Old Garden Beach is a popular training site in New England so it can often be quite busy on the weekend. Parking can range from difficult to impossible mid morning on the weekends but it keeps the limited space on the beach more open. The site is near some other popular sites so if parking isn’t possible there are alternatives. The beach is also close to downtown rockport which is a nice area to walk around, grab a bite to eat and find some nice beach trinkets. It can be a great place for a family to hang out while or after you dive. The dive is very nice and depending on the heading you take there are 3 or 4 fairly unique dives you can experience here. There are a few great features you can find underwater and it’s worth a few dives to see the whole area. Most people won’t find much more than 40 – 50 feet here so it’s good for new divers and the area can be very good for lobstering.
The entry and exit here are not too complicated. It's a narrow beach with the center, straight in from the path down, typically being the easiest way in. Most divers will carry fins into waist-deep water while fully dressed in their dive team and then help each other into their fins. Depending on shore conditions the walk to the water may be rocky or it may be flat sand. Sand is brought in almost every spring to cover the rocks on the beach. this shifts around throughout the year depending on storms and conditions and the beach can become a tough journey of fist to head sized slick stones. This is the most obvious hazard of entering and exiting the water. Especially when the stones are under knee deep water. No matter the tide the walk to the water is short one compared to some other sites.
This site has a direct north east exposure and is PROTECTED FROM ANY WIND FROM THE SOUTH, SOUTH WEST. As long as swells aren't rolling in, the site is diveable in almost any wind from the south. Even from the north east Old Garden Beach is protected by Avery's ledge and other rock piles that help reduce the swells rolling in. Unfortunately those breakwalls are not complete and far enough offshore that strong winds or swells from most directions north will still bring in waves too large for entries and exits to be comfortable. North winds above 12mph will start to produce larger waves especially during high tide.
The depth of this site isn't so great that it's much of a concern as a hazard. In fact any incidents or accidents that have been recorded here all have happened in the shallows near the shore. The protected cove near shore gives a sense of comfort and divers can tend to separate here on their way back in. The end of a dive is of course always a vulnerale time having just exerted some energy so, as always we enourage all dive teams to stay together until fully exited from the water.
When rocks are exposed or under knee deep water near shore slipping and falling or twisting an ankle can be a serious concern. Be careful and deliberate with each step while walking around them.
This is also a popular cove for lobstermen to plant their lobster traps. The lines can be difficult to manage with a flag at high lobster season. Pay particular attention to the angle of your flag line through the entire dive. If you notice the flag line being pulled behind you as you swim the flag line may be too long or it may have gotten caught on a trap line. Swim back in the direction your line is going while periodically looking up to try to see where the trap line and flag line are crossed and untangle them.
This site is a great site for natural navigation but it can be deceiving to divers new to the area. Be sure to use a compass until you get your basic lay of the land down.
DURING THE WEEK - You can park right in front of the grass knoll above the dive site. This is one of the aspects that makes this such a great place for a mid week dive. The only spot that is ALWAYS NO PARKING is directly in fron of the walkway. Also the sidewalks are basically on street level. PLEASE DO NOT PARK ON THE SIDEWALK. Keep all wheels on the street when parking. The locals get annoyed when they can't walk on the sidewalk because there is a car parked on top of it.
DURING WEEKENDS & HOLIDAYS - In front of the dive site becomes a loading and unloading zone during weekends and holidays. This are can become extremely busy so be prepared to quickly drop off gear and drive off to find parking when you arrive. Do not stop and park for any length of time. This area is patrolled by police prepared to ticket and as more divers leave their cars for longer than 5 minutes it gets VERY backed up.
Once your gear is unloaded there is assorted on street parking on various sidestreets behind the site. Some notable spots are:
Jerry Shine provided much of the written dive site content on the shore diving sites around New England from his 2005 publication: A Shore Diving Guide to New England which is currently out-of-print. His 2017 publication A Year Underwater: Twelve Months of Diving, Fraternizing with Marine Life, and Just Having a Great Time, from the St. Lawrence River to West Palm Beach is available for purchase on Amazon.
If lobstering be sure that you are licensed, have a gauge for the area you are lobstering in, have your numbers on your cylinder and flag, and don’t land any shorts, longs, notches, or eggers. For more information please reference the mass.gov regulations site here.