uss vandenberg
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GPS numbers for proposed sink location - 24° 27' N 81° 44' W


USS Vandenberg Dive Safety

The USS Vandenberg is the most outstanding artificial reef dive location in the US. Divers should be especially careful on this dive site, as the size and layout of the wreck increase the potential risks associated with any dive. This is not intended to be dive training, nor a complete list of all risks which may be encountered while diving, but it points out some of the most significant precautions divers can take to eliminate hazards. Getting maximum enjoyment from a dive on the USS Vandenberg starts with not having an incident during your dive.

Preparation. Go over gear and review the dive plan the night before your scheduled dive. Many accidents start with a simple oversight such as forgetting a piece of gear, or rushing to assemble your dive kit. A dive on the USS Vandenberg should get a little extra attention to detail, so that everything has been checked more than once.

Get a good dive briefing. Your dive charter operator will provide details in your dive briefing which can help keep you safe and more thoroughly enjoy the dive. Information such as currents, site conditions, safety information, and special procedures used by that operator are important.

Note your entry location. The USS Vandenberg is a big boat. There will likely be only 6 mooring buoys for over 500 feet of wreck length. Be aware of where the buoy is for your boat, and its number. As you descend, note the location of the downline where it is attached to the wreck, and nearby features. The line itself may be difficult to see when you are looking for it to ascend from your dive, but familiar large structures on the ship can help you find it. As you leave the line to explore the wreck, look BACK towards the line to see what the structures look like from that direction.

Watch your depth. The ocean floor at the dive site is actually deeper than recreational diving depths. Most of the interesting features of the wreck are shallower than 100’, but in the event that you wish to explore deeper, be aware that you can suddenly find yourself in 150 feet of water fast. Narcosis can kick in anytime, and make you even less aware of your situation. Also, at greater depths, your gas consumption will increase greatly. Watch your buoyancy and location to stay where you want to be. Also, nitrox divers should be aware that the ocean floor at the site is well beyond the depth where 32% oxygen becomes toxic.

Turn pressure. Unlike an up-and-down dive, or drift dive, on the Vandenberg you may need to travel back to the ascent line before you begin moving to the surface. If you have explored a lot of the wreck, you may have covered a lot of ground, and may be several hundred feet down the ship, away from your ascent line. It will take some time to make your way back, which will require available gas for breathing. Waiting until you have used ½ of your tank will not work. Your trip back to the line may take more gas than the outbound trip, if there is a current, or other unforeseen circumstances. Using a typical 3000 psi start pressure, turning your dive at 1500 could put you in a bad situation. Be sure to use at least the “Rule of Thirds”, or even a more conservative turn pressure on the Vandenberg, due to its large size. Ascending in open water would put you at risk or being swept away without your dive boat seeing you. In 10 minutes, a 1 knot current can pull you 1/4 mile away. Don’t rush to try and see the whole ship on one dive. The Vandenberg will still be there tomorrow. Make sure you are too.

Wreck penetration. There are numerous features to enjoy on the Vandenberg which do not require any entry into the ship. However, the lure of open doors, hatches, and passages can be strong. Gliding into an interior compartment “just to take a look” can seem like an innocent decision, but a single fin kick can silt out an entire room, obscuring the view of the door and daylight. If the thought of being in the dark, seemingly trapped underwater does not motivate you to stay out of the wrecks interior, read this account of a real-world experience of exactly that scenario.
Wreck penetration of a ship as complex as the USS Vandenberg is much like a cave dive; think of the Vandenberg as a big steel cave system. Cave divers undergo extensive training before entering an overhead environment, and follow advanced procedures with specific gear configurations, (high intensity lighting with triple backup, completely redundant regulator systems, guidelines and reels, etc.). At the entrance to many underwater caves is this warning sign:

It would be impossible to post such a sign at each entry point on the USS Vandenberg, but divers should consider the same warning regardless.

Cutting tools: The Vandenberg will eventually be visited by many fishing boats, and will accumulate lost fishing line over time. Be sure to have at least 2 cutting devices within reach on your gear. A set of trauma shears/safety shears is recommended, as a standard dive knife may not be able to cut through steel leader or high strength “SpiderWire” type line.

Ascent: Be sure to ascend on an upline to a mooring ball. The open water above the wreck will likely contain moving boat traffic. Ascent up a line will keep you from impacting a boat hull or propeller, and make it easy for a safe boarding back to your dive boat.

Training: Refer back to all of the information you learned in your dive training, and remember to follow the rules to keep you safe. Open water divers should consider taking an advanced open water course if regular diving on the Vandenberg is anticipated. Not only will it add a margin of safety, but it will provide the skills to enjoy the wreck more completely. Divers who have not been in the water for some time may also want to consider a refresher course dive, or guided dive to acclimate them to the wreck.