The Ultimate Guide to River Diving in 2024

By Julius
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Fjord in Norway

Looking to get started with river diving in 2024?

If you have tried out diving currents, or drift diving, diving in rivers will feel like the next level in the progression.

However, there are many challenges that face those who dare and you should not go unprepared.

In this guide to river diving, we have compiled the best tips, tricks, and places for save and amazing experiences.

What is River Diving?

In river diving, divers use the current of the river to drift downstream and explore its underwater world. It poses similar challenges to drift diving as divers enter the water at one location and exit at a different one. However, there are additional risks such as much shallower waters, varying visibility, greater velocities, and weirs.

River diving is not for the faint of heart.

Of course, there are different types of “rivers” out there, just like “currents” don’t mean the same thing everywhere.

The locations can range from shallow, slow-moving rivers to deeper, more powerful waterways.

Some rivers are more like streams and offer clear sight, low streaming velocities, and no physical barriers like dams, weirs, or sharp turns. These are more static dives where divers explore a particular section of the river.

On the other hand, there are other rivers which are just like you might imagine:

Rapidly changing currents, varying visibility, and diverse underwater landscapes. In these cases, it feels more like an extreme version of drift diving where you have to be on your guard and focused the entire time.

River diving usually involves a team of divers for safety and coordination and often employs specific techniques for navigation and communication due to the more challenging conditions.

It’s a great adventure but one that you should definitely only experience in the company of a dive guide!

Diver underwater in lake
River diving doesn’t always have to be fast or involve strong drifting.

Equipment for river diving

In order to dive at rivers, you need a full scuba gear kit including the basics like BCD, regulator, dive computer, tank, and exposure gear. Due to the often cold waters, you should opt for a drysuit if possible. In addition, guidelines, a knife, an SMB for marking, and torches are important.

If you already own a full kit, you probably don’t need much else.

Wearing dive boots is an absolute must, as is a dive hood over your head. They will not only keep you warm but protect you from the environment and prevent scratches or other injuries.

A knife should be part of your gear for safety if you get entangled underwater. After all, there might be all sorts of things at the bottom of a river.

River Traun
The River Traun offers some amazing views also above water!

River Diver Prerequisites & Certification

There are River Diver certifications by most scuba training agencies out there. As usual, the dive instructor and what you learn are more important than a plastic card.

Prerequisites for river diving are usually an Advanced Open Water Diver certification, as well as at least 20-50 dives, depending on the location.

I know several instructors who require at least 100 dives before taking someone but this of course varies.

As some rivers are REALLY cold, a drysuit certification helps, too!

Why People Love River Diving

River diving offers an entirely different experience from other forms of diving. The thrill of battling currents, and the rush of drift diving, are an adrenaline rush for many. In addition, many rivers offer unique scenery under and above water.

Where do I even begin?

Here are some reasons why I personally love diving in rivers:

Thrill of Drifting

I always loved swimming in drift channels at public pools where all you have to do is keep yourself afloat and let the current do the rest.

River diving is just like drift diving in this regard, with the added challenge of sharper turns, variations in depth, and narrower diving area.

Underwater photography

Rivers are often full of life and a dream for underwater photographers.

For example, the Traun in Austria (a sidearm river of the Danube) leads divers through green forests under a beautiful Alps panorama. You can see the trees even from underwater, offering super cool lighting and shadows for photos.

Freshwater diving is very different from saltwater diving, and river diving is one of the most fascinating parts of it!

Treasure Hunting

Some people love river diving for treasure hunting which has become increasingly popular on social media, as well.

While I don’t recommend you do that as a beginner, there are plenty of slower streams and sidearms that could lead you to find some valuable stuff like so:

The best places for river diving

Looking for river diving spots? Here are a few to give you some inspiration:

Traun, Austria

The river Traun in Austria is a sidearm of the famous Danube River and a perfect introduction to river diving.

It is suitable for scuba divers, as well as snorkelers, and freedivers alike and the conditions are generally great for divers.

Please note that diving here is only possible during the summer season!

Want some inspiration? Here it goes:

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

The Verzasca River is a popular spot for scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and other water sports.

It is known for its smoothed rock formations and deep, inviting swimming holes.

This area, often referred to as Ticino’s “green gem,” is renowned for its pristine wilderness and once you dive here, you’ll know why!

The valley also features a 220-meter high dam, which gained international fame as the backdrop for a stunt in the James Bond movie “Golden Eye”. In 2022, the inaugural Red Bull Dual Ascent event took place, where global athletes scaled the formidable dam wall in pairs.

Here is an example of diving in the Verzasca River:

How to go river diving safely

Safety comes first, no matter where you dive.

Rivers can be challenging and outright dangerous in some parts. Here are some safety guidelines to follow:

Pre-Dive Checklist

  1. Know the Area: Always research the river you plan to dive in. Understanding its topography, potential hazards, and current conditions is crucial.
  2. Dive Briefing: Always have a dive briefing to discuss the plan, safety measures, and emergency procedures.
  3. Equipment Check: Double-check all your equipment for any wear and tear or malfunctions.
  4. Buddy Check: Ensure that you and your buddy are on the same page about the dive plan.
  5. Local Laws: Make sure you are aware of and comply with any local regulations or permissions needed for river diving.

During the Dive

  1. Communication: Maintain constant communication with your buddy and use pre-arranged signals.
  2. Stay Calm: Strong currents and low visibility can be disorienting. Keep your cool and stick to the plan.
  3. Navigation: Use markers or ropes if necessary to aid in navigation.
  4. Depth and Time: Keep an eye on your depth and dive time to prevent decompression sickness.
Valle Verzasca Bridge
A typical entry point at Verzasca.


  1. Equipment Rinse: Freshwater rivers can still have contaminants. Make sure to rinse your equipment thoroughly.
  2. Log Your Dive: Keep a detailed record of your dive including depth, time, and any notable occurrences or discoveries.
  3. Debrief: Discuss the dive with your team. Talk about what went well and what could be improved for future dives.

There is no need to be afraid, but good diving skills and etiquette, as well as thorough safety preparations, are required.


River diving is an adventure, as much as it is a sightseeing tour underwater.

Hopefully, this guide to river diving cleared up some questions you might have had about it and shown you how to get started!

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!

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About the author

Hey! I'm Julius, professional scuba instructor, diver, outdoor lover, entrepreneur and CEO and founder of Social Diving. I write about scuba diving (including tech, cave, sidemount, and freediving), travel, and love what I do. If you have any questions, send me a message. :-)

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