How to Plan A Dive

How to Plan A Dive

As a scuba diver, one of the tasks and responsibilities is planning your dive. 

Your dive plan should include the dive site, what your diving objectives are (obviously to have fun is one of them!), your depth and time limits, your contingency plan should things not go your way, whether you are fit for diving, and the best part…actually doing the dive!

If you remember back to your open water course, you should remember using a dive table. If you don’t remember, it is the blue and white slate that looked super confusing! 

Entry-level divers are taught how to use dive tables, working through the tiny numbers and turning the slates to create a dive plan. Nowadays, we have really cool technology, and thanks to dive computers, planning dives have never been so easy!

It not only makes sense to create a well-planned dive beforehand, but it is also critical for your safety and others. 

So, how do you plan a dive? In this article, we will discuss:

  • Selecting a Dive Site
  • What are your Diving Objectives?
  • What Depth will you go & How Long will your Dive last?
  • Planning the Unexpected: How to plan in the Event of an Emergency
  • Prepare your Dive Equipment
  • Self-Evaluation
  • Get Ready!

Let’s dive in and take a look at how to plan your next dive!

Selecting A Dive Site

To select the best dive site, there are some considerations like you and your dive buddies’ experience level, whether the weather will make it possible, or how you are going to access the dive site. Sounds simple right?

This is my favourite part, and I am sure it is yours too! With so many scuba diving destinations in the world (to be precise, there are over 3203 dive sites to select from), there is a dive out there for everyone. 

Dive sites are found all over the globe, some in tropical areas, while other dives can be a little chilly!

If you are unsure where to start, think about what climate you wish to dive in, and go from there!

Next, would be to think about what you want to achieve on the dive. 

Maybe you want to explore an epic shipwreck, or maybe you want to take your diving to the next level and complete your advanced open water. Whatever your goals are for the dive, that should help you decide where to go.

If you are just heading out for a fun dive, think about your experience level, and be truthful to yourself and the dive guide. 

There is nothing worse than lying to your guide and being thrown into the deep end – a friend of mine did this once, and I still remember the horror story to this day!

If you have only dived in calm water with minimal to no wave action, then select a similar dive site. If you want to try a dive site with more advanced conditions, then get some expert advice from a dive instructor and some additional training. 

What Are Your Diving Objectives?

Objectives when planning a dive are similar to planning the dive site. You must consider what experience level you and your buddy have, and what you are planning on doing during the dive.

Have you ever been diving with a buddy that jets off and takes photos for ages, leaving you to hang around waiting for them? I have, and that is why communicating with your buddy or dive guide is important to enjoy your dive. 

Decide with your buddy what your diving objectives are before heading underwater, as you probably are aware, we cannot communicate underwater, so we are limited to hand signals.

Make sure you and your dive buddy’s objectives are clear, and you understand the same hand signals! This will eliminate a lot of frustration trying to communicate underwater!

Need to brush up on your hand signals? Take a quick look at our hand signal guide with photo examples!

If you want to take some awesome macro photos, but your buddy wants to swim out into the blue searching for cruising pelagics, you are probably going to dive into some issues. 

Once you both know the diving objectives from the dive plan, it should help you stay together and enjoy the dive. 

I know what you’re thinking, I’ve missed out on the part about depth limits and dive time. Don’t worry, you’re about to find out next!

What Depth Will You Go & How Long Will Your Dive Last?

Discussing your depth and time limits is crucial when planning a dive because you need to consider your and your buddies’ average air consumption, and the depth limits within your certification level. 

Now, this is important…

Diving depths and durations MUST be discussed before heading underwater. Skipping these crucial points from your dive plan can be very dangerous.

For example, if you are an Open Water Scuba Diver, you should plan your dive no deeper than 18 m unless you have completed your Deep Diver Speciality Course. Once completing the deep diver or PADI Advanced Open Water, you can dive to deeper depths!

Diving beyond your limits is not only a wild decision, but your dive insurance is likely not to cover you, in the unlikely event of a serious injury

In addition to your depth limits, you also need to be truthful about your air consumption, this applies to your buddy too. 

Let’s imagine you typically will empty your scuba tank in 45 minutes. Planning a dive for 55 minutes is asking for trouble, and you don’t want to be that buddy that has to grab your friend’s octopus because you dived beyond your air consumption limits, or worse, have to make an emergency ascent. 

Remember, that only you know your personal limits, so it’s up to you to take responsibility for yourself!

So, what’s the solution to managing this?

My best advice is to get yourself a dive computer. It doesn’t have to be a fancy one, just one that does its job, and potentially will save your life. 

If you really cannot get a dive computer, do not worry, you can use tools like PADI’s eRDPML digital dive planner. Even if you have a dive computer, you should still use a dive planner or table, because despite modern dive computers being reliable, you should never lose your mastery of the basics when planning dives. 

Dive computers should act as an extra level of safety, not a substitute, and this mentality is when diving accidents can happen.

OK, so you have planned that much, but what should you do in the event of an emergency? Keep reading to find out!

Planning the Unexpected: How to Plan In the Event of An Emergency

A dive plan must include an emergency plan. This includes knowing where the closest hospital is, preparing a first aid kit, and refreshing your knowledge in the unlikely event of a serious injury. 

A scuba diving emergency can start from something as small as a broken mask strap to something more serious such as an emergency ascent. 

Planning a safe evacuation route and emergency plan is extremely important before heading out for a dive, even if you know the dive site like the back of your hand. 

So, what should you add to your emergency plan?

  1. Always carry spare equipment and/or a repair kit – extra O-rings are a must!
  2. Have a first aid kit handy. 
  3. Locate the nearest emergency oxygen & defibrillator. 
  4. Locate the nearest hospital – ideally, one with a decompression chamber. 
  5. Refresh your knowledge on how to act in case of an emergency.
  6. Know the emergency services numbers, including the search-and-rescue team – this is especially important when diving in a foreign country. 
  7. Know what travel/dive insurance your diving buddy has.

Prepare Your Dive Equipment

This doesn’t just include checking everything is in your suitcase or the back of the car, but it also means checking everything is up-to-date with its service. Checking your equipment should be second nature when planning a dive, but often we overlook the importance of this.

Before diving, it is crucial to carefully plan your scuba equipment needs, even if you are hiring from a dive shop. 

Scuba diving equipment varies depending on the dive you will be doing. If you are lucky and are diving in an exotic location during the day, then you probably only require standard diving equipment.

However, if you are an adrenaline junkie heading to colder temperatures or participating in a night dive, then you may need different dive gear such as a drysuit or underwater lights. 

By completing speciality training for the dive you plan on doing, they will teach you the complete checklist for each type of diving condition. 

On top of your dive plan equipment checklist, you also need to check your kit is ready to go. Try asking yourself the questions below…

When was it last maintained? 

Does everything work properly? 

If you ever doubt the performance of your dive equipment, get it serviced or hire rental equipment.


Self-evaluation involves assessing your level of preparedness, such as your equipment, what medical conditions may prevent you from scuba diving, and whether you are fit to dive. 

So, everything is planned, you are ready to do that dive of a lifetime, but you start to get the sniffles… At this point, you need to self evaluate and check if you are fit to dive. 

Diving when feeling unwell is not only unpleasant but is also dangerous for you and other divers. 

To determine if you are fit to dive, consider your physical health, level of stress/anxiety, any current medications you are taking, and if you are still intoxicated from drinking last night!

Even if it is “just the sniffles”, you should wait until you feel better before going scuba diving. Even minor issues like the common cold can lead to more serious issues like decompression sickness. 

But, if you are fighting fit (both physically and mentally), then get ready to go!

Get Ready!

Stay with me, because now is the time to suit up and head out to the amazing underwater world! 

Your plan is done, and now you are starting to get those scuba diving butterflies of excitement…

Kit up with your dive buddy and do a pre-dive safety check – remember….

BWRAF-check BCDs, weights, releases, air and a final check!

Enter the water using the appropriate entry plan and check your weights again, once you are on the surface. 

Make your 5-point descent. Remember the acronym SORTED – signal, orientate, regulator, equalize, and finally, descend

Now, enjoy your dive and remember to do your safety stop on the way up!

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final Thoughts

Scuba diving is a recreational sport, however, your safety comes first, and that includes a dive plan. Skipping a dive plan can lead to unpleasant dives, and in the worst case, a scuba diving emergency. 

So, there you have it, now you know how to plan a dive, now you are ready to go diving!

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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