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Israeli Diving Law
Diving Conditions in Eilat
Things to Do in Eilat
This page contains information relating to diving in Eilat, including the Israeli Diving Law and how it might impact you. We've also included some useful information on planning your trip and on Eilat's non-diving activities.
Israeli Diving Law
Here's what you need to know about the Israeli diving laws:
INSURANCE: Diving insurance is mandatory by law for any certified diver who dives in Israel, and therefore we cannot take you diving if you have no insurance. The law does not apply to students in Open Water Diver or Scuba Diver courses, or Discover Scuba Diving program participants, for whom we provide insurance coverage. However, the law does apply to certified divers enrolled in Advanced Open Water or Specialty courses.
A popular insurance option is Divers Alert Network (DAN), which offers excellent worldwide dive insurance coverage and also engages in dive medicine research which helps divers all over the world. See the websites of DAN America (US and Canada) and DAN Europe as appropriate. If you can't bring proof of diving insurance or travel insurance that explicitly covers scuba diving, you can purchase the locally available option, which gives you a short-term Israeli insurance policy for 5 days for about NIS 100. Here's the link. Please be aware that last-minute online purchasing of dive insurance causes delays in the morning when we all want to go out diving, so please think about buying it in advance – even the night before. Be sure to put in the correct start date for the policy.
MINIMUM AGE: The minimum age in Israel for all diving is 12 years, including Discover Scuba Diving and any courses. Sorry, kids.
MAXIMUM DEPTHS: We are not allowed to take divers deeper than their certification level (except in a course).
If you're an Open Water Diver with diving experience below 20m (66ft), consider the option of signing up for ‘PADI Adventure Dives’ to explore the deeper reef to 30m (100ft) with us at no extra cost. Since Israeli law considers it a course environment, requirements for a medical statement (or clearance) could apply.
REFRESHER DIVES: Repeating what we wrote on the Daily Diving page: Divers who haven't dived in 6 months have to undergo a ‘refresher’ dive, which consists of a few underwater exercises and making sure that you can reasonably maintain your buoyancy. This applies even if you're beginning an Advanced Open Water or Specialty Diver course. If you have 50 dives then it's 12 months, and if you’re a Master Scuba Diver or dive professional then you're exempt. Unlike other dive centers in Eilat, we won’t charge you for a separate refresher dive, and we’ll do the exercises when we enter the water at the beginning of your first dive.
If you've reserved boat diving and have a requirement for a ‘refresher dive’, you may be precluded from joining boat dives on your first day, depending on the boat's itinerary (whether the first dive site allows a surface swim to shore for doing the refresher exercises).
Please see also the section below about medical clearance for diving in Israel.
Filling out a medical questionnaire is required if you are enrolling in a course or a Discover Scuba Diving program. (It's not required just for going diving!) This is a PADI standard as well as an Israeli legal requirement. If you answer ‘yes’ to any question on the medical questionnaire, you'll need a doctor's clearance in order to be able to dive. We strongly urge you to download and read the form well in advance of your diving course, so that if necessary you can see your doctor, discuss any issues, and if possible obtain your doctor's clearance to dive. If you come here without clearance from a doctor at home, there's a good chance that you won't be able to see a doctor here in time to begin your course. (Once you're in Israel, the law requires clearance to come from a doctor with a special certificate in diving medicine, and there is only one in Eilat.)
If you are over 45 years of age, you will need a doctor's clearance in order to enroll in a diving course here in any case, even without a single ‘yes’ answer on the form. Over-45s have to take a stress electrocardiogram (EKG) test in order to get a doctor's OK in Israel, and this is strictly enforced for Israeli residents, so PLEASE take care of getting your doctor's signature before you leave home. The medical questionnaire download includes “Guidelines for Recreational Scuba Diver’s Physical Examination” in case your family physician is unfamiliar with the physiological effects of scuba diving.
Download the medical questionnaire here.
Israel's southernmost city, on the shore of the Red Sea, modern Eilat was established shortly after the end of Israel's War of Independence in 1949 with the construction of the seaport and the opening of the copper mines in the Timna Valley. Today, Eilat is a city of over 50,000 residents and Israel's Red Sea resort, where visitors can enjoy the beautiful landscape of a deep blue sea surrounded by colorful mountains. Eilat boasts a coral reef with vibrant and exotic fish life and lots of other interesting creatures like crabs, octopuses and even occasional turtles. In fact, the Red Sea is renowned for the richness and variety of fish species and invertebrates. All of the photos on this site were taken by us in Eilat.
As a resort town, Eilat offers a variety of activities for visitors, with an emphasis on the natural world above and below the water's surface. There is a wide range of accommodations to suit most budgets, ranging from the fanciest full-service hotels to simple hostel-type accommodations and lots of private airbnb/booking.com type offers. You'll find plenty of restaurants, kosher and otherwise – something for every taste, and nightlife as well.
GETTING HERE: Planes, automobiles, buses and land crossings; no trains.
Domestic flights land at the Eilat Airport in the center of town, taking off from either Ben Gurion International Airport or Tel Aviv's Sde Dov Airport, on Israel’s ‘other’ airlines, Arkia and Israir. There are also a couple of daily flights from Haifa. Direct, scheduled international flights land at no-frills Ovda Airport (45 minutes north of Eilat) from a rapidly growing list of more than 20 European cities, mostly operating only from late October to March, on a once- or twice-weekly schedule. Buses and private shuttles are synchronized with incoming and outgoing flights. Email us if you need help finding Eilat flight information. Sometime in 2018, the operations of both current airports are supposed to move to a brand new international airport 20 minutes from Eilat, just south of Timna.
Renting a car, either in Tel Aviv or in Eilat, can be a good option for getting here as well as for getting around; the large international car rental agencies are here along with one or two Israeli companies. Note that a one-way rental to or from Eilat carries a large extra charge for rentals under three days. Also note that all car rental agencies in Eilat close early on Friday afternoons and remain closed all day Saturday.
The cheapest way to Eilat if you're already in the country is usually via buses run by the Egged bus cooperative. Buses to Eilat leave Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beer Sheva. Reservations are highly recommended; if you don't read Hebrew you can't reserve online, but you can still reserve a seat in English by phone. Here is the link to the relevant information in English. Buses are comfortable, air-conditioned and wifi-equipped, but can be crowded and noisy.
For information on procedures and opening hours for the two border crossings near Eilat, click here for Taba (Egypt) and here for Aqaba (Jordan).
GETTING AROUND: If you don't rent a car, taxis are a relatively inexpensive option. Except for intercity trips with published tariffs, never agree to a price if the driver offers you one in advance – instead, ask the driver to run the meter, and at your destination ask for a receipt. Most taxi drivers are honest but there are bad apples in any group. There's a 25% surcharge at night from 9pm and on weekends, and there are surcharges for extra passengers beyond two, and for luggage. One need not tip taxi drivers in Israel. If you prefer to take a bus, the bus lines most likely to be of interest will be No. 15, which travels the South Beach Road all the way to the Taba crossing (No. 16 is the return trip), and No. 5 can take you from the North Beach hotel area to the popular “Big” Shopping Center (No. 6 is the return trip).
Diving Conditions in Eilat
CLIMATE: Eilat has a long, hot and dry summer and a short, cool winter. As befits our location at the edge of the desert, we get very little rainful: A typical winter includes a few brief showers and a few scattered hours of heavy rain. We have no more than a handful of days every year when we can't dive, either because of flash flooding in the dry riverbeds above the town that run off into the sea, or because of strong winds from the south making entry into the sea dangerous.
This table, using data from Weather Spark, shows the monthly averages for high and low air temperatures in Eilat.
WATER TEMPS: If you've done any ‘internet research’ about Eilat, you may have read somewhere that water temperatures here are a constant 20°C or 21°C year-round. This is completely wrong! As you can see in the table below, seawater temperatures here have an annual cycle bottoming out in late winter at about 21°C and peaking in late summer at about 27°C. This temperature cycle is pretty reliable, as shown on the Weather Spark site: even with year-to-year variability, water temperatures fall within ±1°C (2°F) of the mean at least 90% of the time. In any case, we have a range of wetsuits appropriate for every season.
SURFACE CONDITIONS AND CURRENTS: The prevailing underwater currents in the Gulf of Eilat are counter-clockwise, that is, on the Jordanian side they run from south to north and on the Israeli side they run from north to south. However, most of the time underwater currents are very weak, and even the rare strong current can be finned against. As a rule, currents in Eilat cannot be predicted with great reliability. The maximum tidal range in Eilat is a mere 0.99m (3.3 ft) from low tide to high tide, and therefore tides have only a small impact on water movement.
The prevailing winds in Eilat are from the north (bringing hot desert air!) and as a result surface currents are generally north-to-south.
Stronger winds, more prevalent in summer, can raise small whitecaps on the sea and even generate some serious surface currents at our southern boat moorings. We do take waves and surface currents into account to ensure that we bring boat divers safely back to the boat. Most of the year we'll see waves of less than 0.6m (2 ft), but on windier days the waves can reach 1m (3 ft) or more. The good news for shore divers is that these waves don't reach the mostly east-southeast-facing shore entry/exit points, and anyway the waves are mostly dissipated over the shallow reef table.
Things to Do in Eilat
Other than eating and sleeping, there's lots to do in Eilat when you or your traveling companions are not diving.
Here's a brief overview of our recommendations.
Beaches and SnorkelingThere is a wide variety of beaches in Eilat, and with a little bit of planning you can find the kind of beach you want. There are only four manned lifeguard stations in town, and swimming at all other beaches is ‘at your own risk’. There are no dangerous inshore currents in Eilat and most swimming areas are bordered by buoys within 100-200m (300-600 ft) from shore, but if you're interested, the city lifeguards will keep an eye on you along the North Beach from 9Beach to Hanania Beach (parallel to the Rimonim and Leonardo Plaza hotels), at the Dan Hotel - Herods Hotel beach area, and east of Herods towards the religious (segregated-gender) beach. Look for the lifeguard towers.
Most beaches provide services ranging from snack bars to bars and full-service restaurants (and if so, will have public bathrooms) as well as sunbed rental, but with all that comes music, sometimes loud. You can find some peace and quiet at Katza Beach next to the Dolphin Reef attraction, where loud music is specifically prohibited but where parking can be a real problem, and at the beach opposite the former Princess hotel just before the border crossing to Taba; you'll need to bring something to sit on or lie on at these two beaches. Both have city-provided shade structures and bathrooms. All beaches (except for the Dolphin Reef and Coral Beach Nature Reserve) are open to all and access is free, as is use of public restrooms and showers.
For snorkeling you'll want to head south, although you can see a few corals at Kisuski Beach (also called Tarshish Beach on city maps), at Dekel (Palm) Beach and Katza Beach. The best snorkeling is at various places along the South Beach, especially (from south to north) at Lighthouse Beach (migdalor in Hebrew), opposite and north of Snuba, or opposite the former Princess Hotel. You can also snorkel in the Coral Beach Nature Reserve (with NIS 33 admission fee not including sunbed rental, or free from the fence at Ben-Harush Beach opposite Isrotel Yam Suf if you don't mind finning the 400 meters/yards each way to Moses Rock). Be sure to use sun protection – a lycra shirt (rash guard) is best. In the winter months you might want a light wetsuit.
Hiking:The area around Eilat is blessed with stark natural beauty that isn't found in many places in the world, as evidenced by photos at the top of this page. Colorful hills and rock formations, canyons, and marked hiking and walking trails make for a wonderful hourlong, half-day or full-day excursion from November to April, when the weather is good for walking. In May or October you may be able to go hiking in the early morning, but it is simply too hot from June to September, even at dawn.
Even if you don't have a car, there is magnificent hiking right opposite the South Beach, leading up to Mt. Tzfahot with fantastic views – ask us for directions. You can also hire a car or a guide to take you to the amazing Timna Park only half an hour north of Eilat. Some nearby popular short hikes are appropriate for the entire family, such as the Red Canyon and Amram's Pillars. You can get there by car or with a guide, and enjoy outworldly scenery without too much effort.
Other Activities:ATTRACTIONS: Besides the natural attactions such as Timna Park and the other hiking and snorkeling sites mentioned above, the most popular tourist attractions in Eilat are the Coral World Observatory and the Dolphin Reef. The Coral World Observatory is an Eilat landmark and features a look out on the coral reef through underwater windows. The facility also includes aquarium exhibits, including a new shark exhibit and live feeding shows. It may not be the ideal daytime activity in the summer, as much of your time will be out of doors, but otherwise it can be an enjoyable experience, especially for the non-divers in your group. The Dolphin Reef houses a pod of captive Black Sea bottlenose dolphins in an underwater enclosure and offers guided snorkeling and diving experiences in the presence of dolphins. Their beach is very nice but has a very expensive entrance fee. Dolphin Reef is a private enterprise and only their own personnel can conduct diving and snorkeling there. Snorkeling with the dolphins generally gets higher ratings among our customers than diving with dolphins.
ACTIVITIES: Other activities in Eilat include ice skating at the fabulous Ice Mall, which is just a short walk from our dive center. For those who have never experienced a camel ride, you can do that at the Eilat Camel Ranch. They take you out into an adjacent wadi (Nahal Shlomo) where you can have a great desert experience. It is a well run outfit where getting on and off the camel can be done easily and safely. A variety of half-day and sunset desert jeep tours can take you into the colorful desert and mountain scenery. Desert Eco Tours is a popular, reliable company for jeep tours as well as out-of-town tours (next paragraph). Windsurfing and kite-surfing are also popular here – on mild days you can take an introductory lesson, while windier days are mostly for more experienced surfers. Non-divers can also find tourboats and glass-bottomed boats to take them out onto the water of the Gulf.
GETTING AWAY: Many people enjoy taking a day-trip over the border to visit the famous Nabatean city of Petra, but be aware that Jordanians have increased entrance fees to the World Heritage Site and a day trip will cost you $250-300 per peson. If Eilat is your only stop in Israel, then a day trip to the Dead Sea or even to Jerusalem can give you a look at more of the beauty and history of Israel.