There is no place in British Columbia like Vancouver to find countless conveniently located dive spots, each brimming with potential yet so close to urban amenities. Regardless of how much or little experience you have with diving this region will keep you happily occupied in the water for years.
Although environmental factors must be assessed any time before diving, Vancouver's temperate climate regularly allows for glorious winter diving. It's at this time of year that visibility in the water is clearest, often reaching 100 feet deep, and boat traffic greatly diminishes. In Vancouver, every season has something to offer avid divers.
The only real hindrance to diving in the waters off Vancouver is narrowing down your numerous options and choosing one spot! The two main areas for scuba diving in Vancouver are the waters of Howe Sound and Indian Arm, both of which are rich in sea life and stunning coastal scenery.
The eastern part of Howe Sound can be accessed all along the Sea to Sky Highway (#99 leading to Whistler) and is an easy drive from West Vancouver. The beginning of the highway is located at the southern entrance of Howe Sound, in Horseshoe Bay, a main BC Ferries terminal connecting Mainland BC with Vancouver Island. All the conveniences and facilities scuba divers commonly want are readily available along the Sea to Sky highway, on both the southern and northern portions of this much loved eastern side of Howe Sound.
On the northeast shores of Howe Sound, both Porteau Cove and Lion's Bay stand out. Don't miss either of them, as they each offer great places to stay and dive. The southeast shores of Howe Sound, and in particular centrally located Horseshoe Bay, provide rich scuba diving potential for beginner and advanced divers alike.
If you seek a spot suitable for beginner divers then Kelvin Grove South near Lion's Bay may be just right for you. The site is easy to enter, ideal for divers who like a well defined wall, and has a sandy slope with abundant sea life. The only drawback about Kelvin Grove South is its poor visibility in the summer (very common is most BC dive spots as algae blooms in both April and August) but the campgrounds and washrooms are open only in summertime.
For more experienced divers, those trained to handle advanced current or depth considerations, the Porteau Wall in Porteau Cove Provincial Park is a favorite for its deep sea diving. The site also appeals to divers interested in identifying marine life and who may require wheelchair accessibility for both the campground and the dive entry point.
Perhaps you only have time for a day trip, in which case staying close to Horseshoe Bay is an excellent alternative to traveling north on a scuba diving holiday. Horseshoe Bay offers several dive sites one of which is Lookout Point, a perfect spot for photographers and experienced divers. Although there are sites in Horseshoe Bay more suitable for beginner divers, or more challenging for advanced divers, this spot is know as one of Greater Vancouver's premier shore dives. Disabled divers need not miss out on the captivating deep sea forest of white plumose anemones gracing the site, but due to stairs, logs and boulders at the entry point these divers must enter from a boat.
Like so many dive spots in British Columbia, Lookout Point has a fairly strong current as well as a steady stream of potentially hazardous boat traffic. These hazards are well worth navigating, for closer investigation of the fascinating 20 foot vertical wall or the adjacent 100 foot drop reveals colorful sponges, crabs and shrimp.
The other main area for scuba diving in Vancouver is a 22 kilometer fjord called Indian Arm which is located northeast of the downtown core. Indian Arm is the most southerly fjord in North America, and is set amid the dramatic Coast Mountains. It's a divers paradise, showing as much majesty under the sea as it does above ground!
Found perched on the eastern side of the southern entrance to Indian Arm is Belcarra Park, a very popular location for scuba divers in Vancouver. Be advised that the Harbour Masters Office needs to be informed if you plan a group dive of any kind in the park. These waters are quite deep, with drops of up to 100 feet near the shore, and reaching close to 600 feet in the middle of the channel. The rewards of scuba diving in Indian Arm are “bottomless” though, as its waters are renowned for large crevices, over-hangs, fissures, and drop-offs abundant with fish, anemones, crabs, shrimp, and colorful starfish.
Don't let the depth of Indian Arm scare you off, there are plenty of spots for beginners. In particular, the Belcarra Marker (named after a warning sign erected for boaters at low tide) is an ideal spot for picnicking and diving on an extended lunch break. With that said, divers should remain conscious that currents can be hazardous in the “easiest” of dive spots, and boat traffic in the area is a concern all year round.
If excitement is your aim, Bedwell Bay near Belcarra Park has the Wreck of the VT 100 for level 2 divers to enjoy. This former US Naval minesweeper was set on fire by vandals in 1953, and lays at the silty bottom of the bay, surrounded and inhabited by a variety of marine life. It's fun to swim around but don't touch, the wreck has been made unsafe by shipworms, plus, visibility in Bedwell Bay is often poor due to deep mud. When diving in these waters please take all necessary precautions to keep you and your dive mate safe.
Across the waters of Indian Arm to the west of Belcarra Park is a more challenging spot for advanced divers looking for a boat dive. Deep Cove is a short drive from the Second Narrows Bridge and has some diverse diving spots to choose from. Brighton Cliffs (5 kilometers to the north of Deep Cove) provides nice deep water, full of sea life and some steep slopes begging to be investigated. Besides depth, the main hazard of this area is the summer/autumn appearance of red jellyfish. These creatures can be a real nuisance, and for BC scuba divers they necessitate the addition of a sting neutralizer in first aid kits.
This area, plus dozens of others in Vancouver offer boat dive sites. If you prefer these types of entries but don't have a boat, it is best to arrange a dive charter through a local dive shop, to hire a water taxi, a skippered vessel, or even a kayaking company. There are also several dive clubs located in Greater Vancouver offering a wealth of resources for someone new to the area or just wanting to expand his or her appreciation of the abundant scuba diving potential in the waters off Lower Mainland, BC.
Scuba diving like any other outdoor activity is subject to hazards, meaning divers must protect themselves by keeping a steady eye on the weather, on changing tides and watch for out for vessels of any kind - even sailboats that sneak up so quietly. Be sure to check marine weather channels for Howe Sound and Indian Arm before setting out to dive in Vancouver but this alone is not enough. Both bodies of water are long and narrow, making them susceptible to wind with no real way to predict changing patterns.
Ever shifting tides can make a dive site seem unrecognizable, create sudden strong currents, and obscure visibility. Thankfully reliable tidal charts are readily available and local divers usually have a good understanding of what to expect for different locations. Tap into their knowledge, always check for boats while you are in the water, and never leave home without dive lights, a compass, a depth gage, and reference lines. Follow these standard rules of practice and your Vancouver scuba diving expeditions will be better in every way.
Do yourself a favor: Expand your horizons of this beautiful city to include more than just its landmarks. An undersea Vancouver adventure awaits you today!
HOT TIP: If you find a sea creature you can't identify take a photo or sketch of it to the Vancouver Aquarium located in Stanley Park. If anyone can help you in your quest, these kind folks can. Plus, a visit to this world renowned aquarium is a like a crash course in the local marine environment and will give even seasoned divers renewed appreciation for the mysteries of ocean life.
1386 Main Street
BC Dive Adventures
228 West Esplanade
Dive and Sea Sports
2 - 825 McBride Blvd.
1817 West 4th Ave. (4th Ave. at Burrard)
The Diving Locker (3 locations)
2745 West 4th Ave. (at MacDonald)
20 - 2755 Lougheed Hwy.
900 - 6339 200th St.
Great Pacific Dive Company
1236 Marine Drive (Marine & Pemberton)
International Diving Center
2572 Arbutus St.
Ocean Quest Water Sports
107 - 3790 Canada Way
Rowand's Reef Scuba Shop (2 locations)
6250 No.3 Road
1512 Duranleau St. (Granville Island)