Unless you are a Canadian scuba diver, you might not know much about scuba diving in British Columbia. In fact, you might not know anything about British Columbia itself. British Columbia is Canada’s westernmost province and forms the country’s western coast on the Pacific Ocean and the ocean’s subarea the Gulf of Alaska. Victoria is the provinces southernmost city on the border with Washington state in the US. Steward, British Columbia, sits at the head of the Portland Canal an extension of Portland Inlet, of the Pacific Ocean. The Portland Canal is actually a fjord and is part of the border between Canadian BC and US Alaska. The straight line distance between Victoria and Steward is about 965 kilometers (600 mi). Much of the coast in the northern portion of BC is similar to Norway, with many fjords. The fjords, rivers, other inlets and the thousands of islands found off the British Columbia coastline dramatically add to the coastline.
The equatorial circumference of the Earth is about 40,070 kilometers (24,900 miles). The Pacific Northwest coastline is about 27,200 kilometers (17,000 miles) when including the shorelines of the islands. That is about equal to 2/3 the distance around the world.
Jacques Cousteau has been quoted as saying that British Columbia has “the best temperate water diving in the world, and second only to the Red Sea”. While that was years ago, modern divers think along the same lines. The readers in 2018 Scuba Diving Magazine Readers Choice Awards gave BC first place for the best wall dives. They voted BC in third place positions four times. In the categories Best Overall, Best Wrecks, Best Marco and Best Photograph.
As Jacques Cousteau mentioned, it is a temperate water destination. Temperate sound much nicer than cold. The surface water temperature in the summer will likely be 9ºc to 15ºc (49º-59ºF), 7ºc to10.5ºc (45º-51ºF) during the winter months. The “warm” summer temperatures, however, seldom make it down past 10 meters (33 feet), so it would be safe to assume an 8ºc to 9ºc water temperature.
The visibility is generally good year round. A spring plankton bloom will reduce visibility for a while, but that brings a trade-off of more activity from large marine species. After the boom, spring and summer visibility ranges from 7.5 to 24 meters (25-80 feet). Visibility improves more as we progress through fall to winter. Many locations in winter will have visibility of over 30 meters (100 feet).
Divers with only warm water experience will be surprised at the diversity they will find in the waters of British Columbia. Many dive sites are full of huge cloud sponges, immense red sea fans, and soft corals. Six-gill sharks make an appearance every year and you can find the giant Pacific octopus and wolf-eels. Adding to nature, you have an assortment of wrecks and artificial reefs. The artificial reef program is one of the most aggressive in the world. You can even dive a Boeing 747.
The Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia has been active since 1991 and just a few weeks ago sank their 8th ship, in addition to the Boeing 747. Catalyst Paper company had a breakwater on the Powell River to protect their logging operation. The breakwater was made up of ten old ships. Recently they realigned the breakwater resulting in four surplus ships. These will be sunk as an artificial reef. The first to be sunk was YOGN-82, a B7 concrete barge built by Concrete Ship Constructors in National City, CA.
At 11:56 AM on 23 June 2018 charges were set off to sink the WWII barge. It took just 11 minutes for the ship to settle on the bottom upright in 90 to 100 feet of water. As I have written before I love the concrete barges, So now Powell River is on my bucket list.
Another point that favors diving in BC, especially if you live there, is that there are many locations where the diving can be done as shore dives. One key advantage to a shore dive is that you and your dive buddy can dive at the times that are best for you. You are not limited to the time the dive charter leaves the dock.
Where Should We Dive In British Columbia
The Dive Industry Association of British Columbia lists six different dive destinations in British Columbia. Here is a brief breakdown of these destinations:
- Vancouver: Vancouver (mainland) has a good selection of dive centers offering rentals and trips to the local dive sites as well as trips to other BC destinations. There are a number of shore dive sites within 20 to 40 minutes from the city. Whytecliff Park is located in West Vancouver and is frequently used for Open Water Diver training. It also has dive sites for more advanced divers. Porteau Cove, a BC Provincial Park, is another shore diving destination. The diving is more advanced and deeper here so more suitable for certified divers with some experience. Britannia Beach has a few wrecks including a Coast Guard ship Ready which sank in a collision in 2011.
- Victoria and Vancouver Island south: The capital of British Columbia sits on the very southern tip of Vancouver Island. You would not hear too many arguments if you also called it British Columbia’s shore diving capital as well. There are 32 shore dive sites within the city, plus another 20 dive sites accessible by boat. If you add in the nearby Sooke and Sydney each less than 50 kilometers away you have 80 shore dive sites and 85 sites by dive boats. You would likely double that number if you add in all the dive sites in the southern portion of Vancouver Island.
- Vancouver Island North: Port Hardy, Port Mc Neil, Hornby Island and the Campbell River are all outstanding dive destinations.
- Sunshine Coast: Sunshine Coast is located on the southern coast of British Columbia, Canada, extending 177km (110mi) between the entrance to Desolation Sound on the northwest and Howe Sound, north of Vancouver, on the southeast. This area is easily reached by car or ferry from Vancouver. The area has many fjords and other inlets. A number of shipwrecks are found here including the newest one YOGN-82 and the HMCS Chaudière.
- Interior Diving: There are many lakes and rivers that attract scuba divers. The Shuswap and Adams Lakes are two notable ones. These two lakes are connected by the Adams river. Each of the lakes has a dozen or so dive sites, many of them are wall dives. Between September and October of each year, Sockeye Salmon gather in the Shuswap lake near the entrance of the Adam river and then enter the river to spawn. Once every four years. 2018 is one of them, there is a dominating year, in which over 2 million salmon are estimated to gather.
- Gulf Islands: The Gulf Islands is an archipelago that runs between Vancouver/ Mainland BC and Vancouver Island. There are over 30 established dive sites here.
If you are a cold water diver or wish to learn how to dive in a dry suit, then diving British Columbia is an excellent choice for your next dive vacation.