Necessary Gear for Abalone diving

Last Modified 23-May-2000

Valid California State Fishing License

Anyone 16 years and older must have a fishing license to take any kind of fish, mollusk, invertebrate, amphibian, or crustacean in California. If you stay within 500 yards (457.2m) from where you launched, you can leave your license locked in your car at the beach. If you are using a kayak or inflatable boat, put your license in a little waterproof bag and stow it securely on the boat.

The MINIMUM fine for fishing without a license is $250.00.

Annual Resident Pacific Ocean-only license ($16.55) AND an Abalone Stamp/Report Card ($12.60) are required to take abalone. California F&G

Abalone Gauge

(see regulation)

Illustration: Fixed caliper ab gauge

Every ab diver is required by law to have a fixed caliper measuring gauge while diving for abs. Some ab irons have the gauge built in to the handle (see below), my personal preference is use the deep jaw gauge, it's easier to measure abalone over the top of the shell. (see measuring an ab)

Abalone Iron

(see regulations)

Illustration: Ab Irons

Abalone are hemophiliacs; one small cut and they will bleed to death. This is why the edges of the iron are rounded and smooth.)

Whenever you attach an ab iron/flashlight/camera to your wrist with a lanyard, make sure the lanyard is the bungie-type; this makes escape easy >> Just pull and you pop free.
(The non-bungie lanyards will very likely KILL you if your ab iron/flashlight/camera gets entangled underwater in a panic situation. Most peoples first response to panic is to pull away.)

Wet Suit

The ocean in northern California range from 42 to 60°F (5 to 16°C) on the surface, so a 1/4" (6.5mm) Jacket and Farmer Johns with a hood, boots, and gloves is highly recommended.

Since ALL sport diving for abalone in California (north of the mouth of San Francisco Bay), is breath hold only (see regulation); there is no way to free dive with a dry suit comfortably. (A good friend of mine used his custom neoprene dry suit the first time he went and got a slight suit squeeze. The other draw back to a dry suit is many times you're out free diving for 3 to 4 hours and the tinkle factor asserts itself, STRONGLY.)

What makes a good wet suit?

  • Fit
  • Flexibility
  • Low water infiltration
    • Attached hood (or hooded vest)
    • Skin-in (slick rubber inside) Some of the new interior coatings are very slick.
    • Spine Pad
    • Custom fit


  • 3/16" (4.75mm) neoprene
  • Abrasion resistant. (try to find the ones with kevlar woven into the palms; coat all the seams with a few coats of tool dip, coat the finger tips with tool dip)

    To smooth the tool dip, use an ice cube.

  • Five-finger allow more dexterity
  • Three-fingered mitts keep your hands warmer. (usually 1/4" [6.5mm] neoprene)

Fins and Booties

  • Open-heel, adjustable strap fins (I currently use: Cressi-Sub Master Frogs; Aqualung Blades are good; XL Scubapro Jetfins are good but heavy. After switching to Master Frogs, the Jetfins feel like spongy bricks. I dove them for over ten years before switching.)

    Make sure to reverse the straps OR tape them back so they don't snag the kelp every chance they get. (Streamlining)

  • Good sized fin blade with no angular leading edges to snag kelp.
  • Tough soled 1/4" (6.5mm) boots for walking across the rocks and beach

    Make sure your fins fit with the boots you have; too loose and you have no control of your fins, too tight and your feet will cramp up.


  • Low volume (when free diving, you only have one breath to work with; why would you want to put most of into you mask?) Also, low volume masks have much less drag than high volume masks. (Streamlining)
  • Black silicone skirt (between dives you are on the surface a large amount of time looking down and a clear silicone skirt allows sunlight into your mask from above; causing a lot of glare.) Custom mask


  • Large bore
  • Short barrel
  • No purges (they can fail and they reduce the effectiveness of the displacement clear)
  • No sharp bends
  • Conforms to the contour of your head
  • Comfortable mouth piece

Weight Belt

  • Rubber webbing (When put on snugly on the surface, it's self-compensating for the compression of your wetsuit.)
  • Small cylinder weights (1 and 2 pound)
  • Weight keepers to securely hold the weights in place
  • Quick-release, stainless steel buckle
    • Wire type
      Once on it holds very securely; but, releases with a simple pull on the buckle
    • Standard
      Make sure it has a solid pin for the pivot (not the little tabs that fit into holes on the buckle; the cheapies can fail easily because the tabs wear down or the buckle is slightly bent)
  • No hooks to catch on things (Streamlining) If you need to attach things to your weight belt, use 1" Fastex plastic buckles with the male half on your belt.

Game Bag

  • nylon mesh (allows water flow so abs don't suffocate)
  • metal or plastic frame to hold the top open/closed

Each ab diver should have their own game bag and gauge.

Some kind of dive platform

Boogie Board

Illustration:Boogie Board

  • advantages:
    • very easy to launch from the beach
    • easily transported (can be packed in the trunk of your car.)
    • can lay on it and swim
    • very controllable
    • almost indestructible
    • very little maintance/up keep (just rinse in fresh water)
  • disadvantages
    • short range (only as far as you can swim)

Abalone Tube

Illustration: Ab Tube

  • advantages
    • very easy to launch from the beach
    • easily transported (can be packed in the trunk of your car.)
    • can lay on it and swim, not as controllable as the boogie board
    • you don't need a goodie bag when using an ab tube (the abs get thrown in the center of the tube, along with all your other gear)
    • very little maintance/up keep (just rinse in fresh water)
  • disadvantages
    • short range (only as far as you can swim)
    • inner tube can be popped

Sit-On-Top Kayak

Illustration: Dive Kayak

  • advantages:
    • relatively easy to launch from the beach (usually need two people to carry the kayak to the beach face OR you can construct a kayak dolly: 2 balloon tires on an axle, one on each side of the kayak, mounted on a frame that can be strapped to one end of the kayak)
    • fairly long range and relatively fast
    • storage space for food, water, other gear
    • plastic kayaks are almost indestructible but can sink if you get a hole below the water line.
    • very little maintance/up keep (just rinse in fresh water)
  • disadvantage
    • can be tough to handle in the surf (should practice before attempting surf, timing is everything because you cannot duck a breaking wave on a kayak)
    • fiberglass kayaks can crack or shatter if you get caught and tumbled in big surf near rocks.
    • need a roof rack for transporting the kayak
    • you and your buddy each need a kayak (there are two man kayaks but they are big)

Inflatable Boat

Illustration: Inflatable

  • advantages:
    • range only limited by fuel (and maybe the puke factor on rough days :^) )
    • carries multiple divers and lots of gear
    • very fast when compared to human propelled craft (see above)
  • disadvantages:
    • only the small (less than 15 foot [4.6m]) inflatables can be launched from the beach (and this requires a lot of work from 5 to 8 people)
    • maintance (mainly engine and electrical systems [depth sounder, GPS, etc.])
    • yearly registration fees for boat and trailer (these aren't expensive; but, fines for not having them could be.)
    • need a trailer to transport (I know a few people with 12 foot [3.6m] boats that they transport deflated and rolled up; but, this means a lot more work before launching)

A means of anchoring your dive platform

Inflatable boats should always carry an appropriate anchor, chain, and rope (it's not wise to trust the kelp to hold anything larger than a kayak.)

If you are going ab diving early in the season (April or May), have an anchor, chain, and rope for your boogie board, ab tube, or kayak. (After the winter storms, there's not much kelp left on the surface.)

Always use a bowline knot in addition to the standard splice with hollow-core, poly rope. (Tie a bowline with about 6 inches [150mm] of tag end and then splice the tag end back into the rope.) This way your ropes are neat and the splices will never slip.

When attaching a rope to an eye (like the one on a clip), use a lark's head. (Tie a bowline loop, put the loop through the eye, put the clip through the loop, then pull the loop back through the eye; look at knot joining the chain and rope [below])

  • A grapple anchor with 6 feet [1.8m] of chain and 100 feet [30m] of braided poly rope on a spool (This is the anchor system I use on my kayak, you will need a bigger anchor and more chain for an inflatable.)
    • be careful not to get the anchor hopelessly snagged in the craggy bottom
    • the anchor holds onto the bottom and the chain keeps the anchor on the bottom (no chain and the anchor will easily "walk" or "drag" due to the wind and waves moving your float.)

    Illustration: anchor rigged with chain

  • 15 feet (4.6m) of 1/2" (12.7mm) braided, hollow-core, poly rope with a brass clip works well
    • find a raft of kelp
    • make sure it's anchored to the bottom* by pulling on the kelp
    • wrap the rope four or five times around five to ten stalks
    • clip the rope back on itself

    *A friend of mine anchored his kayak to a thick kelp mat and didn't check to see if it was anchored. When we finished our 45 minute scuba dive, he had a quarter of a mile (400m) swim to catch his kayak.

    Illustration: clipped to kelp

  • A "safety pin" fish stringer on 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15m) of rope will work well, if you can dive down and find a kelp hold fast to put the stringer through. This setup also works well for anchoring on the surface to bull kelp.

    Illustration: hooked thru holdfast

    Illustration: hooked thru Bull kelp

© 2000 All rights reserved.
Last Modified 23-May-2000