Though there are more diving locations strewn throughout the world than you’ll ever be able to dive in a lifetime, there are only two types of diving; freshwater diving and saltwater diving. Each type has its own unique properties, concerns, and life forms, and both will render different experiences.
Most of the water found on the earth is salt water, the oceans. Though the majority of lakes are freshwater, there are a few inland salt water diving locations, such as the Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake.
Since almost all of saltwater diving locations involve the ocean, conditions such as currents, waves, surf, tides, boats, and deep water will be encountered. While most of these are hindrances when entering and exiting the water, they will cease to be a problem once submerged. Its a good idea to learn about the normal conditions of a body of water from a local dive shop. Remember, it takes special training to enter the water when battling the waves of the ocean. It should be covered in the PADI diving course, even if you dive in fresh water for the open water dives.
Saltwater diving presents some of the most spectacular sights in the world. From the colorful coral reefs of Australia and the Hawaiian islands to the ship and plane wrecks found along Britain, Saltwater offers an enormous variety of plant and animal life, especially when compared to the freshwater counterpart. Saltwater fish tend to be more colorful, as do the plants. Perhaps one of the most exhilarating things you can experience with saltwater is a shark dive. Trust me, diving among 30 tiger sharks is an experience you won’t forget. Scary the first time, awe inspiring every time thereafter. Dolphins have a similar affect to a diver, as do whale dives.
The temperatures tend to be much warmer, although water temperature varies upon dive location. For example, the Gulf of Mexico is much warmer than the water off the coast of California. The temperature of water in tropical locations can be around 85 degrees. The ocean is also much clearer than most freshwater lakes. The range of visibility at a depth of 60 feet can be well over 100 feet.
Freshwater diving carries many of the same considerations saltwater diving has. Currents, small waves, boats, deep water, they all present obstacles when diving. Some problems that are more common in freshwater are limited visibility and thermoclines. Though some freshwater lakes are crystal clear, many have limited visual range, normally between 10-20 feet. Some lakes can have a visibility range as small as 5 feet. Thermoclines, abrupt changes in temperature, also must be considered. You can literally have one hand in 75 degree water and the other in 55 degree water.
Freshwater diving locations are normally higher in altitude, therefore these sites will have much cooler water than the average saltwater dive site. Therefore you must be prepared with a thicker wetsuit. Many higher altitude locations require drysuits, which require special training to use properly.
Freshwater diving offers experiences that are hard to come by in saltwater. Although the plant and animal life of freshwater isn’t as diversified, cavern diving and shipwreck diving is plentiful. Shipwrecks in the ocean are common, but are often much too deep to get to, since a recreational diver shouldn’t dive below 60 feet, 130 with extensive training. Wrecks in freshwater are easy to explore due to the shallow depths of many freshwater bodies. The same goes for freshwater caverns. Remember, however, that a diver shouldn’t explore a wrecked ship or cavern without the proper training.
Both types of diving present experiences that are unique. What you discover on a dive depends on the type and location of the water. You can dive in the tropical areas of the pacific islands or the frigid ice water of the arctic. Each are unique and will leave you yearning for more. In fact, there are more ways to dive than just sight seeing. The next section will explain some of the different things you can do without extra training.