Becoming a certified wreck diver in Malta

With scuba diving in tropical colourful reefs, I think wreck diving should come next on the list of reasons why people dream of becoming scuba divers. The legends of famous ships and their hidden treasures are often the reasons to explore these historic artificial reefs. Whether you are passionate by the history of the ships, or you just love the challenge of scuba diving through a complex structure, wreck diving requires more focus and knowledge than a casual swim over a reef.

Why doing a wreck diving speciality?

starting my wreck diving specialty World Adventure Divers

Since my divemaster training in May 2013, I hadn’t been back to a scuba diving course. Yes, even a divemaster needs to be back to training once in a while! In three years, I learnt a few more things by doing, but spending 2 days with an instructor to tune up my skills sounded like an excellent idea.

A year after my divemaster training, I moved to Scotland, one of the best cold water diving destinations in the world for wreck diving. Scapa Flow and the Sound of Mull made me fall for wreck diving. However, I was always dealing with the same constraint: no penetration! Why you may ask, after all, I’m a divemaster? Actually not. I am still surprised to hear people asking me if such as if I can dive at any depth. No, the limit of recreational scuba diving is still 40m (with a deep speciality). Same rules apply even for divemasters and instructors.

Rule number 1: never go beyond your training. It was maybe frustrating while swimming around these incredible shipwrecks, but no is no for 2 main reasons: Awareness and Insurance.

Awareness: “You don’t know what you don’t know” Seriously, you can’t assume that because you did 400 dives you are fully ready to penetrate a wreck. Most accidents come from an error of judgement and/or going beyond one’s training. While reading my wreck diving theory book, I came across a few things that made me say “Wow, I would have never thought about this one”. According to the latest DAN report (2015), drowning remains the cause #1 of the death of scuba divers. Getting stuck in an overhead environment and out-of-air being, unfortunately, one of the cases leading to it.

Insurance: If you’re diving without an insurance (please, don’t!) you might not care. But if you do, you’d be interested to know that if you dive beyond your training, you’re not insured. What ? Yes! If you need a recompression chamber treatment, because you got lost in a wreck, went out of air, had to ascend quickly to the surface, got decompression sickness and you are not a certified wreck diver, guess who is going to pay the thousands of dollars per day bill? Yes, you, even with a scuba diving insurance!

All of this may sound harsh, but I can’t be too casual while talking about wreck diving. This is often the first step toward technical diving for many scuba divers, so please be serious. Have fun but dive safe!

 

Why is Malta the best place to do the wreck diving speciality?

Within the 18 main wreck diving sites all around the island, 6 are historic war shipwrecks and 2 of these are only accessible to technical divers due to the depth (below 60m). As the tourism authority of Malta had a strategy in mind to scuttle ships for scuba diving tourism as early as in the 1970’s, today Malta is a wreck diving paradise in Europe for all levels.

Malta has plenty of tug boats all around the island. It allows training any day of the year as there is always one shore that is protected from the winds. For the more advanced wreck divers, there are also historic wrecks from WWI and WWII which can feed their treasure hunting wanderlust.

The 4 main areas of wreck diving in Malta are:

  • Valletta/Sliema (northeast coast)
  • Marsaskala (south-east coast)
  • Blue Grotto (south-west coast)
  • Cirkewwa (north-west coast, near Gozo Ferry Terminal)

The best wrecks for training are tugboats which were specially decommissioned to be safe for the scuba divers and the environment:

  • Tugboat 10 (length 16m, max depth 20m)  and St Michael tug boat (length 20m, max depth 22m) in Marsaskala
  • Tugboat II in Sliema (length 30m, max depth 25m)
  • The Rozi (length 30m, max depth 34m) in Cirkewwa

 

Wreck diving speciality: follow the steps!

My wreck diving speciality training lasted 2 days. I did 4 dives on 4 different shipwrecks all around Malta. Before each dive, we had an intensive briefing explaining which important aspects of wreck diving we would be practising.

By the way, I’d like to highlight that I did my wreck diving training with my friend, dive buddy and assistant photographer, Laurent Cousin. I loved that we could share our understanding and test our learnings together. He’s also the one who took most of the beautiful pictures of this article (basically all the pictures where you can see me, obviously!)

dive briefing wreck diving specialty malta Aquatica

Day 1 – Dive 1 at Tugboat 10, Marsaskala:

Practice and improve your frog kick

For the beginning of our training, we focused on a skill that is useful not only in wreck diving but anywhere you dive near a silty bottom: the frog kick. It can be in a cavern or a fine white sand lagoon. This fin kicking technique allows you to swim around without messing up the visibility in silty environments.

I had the opportunity to practice it for the first time while diving the Cenotes in Mexico and then at Silfra in Iceland. I knew how to use it. It’s a movement close to the one you use when you swim breaststroke. I was also aware it was far from being perfect. So having an instructor dedicated to my friend and me to help us learn the correct position and movement was the best way to reach proficiency. As Malta’s wreck diving always include more or less long approaches from the shore, we took the opportunity to film ourselves underwater to spot what exactly needed to be improved. Everything is about the movement of your knees and your ankles!

praticing frog kick for wreck diving specialty Malta

Once on the shipwreck, a small tugboat full of scorpion fish and nudibranchs, we were asked to find visually the potential risks that can occur while wreck diving. At the debrief, we listed potential hazards such as sharp metallic parts or entanglement in remaining ropes or cables.

On the way back to the shore, we practised a different fin kicking technique called the “helicopter”. It’s a side frog kick with only one leg to help you pivot efficiently. We both struggled and we will need to practice again and again in the future. The hard part is not to move the other leg that is supposed to stay still.

checking potential hazards wreck diving specialty Malta

Day 1 – Dive 2 at St Michael Tug boat, Marsaskala:

Map the wreck for future dive planning

The second skill we focused for the second dive was the mapping of a shipwreck. I was excited about the skill as during my Divemaster I had to map the Sakkatut wreck in Koh Tao. Never assume things are always the same. The Divemaster skills were about the orientation and guiding when the wreck diving speciality mapping was about potential entrances and hazards identification for future dive planning. While I did a good drawing underwater, I did miss that but lesson learnt, and now I will not forget. Training is there to make mistakes and to learn from them!

One thing that appeared clearly during that dive, if whatever you’re planning to do on a shipwreck, because of non-decompression dive time, there is always only a little time available once on the wreck. So never over charge you with too many tasks when planning such a dive. My planned bottom time was 20 minutes and that was just enough to make this drawing.

Mapping St Michael Tugboat wreck diving specialty Malta

 

Day 2 – Dive 3 at Tugboat II, Sliema:

Learn how to use a reel properly

Things got serious on the following day: to prepare us for safe wreck penetration, we learnt how to use a reel. The point is to use the rope as a safety line indicating the way out.

reel demonstration wreck diving specialty Malta Aquatica

First, after our dive briefing, we rehearsed on shore what we would have to do underwater: We learnt how to prepare a reel by unrolling and rolling it again in a specific way. We also learnt how to make 2 knots at the end to safely attach it to our BCD.

prepared reel with 2 knots wreck diving specialty Malta

On the second step, we saw how to put the line inside a wreck by making a simple knot every 5m or every time we change direction. We practise it with the different poles and barriers of the parking. At the end, we built a spiderweb!

practicing with the reel wreck diving specialty Malta

Then it was time to do it again underwater. The tug boat 101 of Sliema is one of the newest shipwrecks that can be dived in Malta. You reach it after a 10-minute swim at 8m of depth in the seagrass. Suddenly the shipwreck appears in the blue, fiercely standing on the sandy bottom at 25m deep. Following the signs of our instructor, the 3 of us started to place the rope of our reel on the exterior of the wreck, pretending we were inside. It was easier above the water! The secret is not to hurry, look carefully how you place the knot to follow your direction (I did one mistake) and when you roll the rope back, don’t try to put it perfectly.

 

wreck diving training in Malta

Day 2 – Dive 4 at HMS Maori, Valletta:

Wreck penetration with a reel

Finally, the moment came for serious wreck diving. I was delighted that the last dive of our training would be on one the historic shipwrecks: the HMS Maori, a destroyer of the British Navy from WWII. Only one-half of this ship is remaining just down the fortified wall of Valletta. The ship sank initially in the Great Harbour, on the other side of Valletta. It was then towed to St Elmo Bay facing Sliema.

St Elmo Bay ive site Valletta Malta

One part of this shipwreck is perfect for wreck divers to train their penetration skill with a reel. It’s large enough to let you and the instructor next to you observe how you proceed. It was so wide and straight that I thought I could imagine a more complex way by putting my line across in zigzag! I did really well and I was proud of how I put my knots this time without steering much sand inside with a well-controlled frog kick. The only thing was that I learnt later that my instructor was wondering what the h*** I was doing. “I was having fun because it was too easy otherwise?” Wrong answer but he smiled at me acknowledging what I was trying to achieve. Yet, he made a good point and I will not forget!

HMS Maori Valletta wreck diving specialty Malta

The theory of recreational wreck diving

knowledge review wreck diving specialty Malta

Within the 2 days of the training, you need to make sure to take enough time to study the book. You need to fill the knowledge check test at the end. It took me about 4 hours to finish the book and knowledge reviews from 6 pm to 11 pm, including a dinner break.

I may have been beyond what was expected, but as the first chapter is about regulation and finding artefacts on shipwrecks. It was very instructive to go into the details of British and French laws and compare the differences. After reading a few authoritative websites, just don’t take anything and contact local authorities if you find something interesting. Even if the book also gave arguments about why some people think it’s better to bring back artefacts.

I also found the chapter about potential hazards interesting. Remember, “You don’t know what you don’t know”: if sharp objects and entanglement are common risks on wrecks, I would have never guessed about potential suction due to a venturi effect when a current is passing through a restriction!

Finally, my biggest surprise and disappointment was when I read about the rules of recreational wreck diving. Here we are, I was already imagining myself exploring every room of a ship as big as the Titanic, but no, maximum penetration in a wreck for a recreational diver is 40m maximum! Yet, be careful, you need to take into account your depth: it means that at 30m of depth you can only progress inside the wreck for 10m and turn back. I was a bit sad but it totally makes sense for safety reasons.

Which dive centre to choose and how much does the wreck diving speciality cost?

After reviewing many websites of dive centres in Malta, Laurent and me, decided to contact Aquatica as they had a detailed page about the wreck diving speciality. When comparing prices, they were far from being the most expensive, so we thought it sounded like good value for money. The cost of these 2 days is 196€ if you book in advance online and it includes your book and your PADI certification card.

Wreck diving specialty in Malta with Aquatica

When I arrived at the dive centre in St Paul’s Bay, I was impressed by their stylish café. While studying your theory or debrief with your instructor, you can enjoy a smoothie, a sandwich or a piece of cake. Their organisation with “who dive where with who with what” appearing on a screen in the gear room impressed me. Daryl, the Maltese owner of Aquatica, has a team of 9 instructors offering classes in English, French, and German. In a nutshell, a perfect balance between thorough organisation and relaxing environment.

Aquatica

www.scubadivingmalta.com

Mosta Road, SPB 3418, St. Paul’s Bay

Phone: +356 77002700

Email: info@scubadivingmalta.com

Aquatica Café St Paul's Bay Malta

 

Would I recommend you to do your wreck diving speciality?

Definitely, yes! It was one of my favourite scuba diving specialities with dry suit diving and ice diving.

Getting back to training, 3 years after my Divemaster was a reminder that as scuba divers we should keep brushing up our skills. Even if my expectation of what I would be able to do after this course was higher, I also understand better the risks inherent to diving inside a wreck. I will keep training, I may look for more technical training in near future. That’s always the “issue” with scuba diving: every time you go “deeper” in the training, the more you want to train!

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, like our Facebook page and join the community of the World Adventure Divers!

Many thanks to Aquatica for inviting me to expand my scuba diving skills in wreck diving in Malta. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect honestly my experience there.


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Becoming a certified wreck diver in MaltaBecoming a certified wreck diver in Malta

  1. Congrats!! I have been thinking to take specialty courses as well..and this sounds very interesting. I did the frog kick in most of my dives, regardless the types and condition unless during drift diving. Frog kick is crucial to do in a coral garden area as well. I hope PADI and SSI include the frog kick as a mandatory to learn since open water course (I did not remember it was part of my Open Water theory – gosh, it was a long time ago!!)

    Reply

    1. Thank you Indah! You’re making a very good point about frog kick and protecting coral reefs! I also mostly use frog kick for any type of dive now, only using standard fin kicking when in current or if I need to accelerate.

      Reply

  2. […] the HMS Maori: British Destroyer of 115m from 1937, sunk in 1942, only half of the boat remains in St Elmo Bay, Valletta. I had the chance to dive there for the final dive of my wreck diving specialty training. […]

    Reply

  3. Great article about the wreck specialty. I’m a bit afraid of wreck diving but that’s also why I want to do the specialty, to gain more confidence to allow me to penetrate. There are a few wrecks in the south Pacific so I hope to complete it sooner rather than later!

    Reply

    1. Hi Juliette, yes the specialty is a great way to gain confidence as you are going to address the potential risks of wreck diving with your instructor!

      Reply

  4. […] amongst European scuba divers for a sunny scuba diving hideaway. I was mainly in Malta to pass my wreck diving specialty so I initially only planned one day trip to dive the famous Gozo Blue Hole. What I discovered was […]

    Reply

  5. […] the trip on the Canon D30 of my dive buddy, hence most of the pictures in this blog post about wreck diving in Malta and diving the Blue Hole in Gozo were taken with it. The value for money of this camera is just […]

    Reply

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