, you will admire the craftsmanship that goes into these guns.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing. Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season. A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water! So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.” Make that “One day” happen this year.

Jan

11

The days of group trips; meeting new divers, that shared excitement, adventure, fulfillment; are giving way to rock bottom pricing.  In the days of ‘Expedia’ and ‘Priceline’ consumers are going it alone.  Some are getting great deals, others just think they are.  Many have never experienced the fun and social aspects of group travel.

Think back to an activity you enjoyed with a group, such as going to a concert.  I don’t mean the Philharmonic, I’m talking about the last big country, rock or R&B show you attended.  Yes, it’s great to have that one on one time with your special someone, but tailgating before the show, everyone singing FreeeeeeBiiiiiiird for 12 minutes, and carrying the excitement out into the parking lot together afterward!  The enthusiasm and excitement is contagious.  This group dynamic is the main appeal to traveling with like-minded friends.

Sure there are those bad experiences, bad weather, delayed flights, that one group member who just seems to get on everyone’s nerves, but those things also happen when you go it alone and a good trip leader knows how to ease tensions and always has plans B, C, & D up his sleeve.  You might be surprised how competitively priced these trips can be and you get the added benefit of an experienced trip director who is usually familiar with the destination.

We had a blast in Turks & Caicos last month and are looking forward to great diving in Roatan, Honduras in March.  We have a few spots left, so make your spring break vacation plans now.

March 9 – 16, 2013         Roatan, Honduras      $1425     unlimited diving, all-inclusive resort

For additional information on these featured trips and others call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Dec

7

Outside interests that are shared amongst family members usually tie that family together as they grow.  We have countless stories of families getting certified to dive for a single vacation and discovering a new weekend recreation.  When they return from an exotic locale they come by the dive shop and share their excitement, pictures and memories.  The next words out of their mouths are, “tell us about local diving”.

Water is a great “equalizer” among groups.  A family can have many different strength and ability levels and still enjoy being underwater together.  One thing I have noticed about snow skiing families is that they have discussions over breakfast about where everyone is headed and what time to meet back up for lunch.  The good skiers are bored hanging out with less experienced skiers on the bunny slope and the new skiers are scared on the more challenging runs. The result,  for everyone to have fun, is they go in different directions.  This isn’t the case with diving.  All family members can be diving together on the same reef and all get something different out of the experience.

All interests can be filled on a single dive.  The excitement and adrenaline of spearfishing for teenagers, the challenges of capturing good underwater images for dad, and the quite and tranquility for mom.

A recreation that can be shared by all and enjoyed for a lifetime.  We have many stories of 3 generations of family members diving together and developing memories that will truly last a lifetime.

For more information on family oriented dive training call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

 

Nov

12

If you don’t dive yet, some of what you “know” about diving might actually be wrong. A lot of these “myths’ are perpetuated in the media and movies, and you might be surprised at what is right and what myths are “busted!” Which one of these myths have you been believing all along?

MYTH: You have to be in top physical condition to dive.

TRUTH: Like any active sport, diving is more enjoyable if you’re physically fit. And you do need some basic swimming skills in order to learn. But it’s nothing extreme; if you’re comfortable in the deep end of a pool, can swim, and you can walk for several minutes without getting winded, you can learn to dive.

MYTH: Becoming a certified diver takes too long.

TRUTH: You can become a certified diver in a very short period of time, or you can take your time and learn at your own pace. Gulf Coast Diver’s VIP-PACE training program can accomodate anyone’s schedule, or you can sign up for private sessions. Our Variable Investment Program-Paced According to Capability and Enjoyment says it all.  You’ll be diving in less time than you think!

MYTH: Diving is complicated and difficult to learn.

TRUTH:  Learning to dive is easy. Our professional diving instructors use all the learning materials and proven strategies to make it simple and fun to learn. Before you know it you’ll be breathing underwater and using all the cool “toys” that make diving easier than ever.

MYTH: I’m too old to learn.

TRUTH:  We regularly hear about people diving, and learning to dive, well into their eighties. In fact one of the most active “groups” of divers is in the age range from 38 to 53. On the whole, this group dives more regularly, travels more to dive, and even takes more classes than most other “groups.”  Our own repair technician, Capt. Bill, is 77 years old and usually logs around 40 dives a year!

MYTH: I have no one to dive with.

TRUTH:  Diving is an exciting and unique experience that many people take up while on vacation or as a life-long activity. Finding buddies with which to dive is as easy as participating in one of our group dives and showing up for the regular Gulf Coast Diving Society social events. You’ll probably have ready-to-dive buddies that you’ll meet during your scuba certification course. Chances are you’ll find that you have lots in common with these other divers, usually more than the diving experience itself!  Plus, you probably have friends now that are certified divers, you just didn’t know they dove. Join Gulf Coast Dive Society on facebook and you will have dozens of dive and snorkel buddies.

MYTH: When you dive you breathe differently than you do on land.

TRUTH: Breathing naturally while underwater is one of the most terrific sensations you’ll ever experience, and one of the first things you’ll learn in your certification course. You will find that about the only difference between breathing air on land and underwater is that you must breathe through the regulator in your mouth – and since today’s regulators are so well made that breathing is made very simple and natural, even this part is easy.  You will be breathing underwater in your very first session, for only $24.

MYTH: It’s dark and murky underwater and difficult to see.

TRUTH: Most dives do not require a light since sunlight penetrates far deeper than the depth to which most divers go. Even when diving in very deep water, beyond 100 feet, divers can see quite well without any artificial light. Interestingly, colors are absorbed by the water, so while it may be very easy to see, most of the color begins to be absorbed beyond 30 to 50 feet of depth, rendering most everything blue.

Most divers do not dive in water with limited visibility unless they are looking for something special, like a lost wedding ring or an outboard motor from a neighbor’s boat. Some of these locations can give the diver the opportunity to see wrecks or find treasures, and with the proper training, limited visibility is not a significant diving obstacle. When diving from the beach the visibility will vary with the tides, but just a few miles from Mobile Bay, the clearer gulf waters will surprise you.  Or maybe, you are only interested in travel diving on vacation, each can provide their own brand of fun!

Whatever your reasons for not learning to dive, rethink them and consider giving it a try.  You can experience the thrill of being underwater for only $24, then decide whether you really want to miss out on the wonders of our oceans.

 

Oct

8

The sport of spearfishing is governed by federal and state regulations, and we have the same size and creel limits as anglers.  Spearfishing has been found to be the most environmentally friendly form of fishing due to being highly selective, having no by-catch, causing no habitat damage, nor creating stress or harm to protected endangered species.

 These facts prove a spearfisherman can harvest their catch without doing any harm to the reef, but can he actually help the health of the reef? Absolutely!

 The newest target species for us gulf coast hunters is the invasive lionfish.  The last two years has seen an explosion in the local population of these beautiful, but extremely harmful fish.  A single female can produce 1 million eggs a year and a very high percentage of those will survive.  They have no local natural predator and eat the young of all our prized species.

 For these reasons a campaign has started with divers to put our spears to work to kill any lionfish we see.  Currently, it is the only way to attempt to check this growing problem.  They can’t be targeted with hook and line, nor can they be trawled because they only live in close proximity to wrecks and reefs.  No effective idea for developing a commercial fishery has been discovered.  So far, spearfishing is the only proven way to try and keep them in check.

 We are currently conducting additional dive training for biologist with Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources so they can observe the lionfish on the reefs and develop effective eradication techniques.  All in an attempt to eradicate them and protect the strong fishery we enjoy on the gulf coast.

Most anglers don’t understand the severity of the problem because they don’t see how the pyramids, tanks and natural bottom are choked with them.  Even though a mature lionfish won’t eat a large snapper, it will consume every juvenile, so very few young snapper will survive to adulthood.

 The Alabama Spearfishing Association is currently hosting the First Annual Flora-Bama Lion Fish Roundup.  This six-week tournament allows participants to win prizes by harvesting as many Lionfish as they can.  The hope is that we can harvest species and raise awareness by hosting this tournament.  Spearfishing is the only effective way to fight this battle.  All the lionfish harvested are donated to researchers that are desperate to find other means of halting the invasion.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about how you can participate in the fight to eradicate lionfish from our reefs.

Sep

26

Most of October we will see high tides during dark hours.  The best conditions for shore diving in our area are found at high tide.  Low to no current in the passes and the clearer gulf waters are pushed in close, improving visibility.  Add to this formula, a nighttime high tide and you have the perfect conditions for spearing flounder at night.

 Swimming in the gulf at night brings visions of monsters and sea serpents to the minds of the uninitiated. It reminds me of walking out of the woods after an afternoon hunt as a kid.  Every little twig snap had me gasping my last breath before a mountain lion ravaged me. After a few stressful hikes, common sense prevailed over imagination and I realized how loud a squirrel could be in the woods.   A new night diver wrestles with the same imaginings until they can relax, let there common sense kick in and start hunting for the faint outline of the fall flounder.

 Flounder are beginning their fall migration to deeper water this time of year.  It isn’t uncommon to hit the water at our preferred night dive sites and see flounder carpeting the bottom.  We have to move slowly and deliberately when they are this plentiful because every time you spear one, you will spook three.  If you see a flounder 6 feet way and swim quickly to him, it is likely that you’ve looked over the bigger one lying in wait directly under you.

Instead of wading in knee-deep water and squinting for the outline of these ambush predators, we drift along the bottom with powerful dive lights.  The southern flounder is a master of camouflage, but our bright LED dive lights will make their outline standout against the bottom.  We use a pole spear instead of a speargun.  It is similar to a gig pole, but relies on a rubber band for power instead of arm strength.

Many flounder hunters use only mask, snorkel, fins, light and pole spear to stack ‘em up.  Slipping along the beach in the surf zone, they can efficiently cover a lot a ground from the shallows down to about 5-6’ deep. This depth is out of the range of the waders.  Still others don full scuba gear and scour the deeper depths for these nocturnal predators.

During daylight hours, a flounder stays mostly buried in the sand.  But at night, they sit on top of the sand waiting for a shrimp or bull minnow to swim along, then attacking from underneath. Flounder hunting isn’t just limited to night, as the flounder move offshore to the deeper sites we scan the sand around the site for our limit of “flat boys”.

 With a minimal investment in a set of snorkeling gear, good underwater light and pole spear, you can be arriving late for work in the morning, telling stories of staying out until midnight chasing flounder in the surf zone, at night. Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.

Sep

18

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.  It is because of their strength they are called “Pez Fuerte” south of the border.  In English it means “strong fish”!

 Their size and strength contribute to the excitement as the ultimate target species in underwater hunting.  Amberjack are targeted only by experienced spearos that have developed their aim well enough to “stone ‘em”.  But it only takes missing the kill spot by 2 inches to be dealt an exciting fight.  Underwater video of good and bad shots is a great tool to use in training new hunters.

 A huge trend among spearfisherman this season has been shooting video.  Most of the hunters I dive with have added camera mounts to their guns to video the excitement of the stalk, hunt and fight.

 It is easy to get a good quality, high definition video camera and underwater housing in a very small package and for a reasonable price.  The logical next step was to mount it to your mask or your gun and capture the action. Non-diving friends and family are amazed at the action and scenes that we enjoy every time we venture under the gulf. A fisherman sitting in the boat 70 feet above the action, has no idea what goes on below. The freedom of being able to select your own fish and just seeing all the species that inhabit the sites that they fish.  Instead of guessing what the colored pixels on your bottom machine represent, why don’t you jump in and have a look?

 The Sealife and GoPro-style cameras can be mounted out of the way leaving the hunter free to press “record” then forget about the camera and get on with the hunt.

The added bonus is seeing all the fish species on the reef, not just the ones biting.  The video evidence from divers has been instrumental in educating the “powers that be” on the proliferation of the red snapper population in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in hopes of getting the season and creel limits relaxed.

Divers have provided the video evidence of the Lionfish invasion to our coastal reefs.  Because Lionfish don’t bite a hook, most fisherman only read articles about the invasion.  We’ve seen the Lionfish go from a rare sighting 2 years ago, to a common species.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training, spearfishing and underwater videography.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think. Then you can grab your Sealife camera and be uploading You Tube videos after your first trip.

Jun

13

Your kids get excited about Christmas morning or the last day of school, but my dive buddies and I start loosing sleep in anticipation of June 1st.  With this season promising higher fuel prices, stricter creel limits and an abundance of nice red snapper on every site, most won’t have to travel far from the dock to fill your two fish quota.  If you are like many gulf coast fisherman, who target the red delicacy, the sport of fishing isn’t really much sport anymore.  The only way to stretch your fishing day to lunchtime is to cull fish all morning.  These comments may surprise fisherman from other areas of the country that have heard we have a shortage of Red Snapper.  Well ask any Alabama fisherman and you will hear stories of limiting out in just two drops to the bottom.

Because of the restricted limits and high fuel prices, many anglers have turned to spearfishing to fill their fish boxes.  It is the ultimate in selective fishing, because you are eye to eye with the fish.  It is easier to target a particular fish and you don’t spend all day culling rat snapper.  Many fisherman complain of not getting their bait through the small snapper to reach the bottom for that big sow snapper, scamp or triggerfish.

Fuel prices are always a summer concern and with marine fuel at a premium price, running all over the gulf can be a costly technique.

I’ve been spearing on the Alabama gulf coast for over 20 years, and sat and watched many bottom rigs bounce just off the bottom with a hundred 5lb. snapper staring at it while the big un’s hang outside the commotion, exhibiting the wariness and caution that allowed them to get to 30 lbs.!

Spearfishing is also a much more comfortable way to spend the hottest months of the year on the coast.  I feel sorry for the guys I see tied to a rig, catching nothing, with sweat droplets dripping off their nose, as we hand nice fish over the gunwales to our dive buddies.

As spearfisherman, we almost always come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Our two red snapper are the first targets, and then we shift our attention to the plentiful triggerfish.  A good spearfisherman will always be glancing in the distance for a nice amberjack or curious cobia to swim along.  While cruising along the reef, wreck or rig, I am always scanning the sand for the faint outline of a flounder.  Most sites will only have 1 or 2 nice grouper eyeing the action, but mostly not participating.  The aggressive red snapper bully them away from the angler’s bait, but avoiding our spear tips isn’t as easy.

In order for anglers to target the variety of species that we fill our coolers with every weekend, they would have to take every piece of tackle in their garage.  With just one speargun I am ready to harvest whatever species is home when I visit the site.  Lockjaw because the tide isn’t right is never a problem, they may not be biting…but they are still home.

Call Gulf Coast Divers and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this Red Snapper season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or that custom rod with a new gold reel you’ve been thinking about.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try diving.”  Make that “One day” this year.

Mar

31

Come celebrate Earth Day a week early. Mark your calendars for Saturday April 14th, 2012 from noon- 6pm. This event is hosted by some good friends of ours in Panama City, FL.  Everyone is invited so bring the entire family.  The plan is to focus on the “Kiddie Pool” first.  Beachcombers, waders, snorkelers and divers can all contribute to this phase of the cleanup.  When the tide is right, the divers will slip thru the “Keyhole” in the jetties and spend some time cleaning trash and monofilament from the rocks.

High tide is at 4:32 pm. Because the jetties are a popular recreation area the trash can really build up. Those who do not scuba dive are welcome to come and clean up the beach above the waterline.   This is a great opportunity to give a little back to the resource that we enjoy all year.  The event will be at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City.

4607 State Park Lane, Panama City, FL

View Map · Get Directions

for information or to find out what you can do to help:

  • e-mail: bsinc71@yahoo.com
  • http://www.facebook.com/BluePlanetScubaDiving

Mar

14

As divers we have a unique opportunity to monitor the health of our reefs and ecosystems by observing the reefs, in action.  Anglers have to make guesses on the life of a reef based on only species they catch.  The huge influx of Lionfish into the gulf of mexico has brought the threat of invasive species into everyday conversation.

RED LIONFISH Pterois volitans

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and were most likely introduced into U.S. waters during Hurricane Andrew when
an aquarium containing lionfish was destroyed. With no real predators these fish are highly destructive to the native reef
fish populations and have the potential to harm red snapper and grouper populations. Lionfish will rarely bite a baited
hook and are normally only landed through spearfishing. However, if you catch one be cautious because their spines can inject
venom. If you are injected with lionfish venom seek medical attention as soon as possible. Lionfish rodeos are growing in popularity to try to stop the invasion.

GIANT TIGER PRAWN Penaeus monodon
The giant tiger prawn is native to the Western Pacific and are easily distinguished from native Alabama shrimp. Tiger prawns can grow to extremely large sizes, have black and white banding down the body, and were first reported in Alabama waters in 1996. The introduction of this invasive species is believed to have occured first in the Bahamas when a hurricane damaged an aquaculture facility. Reports of tiger
prawns have come in from North Carolin, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The annual Redneck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament will have a lionfish category this year.  With a prize going to the hunter that kills the most lionfish during the month long rodeo.

Call the Alabama Marine Resources Division to report invasive species:
Dauphin Island (251) 861-2882 Gulf Shores (251) 968-7576

Feb

23

Maybe you are on your way to your first open water dives, or your first dives in awhile and you become aware of butterflies in your stomach. Perhaps you recognize it the night before the big day, and the apprehension keeps you from getting a good nights sleep. These are symptoms of the “pre-dive jitters”.  At one time or another every diver will experience this nervous feeling.

It is normal to be a little nervous about a new dive experience, but it’s important to recognize that butterflies are an indication that more practice and experience are needed to become a totally confident diver. The way to get this practice is by diving and continuing education.

Before your first dive, assemble your gear at home and adjust all straps, check assembly procedure and function of every item.  Having to adjust unfamiliar gear aboard a boat prior to diving can force you to rush. Rushing leads to anxiety which contributes to pre-dive nerves.

Owning your own personal gear reduces anxiety because you are familiar with it, know how it’s been maintained and have a proper fit. Proper fitting, well maintained equipment reduces stress, increases mental and physical comfort, and maximizes enjoyment.

Pay close attention to pre-dive plans and divemaster briefings and never hesitate to ask questions if you don’t hear clearly or don’t understand what was said.  If you have apprehensions, anxieties, questions or problems, please ASK FOR HELP from the group leader or divemaster. The key to overcoming pre-dive jitters is not to keep them a secret. Remember the divemasters job is to help with these issues. When informed, they will help you go at your own pace and develop your skills and confidence.

Our unique “Real-World Diving” class is a great way to learn what to expect on your dive excursions.  You’ve learned what to do underwater…this class teaches you how to do it.  Some of the topics discussed: charter boat diving, shore diving, private boat diving, how to rig your boat for diving, oil rig diving, buoy diving and international travel. New and experienced divers will learn something new in this class.

Enrolling in a continuing education course provides a great opportunity to build confidence through knowledge as well as a chance to work with an instructor to fine-tune your diving skills.  The more you dive, the more comfortable you become.  The more comfortable you become, the more fun you will have.  For information on becoming a more confident diver call (251) 342-2970.

Feb

14

When was the last time you practiced sharing air with your buddy?  Even for avid divers, the answer to this question is usually, “when I learned to dive”.  The next Gulf Coast Diving Society event is scheduled for sat., March 17th at Gulf Coast Divers.  We are donating the facility, pool, and divemasters to this annual event.  It is an opportunity to come jump in the pool, wash the dust off your gear, and practice all your skills.  Our divemasters and instructors are volunteering their time to insure your safety and rescue skills are top notch.  We are waiving the pool fee for all certified divers, so take advantage of this FREE event.

The Gulf Coast Diving Society is a group of divers dedicated to promoting local diving and providing a great way to meet other divers.  The GCDS will be grilling hot dogs on the deck and are excited about meeting new divers.  The event will be from 10am-4pm, with some folks hanging out all day and others coming and going.  Please rsvp to (251) 342-2970 or lewis@gulf-coast-divers.com.  The Gulf Coast Dive Society is free to all and is always looking for divers and snorkelers to help coordinate events and have fun.

Jan

25

New divers are surprised to learn that diving along the gulf coast takes place year round, not just during the heat of the summer. Believe it or not, the beaches don’t close in the winter, the Gulf of Mexico still has water in it when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and there are a lot of dedicated divers getting wet all winter.

If you want to keep diving in the winter months, but are not one of the fortunate few who can slip off to some warm and exotic location while the rest of us sit around watching our breath freeze in the air, read on and learn the basics of winter diving on the gulf coast.

So just what are the alternatives for winter diving and what can you expect for conditions? Obviously colder temperatures, both in the water and out, but not so cold that you can’t go diving. That doesn’t mean you have to gear up for an arctic expedition. Back in December we published a blog article about the importance of staying warm which provided many suggestions for dealing with winter temperatures.

Water temperatures in the gulf are a little cooler than what you are used to in the summer months. You can expect water in the low-mid 60’s at times.  Also, most of the high tides during winter months, fall at night. This is great news for the spearos that target flounder.

These tidal differences are not as much  a consideration offshore but they will affect beach dives like Perdido Pass, Fort Pickens, Destin Jetties and St. Andrews Park.  We have some of the lowest tides of the year during winter months and the strong north winds can make for especially low tides.

The local springs are virtually unaffected by winter temperatures. In other words springs water temperatures stay the same year round. The same 68 degrees that seemed cold and maybe a little forbidding in the summer is now warm and toasty.

One big consideration, just as important as staying warm during the dive, is keeping warm before the dive and getting warm between dives.  Bundle up and stay warm before you get in the water and certainly bundle up between dives. Bring a thermos of hot tea or coffee to warm you from the inside and stay out of the wind.  A misconception with inexperienced winter divers, is they will stay warm if they keep their wetsuit on between dives.  You will only make this mistake once!  The water evaporating off the suit is taking heat with it, chilling you very fast.  You will stay much warmer by getting out of your suit and dressing in warm clothes.  The more common method is to peel your wetsuit top off, dry off, and put on a jacket. Many divers exit the water, quickly peel their wetsuit off and climb back in their vehicle for a toasty, warm surface interval.

Recently my phoned chimed, announcing a text message from a dive buddy headed to the Pass for a night dive. Sorry I couldn’t make it Joe, too many work and family commitments, but it reminded me, many people are getting wet this winter and you should too.  Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 to learn more about winter diving.

Jan

19

Masks

To minimize mold and algae build-up, rinse your mask with fresh water after each dive and allow it to dry completely before storing.  Store your mask in a hard case to protect it from dirt, abrasives, trauma during transport and roaches.  Yes, roaches…not only does the thought of bugs crawling in my mask give me the whillies, but roaches will nibble on the silicone skirt.  You need to pre-clean new masks with a mild abrasive to remove the silicone leeched from the mask skirt and other factory residues on the lens.  We’ve found Soft Scrub to be the best pre-cleaner, but toothpaste or some of the commercial mask scrubs will work, too.

Drysuit seals

With exposure to sunlight, saltwater, and chlorine, synthetic gaskets degrade over time.  This degradation is due to the loss of structural oils called plasticizers.  Proper care should include treating the latex with Seal Saver and inspecting all seals prior to use.  Minor repairs can be made with Aquaseal but require careful preparation, treatment and drying time.  Drysuit seal replacement is a critical repair and should be left to a professional suit technician.  If a seal completely fails then the suit will flood which can lead to a dangerous situation.

Zippers

Regular cleaning and lubrication helps zippers last the lifetime of the gear.  Dirt, sand and salt deposits are harmful to zippers and can cause them to jam and corrode requiring expensive replacement.  Use Zip Care to clean and pre-treat zippers and Zip Tech to lubricate and protect watertight zippers.  Whether on a wetsuit, drysuit, booties or gear bag, the zipper is the most abused component.

Neoprene items

Wetsuits, booties, hoods and gloves need regular cleaning with a suit shampoo and conditioner.  Regular cleaning maintains suit suppleness, keeps colors bright and eases suit entry.  To remove residual odors and bacteria from your suit add 1/2 oz. of MiraZyme or Sink The Stink to 5 gallons of water and soak your suit, then hang on proper hanger. Do not rinse. It is important to hang gear so it will dry completely and is properly supported so the weight of the suit doesn’t crush the neoprene.

Watch this blog and follow us on facebook for more installments in this equipment care and maintenance series.  You can also, call Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970 and speak with an equipment technician.

Nov

29

All are invited to join the Gulf Coast Diving Society for dinner at Ed’s Seafood Shack, 3382 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort on Monday, December 5th, 2011 @ 6:30 pm. Monday nights are all-you can-eat mullet so come and enjoy. This is a great way to meet new dive buddies, reaquaint with old buddies, introduce someone to the social aspect of being a diver on the beautiful gulf coast. Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out. Bring your laptop and share some of your pics and videos. This event is FREE, just pay for whatever you eat and drink. Most folks will be bringing the whole family and ordering dinner. For more info. call (251) 342-2970. Please rsvp to the same number, we need to let the restaurant know how many hungry divers to expect.

Oct

26

What is a Local Explorer?  Well, we are the lucky ones who don’t need to wait for our next vacation to blow bubbles. We don’t worry about packing our gear into the smallest bag possible.  And even then, checking and organizing to stay under the constantly changing and progressively more restrictive baggage weight limits. The bed of our truck has become our gear bag.

Those divers who are lucky enough to have boats (or diving friends with boats) have an advantage to be able to access hundreds of neat, interesting sites to explore.  There are dozens of dive charter boats on the gulf coast and many shore access sites.  The shore sites are the most economical dive sites to explore.  Some have small park entrance fees but most in our area are FREE.

Conditions vary with weather and tides so local knowledge and an orientation are advised.  The Gulf Coast Diving Society is a great source for this knowledge and a fun way to meet new dive buddies that are familiar with close, accessible sites.  The fresh water springs are a great destination for almost any day.  Because you don’t have to dive during a short tidal window, springs are popular places to meet for all day events.

So what if you’ve walked in off the same beach three weekends in a row; You are still diving and there are thousands of divers that would change places in a second.  Last month I meet a couple in the shop from Indiana that were in town to hop on the cruise ship bound for Cozumel. The ship would be in port only long enough for them to do 2 dives.  They were thrilled, because at home they drove 6 hours every other weekend to dive in a 25′ deep, mud bottom lake where visibility averaged 2 feet.  They mostly looked at rocks, and a fish sighting was an event to talk about.  Oh yea, they also regularly stayed overnight in a motel to do it again the next day!

So appreciate having such close proximity and easy access to a variety of local dive sites. We are in it for the adventure and we know something great is just around the corner.  See y’all next weekend. For information on local sites and condition reports call Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Sep

21

It is not an exaggeration to say that scuba lessons were the best gift I ever received.  My parents gave me scuba lessons for Christmas when I was fifteen years old.  I was that kid that never missed a Jacques Cousteau t.v. special and watched ‘”Flipper” after school and dreamed of being able to live a life on boats and underwater.

Before I even finished my lessons I was working at the shop after school.  Sweeping floors, hanging up dripping wetsuits and filling tanks doesn’t sound like fun to most, but I was having a blast,  just being around diving.  Fast forward 27 years and I am still working in a dive shop, enjoying my dream job.

Giving someone an “experience” for a wedding, birthday, anniversary or Christmas gift insures that your present won’t be tossed in a storage shed and forgotten.  It is a great way to nudge a friend into trying scuba to introduce them to a world that you have already discovered. The best way to get more opportunities to dive is to have lots of dive buddies.

The most common complaint we hear from divers is, “It is hard to find someone to go diving with”. The best way to meet other divers is to DIVE and hang out where divers go. We are always introducing people in the shop and the Gulf Coast Diving Society is a local dive club that meets regularly for just this purpose. The easiest way to have a dive buddy you know and trust, is to have a buddy you know and trust, learn to dive. The more divers you know, the more Friday afternoon invitations you get to go diving this weekend.

Talk about a memorable first-date. We have had many couples come to our $24 scuba experience session for a unique date. It is more exiting and memorable than the boring, “dinner and a movie”. All you need is bathing suit, towel and a sense of adventure, we handle the rest and since our 15′ deep in-store pool is heated, we dive comfortably year ’round.

Scuba diving is a great way to introduce your family to the wonders of the underwater world and from exploring your local dive sites grows an interest in international travel. For many, diving becomes a lifetime recreation where you can pursue interests in travel, photography, spearfishing, thrilling adventures, relaxation of floating…weightless or wherever your personal interests lead you. Water is a great equalizer and you can have many different sizes and strengths in family members and still be on equal “ground” underwater.

Whether it is a thrilling adventure or peaceful, relaxing escape, diving has something for everyone. Don’t keep saying, “One day” forever…make this the year that you decide to start living life and experience new things.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and get a gift certificate for a $24 Experience Scuba session and give it to the person in your life, who needs an escape.

Sep

12

All are invited to join the Gulf Coast Diving Society for dinner at Ed’s Seafood Shack, 3382 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort on Monday, October 3rd, 2011 @ 6:30 pm. Monday nights are all-you can-eat mullet so come and enjoy. This is a great way to meet new dive buddies, reaquaint with old buddies, introduce someone to the social aspect of being a diver on the beautiful gulf coast. Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out. Bring your laptop and share some of your pics and videos. This event is FREE, just pay for whatever you eat and drink. Most folks will be bringing the whole family and ordering dinner. For more info. call (251) 342-2970. Please rsvp to the same number, we need to let the restaurant know how many hungry divers to expect.

Jul

25

Thanks to all who joined the Gulf Coast Diving Society at St. Andrews last weekend.  We had great conditions.  I want to thank all the GCDS divers who put on a great event and provided an opportunity for my new students, who are now new divers, to meet other active divers.  Thanks to Lewis and Sharla for doing the shopping and grilling.  Hot dogs always taste better during surface intervals, huh?

We will have a noon high tide at Fort Pickens in Pensacola on sunday, 07-31-11.  This is a good opportunity to dive P’cola pass.  Maybe hit Fort Pickens first then the new Pensacola Beach site by Portifino.  Most of the Gulf Coast Diving Society divers will be there.  This is a good opportunity to meet other local divers, get a couple more dives in your logbook and just have fun.  The plan is to meet at Fort Pickens at 10:30am and set up gear and be ready to dive around 11:00am, depending on tidal conditions.  Everyone is free to do whatever you want but the majority will do a single dive at Fort Pickens then move to the Portifino reef.  This site is in front of parking lot “H” off Pensacola Beach.

If you plan to attend and want to eat, please rsvp to Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.  These events are always free, but Tom will need to know how much food to buy.  The GCDS usually asks for small donations ($5-$8/ person) to reimburse the club for the groceries.  If you want to help with grocery shopping or grilling call Gulf Coast Divers and we will put you in touch with Tom re: this event.

Jul

1

The Gulf Coast Diving Society will be diving St Andrews Park in Panama City, Sunday July 17th.  Make your plans now to bring your dive gear, friends, family and anything else you think you need to enjoy a day at the St. Andrews jetties. Plan on finding some new dive buddies or getting reacquainted with some old ones.

The park opens at 8:00 am and high tide is around 11:00 am, according to saltwatertides.com. We plan to get there sometime in the morning, before the high tide, and will start diving as soon as the conditions permit. Gulf Coast Divers will be concluding some open water training and introducing new divers to the underwater realm. This event is open to divers of all experience levels so come on down and join the fun. Remember, Florida prohibits alcohol and spearfishing at the jetties and we will be doing a site briefing for those new to the area.

We will try to get there early and claim a couple picnic tables under the pavilions at the north end of the parking lot.  The park gets very busy on the weekends and arriving late can mean a long walk with your gear.  Look for the GCDS sign or your friends.  We will have a grill with hot dogs going. For more info. and rsvp call (251) 342-2970. Please let us know if you plan on attending so we have some idea how many to expect. Hope to see you there.

Here is a link to the park brochure [link] where you can find a simple map of the park

Apr

26

All are invited to join the Gulf Coast Diving Society for dinner at The Mariner Restaurant on Dog River, 6036 Rock Point Road, on thursday, April 28, 2011 @ 6:30 pm. This is a great way to meet new dive buddies, reaquaint with old buddies, introduce someone to the social aspect of being a diver on the beautiful gulf coast. Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out. Bring your laptop and share some of your pics and videos. This event is FREE, just pay for whatever you eat and drink. Most folks will be bringing the whole family and ordering dinner. For more info. call (251) 342-2970. Please rsvp to the same number, we need to let the restaurant know how many hungry divers to expect.

Feb

5

How’s that title for an attention grabber?  All are invited to join Gulf Coast Diving Society for All-You-Can-Eat Mullet @ Ed’s Seafood Shack on the Causeway monday, March 7th @ 6:30pm.  These events are great way to meet new dive buddies or catch up with old ones.  Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out and eat, drink and be merry. Share your latest pics and videos.  It’s FREE to show up and hangout and most folks will probably be ordering dinner.  Bring the whole family or your diving Valentine for date night. Please RSVP to Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970.  We need to have an idea of how many to expect to let Ed’s know how much room we need.