If you’re thinking of new places to dive, or even just to start your new diving passion whilst on holiday, the Maltese Islands are one of the options that you really should look at!
We outline some of the reasons to choose diving the Maltese Islands below, but we will be honest as well about the less attractive issues related to diving.
The Diving Environment
- WEATHER: Warm (but not scorching) summers, temperate winters. Surface water temperature varies from 28 degrees Celsius in August to a low of 14 in February/March. January to April tends to be colder and windy, but there’s almost always a place where you can dive.
- VISIBILITY AND CURRENTS: Minimum of 20m on most days of the year at most sites, with some having 30m+ regularly. Tides in the Mediterranean are negligible (ca. 30cm), Currents are not frequent, with only a few diving sites needing attention, but best to dive with local guides/buddies to not be caught unprepared, or read well through Peter Lemon’s guide.
- WRECKS and ARTIFICIAL REEFS:The islands have over 30 wrecks and artificial reefs which are dived on a daily or regular basis, spanning from the depths of 6m to 120m+. The oldest is the Phoenician Shipwreck off Gozo (currently only dived for archaeological studies – but may change soon) at ca. 116m, and he newest is what remains of the artificial reef formed with P33, a former East Germany Patrol Boat which had been then used in Malta, which was scuttled in 2021. Check out Maltadives.com and the Malta Underwater Museum https://underwatermalta.org/ for more information about wrecks. Some historical shipwrecks under the 40m mark need special arrangements to visit through licensed dive centres in collaboration with the Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit.
- SHORE and BOAT DIVING: Most diving is done from shore, with the alternatives being day hard boats (10 – 40m long range) and RHIBs. Entrance/exits from shore diving sites normally includes a ladder or easy shore walking access, but some sites may be more challenging if you’re fit and adventurous. Dive centres normally try to get you within 30m of the shore. Diving boats have experiences skippers and at boat diving sites you’ll rarely have more company than 1 or two diving boats (still make sure you go up on the right boat or you’ll have to wait a bit or swim over).
- UW PHOTOGRAPHY: Clear waters, many pristine reefs and plenty of wrecks means all underwater photographers have plenty to shoot at.
- RESTRICTIONS: Spearfishing is banned whilst using Scuba gear and many diving sites are also no-go zones for Freediving spear-fishermen. Laying of fishing apparel is prohibited close to wrecks, though it needs better enforcement.
- STANDARDS: Most Diving Centres are affiliated with the major international training bodies such as PADI, BSAC, SSI/TDI, etc. Qualifications issued are recognised with high esteem internationally.
The Local Diving Industry
- OPEN 365 DAYS: The medium and large Diving Centres are open all year round with the months between October to June being the least busy, though you’d still be comfortable in a 5mm wetsuit until end December and semi-dry 7mm wetsuits will be enough for most people in the coldest months.
- REGULATED: Licensed Diving Centres are regulated by the Malta Tourism Authority and subject to monitoring and independent quality control assessments of diving air. You’re never more than 20 minutes away from one, but most Diving Centres are in the Sliema / St. Julian’s, area in the northern harbour region and Bugibba/Qawra/Mellieha zone in the North.
- BRANDS: All major brands are represented in Diving Shops and Diving Centres. Many of these have fully certified technicians by the major brands. Spares and Parts are available in stock. Servicing carried out with fast schedules.
- LANGUAGE: English – 99% of locals can communicate well in English, approx. 60% in Italian also and other European Languages are spoken to in Diving Centres, Euros is the main currency. English is the main business language. The Maltese Language is derived from medieval Sicilian Arabic but peppered with Italian, French and English words as well, written in latin characters.
- SIZE: The size of the archipelago means few diving days are missed throughout the year due to bad weather (btw, over 300 days of sunshine). You just travel 30 mins in the opposite direction.
- TEMPERATURES: Warm (but not scorching) summers, temperate winters. Surface water temperature varies from 28 degrees Celsius in August to a low of 14 in February/March.
- ENJOY DRY DAYS: Plenty of time and to do when not diving. You can be diving in the morning, enjoying some history in the afternoon and do a night dive later (or head to the pubs / restaurants / clubs etc.).
- NON-DIVERS: Non-divers are close by and plans may be changed in minutes. Who knows, maybe they give it a try too, or else find plenty to do whilst you enjoy your dives
- FLYING on AIRMALTA (the national carrier)? Flat fee for extra luggage for Sports (including Diving) equipment. Visit their page at https://airmalta.com/en-mt/flight-extras/baggage/sports-equipment for more information.
There are always challenges and not as attractive points. To ensure we’re honest, we are listing most of these here.
- FISH: Fish life is not a major reason divers choose to dive in Malta. The Mediterranean is well over fished and Malta is not an exception. Marine Protected Areas have been introduced (e.g. Cirkewwa Marine Park), but enforcement still leaves much to be desired at times when divers are not around. There are still plenty of critters around and many small fish, but be prepared not to expect large pelagic fish or mammals, although surprises do occur, such as Dolphins which have been on the increase (there was recently a lucky guy seeing dolphins underwater on his first open water course dive!!!)
- WINTER ACCESS POINTS: In winter some access ladders are frequently lost due to storms. There is a new pledge by the authorities to keep them in place year round, but your diving centre or locals are the best at telling you where it is safe to dive due to prevailing weather and accessible at the same time. Take their advice seriously. Sudden changes of weather in August / September are not unexpected.
- BUSY TIMES: Mornings in Summer may be very busy around the most famous diving sites. Plan early or late to avoid the rush hour and get a reasonably close parking spot close to the entry point. In Cirkewwa, the Diving Certification needs to be left on the dashboard to confirm you’re a diver if using a diver-reserved parking spot. Fines of €23 easily come up if you don’t.
- EUROPEAN PRICES: Malta is not anymore a cheap backwater. Lifestyle and Cost of Living is now more of the European Average. Instructors and guides need to get better pay (like everywhere else) and some tips to survive. Haggling is not a common practice and prices are normally fixed in advance. Support working Instructors and Guides – they need it!
- UNLICENSED Operators: Occasionally, unlicensed instructors may offer their services illegally, especially over the internet. Make sure whoever you are dealing with is licensed (MTA website), or works in partnership with Licensed operator. Many diving centres are also members of the Professional Diving Schools Association which requires affiliated dive centres to keep to a code of conduct. Do not risk it for just a few bucks. Report any approaches to you by shady businesses to the Malta Tourism Authority.
- BOAT TRAFFIC: Keep an eye out in high boat traffic areas. Maltese are keen boaters, but many still drive a bit too fast too near shores. Rule of thumb is that if you hear a boat sound very close, stay under the 5m mark although many dive point entrances / exits are well protected. Dive centres will normally take you to safer zones and will also provide within the dive briefing the necessary instructions. Dive boats use the “Alpha” flag to indicate the presence of divers in the water and these always maintain surface cover. It is not a local practice to drop divers and pick them up later, the dive boat stays with you and its skipper(s) keep an eye out.
- NO LIVEABOARDS: It doesn’t make sense for liveaboards to be organised when you can stay comfortable in a hotel / apartment during your stay and enjoy some dry time wetting your lips with cold beer at the local… and still doing 3 dives per day. If you cannot hold yourself but sleep on a boat, then you charter a boat (https://maltacharters.com/)!