Let’s Have Some Clarity About Visibility

The first time I did a giant stride was into the waters of the Red Sea off the eastern coast of Egypt.  I was greeted with the kind of water clarity and visibility divers tell stories about.  All of my early dives were in those conditions: crystal clear and perfect; I was spoiled early.  

Red Sea Conditions Report: Perpetual 200ft (updated: Summer 2002)

Two years later, at 17 years old, I had my first opportunity to dive new waters, this time in Roatan, Honduras.  The abundant coral of those typically clear Caribbean waters were in a spawning cycle during my week-long stay there resulting in disappointingly poor visibility and water clouded with the seed of coral reefs to come.

Roatan Conditions Report: Cloudy 60ft (updated: Spring 2003)

Many years, and several [hundred] dives later, I stepped off a dock into a murky lake in League City, Texas to begin my training as a PADI Professional.  Waiting for me in the water were a pair of Divemasters.  Based on my assessment over coffee and conversation earlier that day, neither of them were even close to my caliber of diver.   For sure I underestimated them both.

As soon as we made our descent into the muddy depths, I was convinced of these divers’ superior abilities and began to wonder how this could be.  After all, their diving experience was essentially limited to this green and brown lake and a trip or two to Mexico; they had fewer years of total certification than I did combined and their dive counts were far lower than mine.

For the next two months I dove with them and without them in that ugly water.  My skills improved steadily, but I could never understand how they were as good as they were.  Their buoyancy was impeccable, their movement through the water never disturbed the mud and algae that covered everything, and they had perfect awareness of their body’s location in the water.  I was baffled and I left with no answers.

Lake Longhorn Conditions Report: Celebrating 8ft (updated: Spring 2020)

A few months later, I was working in Panama City Beach as a newly minted PADI Instructor learning the shipwrecks and sunken bridge spans that would be my office for the next year. As I wove myself in and out of the structures, it hit me; my buoyancy was impeccable, my movement through the water never disturbed the sand, silt, and rust that covered everything, and I had perfect awareness of my body’s location in the water.

Finally, I understood.  In that slimy lake all you had for reference was what you could see immediately in front of your face; every little wrong move made the visibility go from bad to worse and if you even twitched the wrong way, you were likely to cut or stab yourself on some unknown and unseen debris.  The incredibly poor visibility required your skills to be exceptional, so they became exceptional.

Panama City Beach Conditions Report: 40ft is a good day (updated: Summer 2020)


Here in Maui we are blessed with world class visibility most of the time and, despite what you may think, very divable visibility even during the worst of our swells.  We are spoiled here and that’s not a bad thing.  That being said, we should take advantage of all Maui has to offer us.  Low visibility days are some of the best days to hone our in-water abilities, to practice our buoyancy, to refine our trim, and to perfect our awareness in the water.  Low visibility can be a gift and, for certified divers, it can be an excellent classroom.

Maui Conditions Report:  Everyday is a good day for diving (updated: Now!)

post by Walter Sweeney