You’ll be amazed at what you will see underwater at Chesil Cove. Whether you’re into environment and nature, history and wrecks or video and photos, Chesil guarantees some amazing diving day and night as one of the most popular shore dives on the South Coast.
An abundance of flora and fauna is complemented by the remains of many vessels that have struck this beach and broken up in furious storms – now all natural shelters for life.
Chesil is an ideal site for open water/ocean divers and above all the way to technical divers for fun, training and an enhanced experience.
Easy access and depths ranging from 6 to 18 metres and minimal tidal influence makes Chesil Cove ideal for any level of diving all year round. To make it even easier for you, we follow Chesil beach every day and take a photo and/or video of the conditions to share with you on our public Facebook blog. To see current conditions at Chesil Cove you can VISIT OR FOLLOW US.
Our dive centre Underwater Explorers, home to the world’s popular online dive equipment shopping experience DirDirect.com, is just around the corner from (on the way to) the Cove for all of your needs, from air, nitrox, trimix fills to equipment rental. (Please check our COVID 19 Updates for current opening times)
If you have never been to Chesil Cove before, we recommend you take a look at our Guide to Getting to Chesil Cove which also has relevant information on parking and entry.
(We also have a YOUTUBE CHANNEL dedicated to Chesil Beach Watch where we have more underwater videos of the conditions, sea life, topography).
The Chesil Dive Site
At the southernmost edge of Chesil Beach, Chesil Cove is part of a storm beach and the pebbles slope steeply down towards the water, leading to rocks, reefs and sand bed. The Cove can be dived in any state of tide as currents are ‘generally’ weak but you must watch out for swell and undertow especially during Spring Tides (where the tidal zone difference is greater) or during westerly winds.
The site is sheltered from most North and East winds but anything above a Force 3 from the South or West creates a swell making entry, but more importantly exit, difficult.
Visibility in the Cove can range anywhere between 1 to a spectacular 15 metres depending on season and swell, with average visibility being in the range of 3-6 metres. The famous storms of Chesil which have claimed numerous vessels over decades can affect visibility seriously, requiring several days for the conditions to settle Please note: The height of swell/waves reaching the shore and the almost sudden depth increase on entry need to be taken under consideration.
Sand, pebbles, rock, reefs, small and large chunks of wreckage and kelp forests. Sandeels over the sand beds. Over patches of sand beds between the reefs and rocks, watch the larger sandeels and fish feeding on smaller schools of sandeels. Watch thousands of sandeels swimming at the same time, ducking in and out of the sand. Depending on season, observe cuttlefish laying eggs or on the hunt both over sand and rocks. See dogfish, crabs, lobsters, snakelock anemone, giant wrasse, bass and even john dory, triggerfish and octopus in their natural environment. Under the larger boulders in the shallows and on patches of red algae, observe the seasonal reproductive chains of seahare. Look close enough and you’ll be amazed at the micro life including many types of nudibranch.
ENTRY & EXIT
While divers can enter the water anywhere on the Cove, both the Council and locals strongly advise diving entry be made down the ramp to the right of the storm gate. This rule, is emphasised by a permanent sign on the wall of the esplanade. Once down on the pebbles and off the ramp the easiest way to get in the water is to walk in with your BC inflated and then put your fins on (though some prefer to sit on the bank and then slowly crawl in or walk in backwards). If it’s slightly choppy entry may be difficult due to swell and undertow and exit even more difficult. Because the beach drops off immediately, it is possible to lose a foothold in a couple of steps, especially when on high water so an inflated BC on entry is highly recommended. Only a few yards from the shore, depth will range between 3-6m but if there is a lot of undertow or swell, it may be prudent to swim out slightly more and then drop deeper.
The best area to dive in the Cove with depths ranging from 6 to 18 metres maximum are between the disused sewer pipeline (which starts more or less in front of Quiddles cafe) and the area which falls across the famous Cove House Inn where pebbles give way to sand patches and eventually the rocks of Portland. The best scenery, undoubtedly, is found in the 8-14 metre range among the rocks, pebbles and various wreckage which shelter an abundance of sealife which happens to be right in front of the ramp entry point described above. Therefore the first dive we suggest is directly down from the ramp.
Chesil Cove has numerous underwater “trails” but can easily be dived straight in-and-out like any other beach. Rule of thumb in the Cove is Out Is West, In is East. If you ever get confused, just head East or 90 degrees and you are sure to come ashore somewhere! Chesil Cove goes down steep on entry and then in steps from 3 metres on as it eventually bottoms out at around 12-14 metres, though depths can exceed 18m further out. From shallow to deep, the beach is made up of small to larger pebbles with rocks scattered here and then, then rocky reefs and rock outcrops which give way to patches of flat sand and eventually a sandy bottom further West and North West. Depending on season the area up to the sandy bottom can be covered in seaweed and/or kelp whereas there is a more expansive kelp forest towards the South end of the beach (see below).
Assuming you are going straight down the “diver’s entry ramp” (marked in red above) from the main road and entering the water, the quick sketch above gives you an idea of possible routes and what you could see. Slightly to your left will be a wreck. To the far left will be the kelp forest and pipe. Straight ahead you will have rock outcrops and reefs. To your right (1 o’clock) will be rocks leading to sandy seabed.
(The Trails described below are approximates and assume Entry Point being the shore in front of the top of the ramp)
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I dive Chesil at any state of the tide?
The answer is yes. Though if you want easier exit when the sea is high, diving before High Water may be a better option. Otherwise the Cove can be dived more or less any state of the tide, but the deeper and further you go, the more tidal pull you may experience. Leaving the shelter of the Cove itself whether further South around the rocks or West towards greater depth can increase tidal effect on a diver especially on Spring Tides. You may have to adjust your bearing accordingly depending on direction of water movement around you before and after Low and High water. Using underwater landmarks to assist navigation is also recommended especially as depth will change depending on the change of tide. The strongest tidal movement affecting the Cove would likely be before HW running (North East to South West).
When is Chesil not safe to dive?
The Cove will be directly affected by West and North West winds and depending on strength of wind and gust, can also be “blown out” by South West and Easterly winds. The latter effect would be greater swell affecting entry and exit and some light white horses while the former directions would have a direct impact. Any swell over a couple of feet (if the waves are beating the beach at shin level) can make entry and exit difficult – and anything stronger than that, diving is not really advisable but personal choice. You can also check out our own Generic Risk Assessment for the Cove including other hazards and what to watch out for.
Do I need a dive guide?
If you are open water and/or ocean diver ( trained to 18m) and above you should be able to dive the Cove with your own planning accompanied by a buddy or in a group without problems. If you are not confident though and want a more relaxed experience, a number of local and visiting dive professionals can also offer you guided dives or a whole day beach diving experience. But please note that as a 3 man team is required (surface cover and an extra diver for in-water safety) for what’s described as “diving at work” by agency and HSE standards, there will be a cost to this and pre-booking to ease logistics and planning would be adviseable. If you have someone with you, even if a non-diver, let your guide know of this as non-divers can also act as surface cover for your activity.
How do I unload and park?
We have a picture-by-picture guide on Getting to Chesil. Most divers will arrive at or close to the storm gates (if parking on Brandy Row is possible). If coming to the storm gates, cars and divers will take turns to drop off equipment without blocking public or road access, leave someone to look after the equipment, then park their car where convenient and walk back. Getting to Chesil has more information on parking spaces in the area.
Where are the closest public toilets?
The closest toilets to the Cove dive site are run by Quiddles Café (facilities open to non-customers) and the Cove House Inn (for customers only). These are only open if and when the two premises are open, meaning it is wise to check their Covid-secure measures as well as opening times in advance of a visit (both toilets were closed during the lockdown). The closest public toilets are up Fortuneswell and behind the Portland Heights Hotel at top of the hill. While the Fortuneswell facility (just after passing Co-Op to your right and at the bus stop to your left) is closer, there is no on-road parking at this location. If you are driving and use of toilet is essential, we’d recommend driving straight up the hill itself, turn left at the Portland Heights roundabout and use the toilet building to the right on the first road to the right (adjacent to the hotel). Alternatives of course are larger shopping centres or using p-valves.
TRAIL 1- STRAIGHT IN & OUT (Easy Route)
From above entry point if you swim out 270 degrees, after a few large rocks and reef you will come upon a sandbank at a depth of 12-15m. If you follow the reef to either side, you can navigate back to the point you left the ‘track’. This “in and out” direct route is the simplest way to start exploring Chesil Beach if you are looking to avoid swell in the shallows.
A visual line of direction will allow divers to branch off and return to the “trail”. Once you descend, you could also take a look to the left side (south) at about 6-8 metres and see the wreckage of what is believed to be the Preveza, which broke up on Chesil during a storm in 1920. This route is ideal during the season to spot John Dory and Cuttlefish as well as Wrasse, Crabs and Lobsters.
TRAIL 2 – THE KELP FOREST (Easy Route)
The Pipe-Kelp Forest trail (to the left after entry – South) can either be linked to another route or done independently.
Keeping to a depth of about 6-8 metres (depending on the state of tide) divers can follow the shoreline where pebbles blend into rocks until arriving at patches of sea weed and kelp which eventually become a full blown ‘kelp forest’ around the disused sewer pipe.
This can be an immersing experience particularly when the kelp forest is dense and marine life is abundant with maximum depths not exceeding 12m. There is much to see both in the kelp beds and around the pipe (but watch out for fishing lines and torn nets). This is a great dive which takes the diver over the wreckage of the Preveza and rocks.
TRAIL 3 – ROCKY REEF
Upon doing the entry described in Trail 1, if you stick to a bearing of 270 degrees for about 1/2 a mile crossing large areas of rock and sandy patches, you will finally come to the edge of the rock reef marked initially by some large (2-3 metre high) rocks. Depths here may reach or exceed 18 metres.
Heading out you can explore the edge of the reef with the rocks on your left and sandbed to your right or do the opposite on an inward trip. This route (approximately 50-60 minutes) requires quite a long underwater swim so close monitoring of pressure gauge (or a large volume cylinder) is recommended. Depths here average 15-18 metres.
TRAIL 4 – BEYOND ROCKY REEF (NW Route)
As above, if you are fairly confident about your consumption, enter the water and on reaching 8-9 metres depth take a bearing of 300 degrees ? hence we’ve dubbed this the North West route. After 10-15 minutes depending on your finning speed you will come to the edge of the rocky reef and see a sand bank stretching ahead. Turn left while keeping the sand to your right and follow the reef outwards to a depth of about 16-18 metres. You will come across a large piece of wreckage on the sand itself). Further on and a metre or so deeper follow the reef edge until you come across mores wreckage and massive tree trunks lost off board in storms,
Look at the rocks closely here as some may surprise you (being encrusted wreckage). The area is covered in various sizes of encrusted metal objects, most of which came from the ships that have been grounded on Chesil and broken up. Maximum depth can reach 19 metres on this trail and due to the distance involved, close monitoring of pressure gauge is highly recommended.
Each of the above trails can obviously be followed or explored through different entry points but the easiest and advisable one is as above. Whatever you do, don’t forget to read up also on our Conditions & Risks section below before organising your first Chesil Cove dive. You can call us 9 to 5 on 01305824555 for queries and advice. You can also follow our DAILY photographic update of Chesil Beach on CHESIL BEACH WATCH.
Visiting Chesil… It’s not only about diving. There’s a lot of fun to be had with family. Why not build a stone stack and see how high you can go? But don’t forget, you are not allowed to remove and take away pebbles from the beach. Enjoy them where they are…
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? Izzy Imset
Photo(s) 2019 Izzy Imset – All Rights Reserved.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this page is to give a starter point for visiting divers and enhance safety on the beach. In no way is it an official guide to the beach and it is the divers’ personal responsibility to dive to the limits of their training and agency, to check conditions such as weather and tide prior to planning any dive. Neither Underwater Explorers nor those divers who have given feedback towards this guide accept responsibility for the actions and decisions of divers. The following notes contribute to awareness and do not substitute any formal guided diving activity, official guidance or advice by agencies and/or dive clubs. It is your responsibility to dive to your limits in conditions you are accustomed to, deciding on your own safety and dive plan. With that said, have a safe dive and hopefully you’ll all enjoy your Chesil Cove experience!…