The Victorian pier at Swanage is a lovely place to spend the day Scuba diving, with beautiful views of Swanage Bay and Ballard Down. It’s still one of my favourite local hang outs, I could spend all day down there searching out all the amazing marine life, whilst enjoying the sun rays dancing through the cracks in the pier slats above. It has always been a popular dive site for all levels of diver, probably most divers in the South of England have dived the pier at some point. It’s a perfect shallow shore dive for new divers and those of you who enjoy photography like myself.
The pier is a really relaxed, take your time kind of dive, exploring all the nooks and crannies, under and into broken pier legs, through the grasses. It’s a shallow shore dive, ranging from 3m-5m right at the far end of the pier, depending on the state of the tide. You can dive the site at any time although high tide can be clearer and will make for a more comfortable dive in a drysuit. Conditions are pretty good most of the time, visibility can be up to 10m, but on average 6m, although an easterly wind blowing directly into the bay will bring choppy waves and stir up the sandy/silty bottom and it can take a couple of days to clear again.
The easiest place to enter the water is the small stone steps just before the male WC block, these can be a little slippy as they can be covered in a thin layer of green algae and weed, there is a rope along the wall to help you. If it is low tide be extra careful as you wade out over the stones, and put your fins on once you are deep enough to be able to swim. Then you are just a short distance to where the pier meets the wall to start your dive.
There is so much life to see, there are the usual residents like the very curious little Tompot Blennies. Hard to miss with their funky bright orange branched eyebrow tentacles, during breeding season, you maybe lucky enough to see a male Tompot guarding his eggs. The Corkwing Wrasse are very colourful and are often seen darting about building their nests. Take a look under the old broken wooden pier legs for Shrimp, Velvet swimming crabs, Edible crabs, Lobster and Flatfish. Over in the more sandy spots out to the old pier side look in the grassy areas for flat fish, Cuttlefish, Dragonets, Greater pipefish and Snake pipefish, these are incredibly well camouflaged so you’ll need to have a keen eye for spotting. Scorpionfish like to hide in the rockier areas. Lots of Snakelocks anemones, sometimes with their own resident shrimp, with brightly banded blue legs and a translucent spotty body. This is one of the few places to see the Black faced blenny in the UK, the males are usually easily spotted as they are very deep yellow/orange bodies, with black faces, whilst the smaller females are a brown colour with darker bars.
As you make your way down the pier you can see the silvery glimmer of shoals of Sand smelt, Pollack, and Bass and in amongst them large Ballan Wrasse, Bib (Pouting) and Mullet. Don’t forget to look up, the stunning sun light that beams down and the pier legs are covered in lovely plant life, kelp, sponges, and deadman’s fingers. Keep your eyes peeled for all the small stuff including nudibranchs, shrimp and various crab species.
It’s easy to navigate if you look at the direction of the sun and the shadows, and follow the pier legs, keeping yourself under the shadow of the pier above. If you have to surface under the pier be aware of the cross beams above. If you are suddenly in sunlight, you’ve left the pier, so be careful and make your way back into the shadows and the safety of the pier, if you do venture out and cannot and your way back pop up a DSMB as there is boat traffic that comes in either side of the pier regularly. Plan your dive to swim out to your agreed turn point time or pressure and simply turn around and head back, once you have reached a stone wall ascend slowly and you’ll have a short surface swim back to the stone steps to exit.
The pier is also a place that fisherman and families like to fish and go crabbing, so it’s worth being on the look out for fishing line that is in use and also any that has been discarded whilst swimming around, these can be an entanglement hazard and some of these may have small hooks, so if you are going to remove them please do it safely to avoid damaging dry gloves or drysuits. Always carry a line cutting tool, shears and a small knife. Although rare there may be the odd sharp piece of metal or rusty nail, so avoiding contact with the bottom at all times is advised to avoid injury or suit damage.
Location – Swanage pier, BH19 2AR
Dive Type – Shore
Depth – 3-5m
Level – Suitable for all, new and experienced divers, great for photographers, skills practice, check out dives
Navigation – At the start of the Pier NNE, approx half way along NE
Conditions – Sheltered bay, avoid easterlies (we always use XC Weather).
Tide – Can be dived at any time, but high tide will give you slightly more depth and less of a wade out to the start of your dive (Tide times)
Opening times – Currently check with Swanage Pier Trust
Fees – Currently check with Swanage Pier Trust
Facilities – Toilets, Cafe, Dive shop, Filling station, Charter boats
Car parking – On the pier approx £10 per day (but can be very busy, unless you get there super early!), pay and display car park up the hill approx £10 per day, or if you are really lucky you may find on road parking for free
Unloading – If you cannot get parked on the pier, you can drop your kit off at the entrance gates (with your buddy watching it while you park up) and use trolleys to move kit onto the pier
Dive Shop – Divers down
Filling Station – All fills need to be paid for in Divers Down Shop and a tag will be provided for you to put around the neck of the cylinder for filling and placed in the appropriate place to be filled
Possible Hazards – Boat traffic, Overhead pier beams, Fishing line and hooks, Sharp metal objects like rusty nails etc, Slippery steps on entry and exit, Rocky bottom composition, Silt.
Nearest A&E – Poole Hospital, BH15 2JB 01202 665511, open 24hrs
Nearest Hyperbaric Chamber – Poole, BH15 2NN 01202 678278, open 24hrs
Due to current situation, please follow Government and BDSG guidelines. Please note facilities maybe limited at this time, so check ahead of time and plan your dives accordingly. Some dive sites can be popular tourist attractions too, so please take this into consideration when choosing a local dive site. Always dive well within your limits, it’s advisable to build in extra conservatism into your dives currently, with regards to slower ascent rates, shorter dive times, avoid night dives, no decompression dives and follow safe diving practices.