So you want to scuba dive. And why not, it is an awesome experience. But you don’t know how to get started, what you need to consider and how to get the most of it while being safe. Well guys, read on because that is exactly what we are going to take you through, so you know what to expect & how to prepare. So what are we waiting for!
What you need to know to get certified & cost
Okay so it’s not illegal to dive without a certification. Yet it is a lot less safe to do so. You can ask any certified diver out there, it’s a lot less fun as well. Like any certification you receive, it is not just a piece of paper. It is the knowledge & experience you gained.
You have to ask yourself, how much is your life worth. Whenever you take up a potentially dangerous activity you’re betting your life it’s going to work out
To get properly certified you’ll want to go through a diving school. Like either SSI (Scuba Schools international) or PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors. To get started you will not need to go anywhere near an ocean or near any water for that matter. You will need some free time & some spare cash.
To start with you will need to take an online course that will cost somewhere between $180 to $195. Once you have completed this the next part you will go to a diving pool, which will be around another $200. Then the final open water course will vary as this will depend on how close you are to the ocean. So you will need to consider travel expenses etc.
Can you dive without being certified
It is relatively simple to take a resort course in the pool where they tell you not to hold your breath. You can normally go down to 20 to 30 feet to some shallow coral reef. Now 99% of the time you will be absolutely fine. But something could go wrong. You could get panicked by some marine life or more likely get claustrophobic. Listen, the resort courses are probably fine if you are only doing this as a one off. But if you are going to dive with any sort of regularity then you should get certified
Choosing a course
Like with most activities, there are always some inherent risks. These risks can be effectively managed when you learn to check and use your scuba gear properly. As well as following safe diving guidelines. There are a wide variety of scuba diving courses that are available to all who wish to learn how to scuba dive. So they can start to enjoy the wonders of the underwater world.
Before you dive in. ensure that your instructor is certified by a reputable scuba training agency. These scuba agencies establish good course standards. Along with practices that will keep you safe while you learn to scuba dive. By choosing a certified instructor. You will be sure that they know what information a student must master to be safe underwater.
All agencies will teach the basic skills like how to clear a mask or recovering a lost regulator. Some agencies train beginners to use technical style procedures & equipment. Like UTD (Unifled Team Diving). While others focus on creating recreational style divers. such as SSI (Scuba Schools International) or PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).
Learning to scuba dive
The necessary skills to learn how to scuba dive are not as tough as most people would think. During your scuba certification class. You are taught the effects of increased water pressure. Along with safe diving practices. These most people can master fairly easily. You rehearse equipment related skills in a controlled water setting. Until you feel comfortable. As well as practice what to do if things don’t go as planned.
Scuba diving is an easy to learn pass time that gives so many rewards. You basically need only three skills. Floating, kicking & breathing. Obviously there is more to scuba diving than that. Developing knowledge of scuba diving concepts & safety procedures. Being proficient at using scuba equipment. Yet if you can breath through your mouth, there is a very good chance you can learn to scuba dive.
The scuba gear worn by divers may seem a little intimidating at first. But learning how to use it is quite straightforward. If you have snorkeled before. Then you are already familiar with the mask, snorkel, fins & most importantly breathing through your mouth. The scuba unit consists of an air cylinder containing compressed breathing gas. Buoyancy compensator (BC) jacket to help you float on the surface. Along with maintaining your desired depth underwater. You will also have a regulator for you to breath through. The exposure protection keeps you warm, when diving in cool water environments.
You do not need to be a strong swimmer to scuba dive although I always think being a good swimmer is a good skill to have. It will help you to have a degree of comfort in the water which will aid you. However if you are not confident in your water skill. By the time you receive your first certification. Your confidence level will be greatly increased.
Learning to scuba dive will come down to a willingness to learn & explore. If you are motivated enough to discover a new world then the experience of scuba diving will be amazing.
Effects on your ears
Increasing water pressure pressing inward on your eardrum as you descend. Compressing the surface air pressure within your middle ear, causes the pain. The remedy is to equalize the pressure on both sides of the eardrums by opening the eustachian tubes. Which run from the back of your throat to the middle ear. This is done by pinching your nostrils shut, lifting your chin. Then gently trying to blow out through your nose. If you give it a try now. You should hear a slight crackling sound, this is the eustachian tubes opening. Some divers can equalize by simply moving their jaw.
It is easier to equalize your ears when scuba diving. Rather than when undertaking a head first surface dive. The reason for this is that scuba divers are taught to descend feet first and to equalize early & often. Air moves up more easily than down. Unless you are one of the unlucky people born with narrow eustachian tubes or you have a cold or allergies. Ear pain will not be an issue.
The sights you can see down there
It shouldn’t be hard to imagine yourself gliding effortlessly through crystal clear tropical oceans. Gazing at the multi coloured marine life. Moving & darting around a beautiful coral reef full of life. We have all been gifted to such underwater scenes on TV.
But unless you have spent time underwater. You truly cannot appreciate the weather & diversity of life on a coral reef & its sheer beauty. You will find a multitude of different types of fish. These are the most recognizable inhabitants. Yet they represent only a fraction of all the reef life. There are many types of sponges that resemble organ pipes or vases. Feather stars extend scores of tentacles like delicate flowers. Soft corals imitate bushes waving in the breeze. The coral reef itself are actually colonies of thousands of individual animals. Along with sea snails & crabs.
There is also an abundance of life in non tropical environments. Where there is temperate water along the coasts of North America for example. They are nutrient rich waters that are dense with microscopic life. Creatures that form the basis of the entire food chain. Kelp forests form underwater jungles that are home to a wealth of marine animals.
There are also some amazing man made features. That can be explored in our ocean depths like shipwrecks for all era’s of history. Ships & even airplanes have been mothballed and sunk specifically for scuba divers. There are also many archaeological sites that can be visited. Along with flooded villages that have been submerged due to damming.
Water visibility is better than expected, certainly in warm waters. Where visibility commonly exceeds 100 Ft. water does absorb & scatter sunlight. Reds are the first to disappear which turns the underwater scene into shades of blue.
There are so many wonderful sights & experiences to behold under our oceans. there is something for everyone to take away and cherish.
Believe it or not, the human body is quite buoyant. Your lungs are full of air so you would be hard pressed to sink, especially in salt water. Then if you add scuba equipment and you become even more buoyant. This is because divers wear buoyancy compensators (BC). Vests that not only secure the air tank to the diver’s back, which will sink when full. But also contains inflatable air bladders to provide flotation on the surface. Wetsuits also add buoyancy. As the wetsuits are made of neoprene which contain thousands of tiny air pockets. These provide insulation to prevent heat loss also.
Even if all the air is vented from the BC, A diver mostly cannot sink without any weights. Lead is normally strung in blocks on a detachable weight belt or divers use a weight pouch. Most divers will try and wear as little weight as possible. To allow them to descend without struggling. While remaining slightly negatively buoyant throughout the dive.
The weight worn by divers can vary from 2 to 30 pounds. Depending on if they are diving in salt water as opposed to fresh water. Where you will require about 2.5 percent more weight. Also dive conditions & divers body composition can also affect what weight is required.
Does age matter?
Minimum age restrictions do apply. Although some scuba agencies with development programs. Cater for children as young as 8 years old. These programs allow kids to get a taste of scuba diving under strict supervision of depth up to 6ft.
In general children need to be 10-12 years old depending on the agency. They will be certified as a junior diver who may only dive under restricted conditions. At the age of around 15 students will receive the same certification as adult divers.
As for the upper limit on age, there is none. As long as you maintain good physical conditioning it is never too late to scuba dive.
How deep can you go
There is an industry standard depth limit for recreational divers is 130ft at sea level. During basic scuba certification students will only experience depth of between 30-60ft. Science has shown that most marine species live at depths of less than 60ft.
Staying shallow holds several advantages. One of them being your air lasts longer. The deeper you go the greater the water pressure. The scuba regulator works by automatically providing the diver air. At the same pressure as the surrounding water. So the air in the cylinder is used faster the deeper you go. It can take a diver to use their air up in around an hour near to the surface. It will take the same diver 15 minutes to deplete their air on a 100ft dive.
Divers mostly breath filtered air compressed into the scuba cylinder. Nitrogen, which comprises 79 percent of air, is not metabolized. This accumulates in the tissues when you breathe under increased pressure as you dive. This is the cause of decompression sickness, or otherwise none as the bends. So when we have absorbed the nitrogen, then it is released too quickly, it forms bubbles in the tissues. A diver will absorb nitrogen four times faster at a 100ft than at the surface. There is a definite trade off between how deep you dive and the length of time you can stay down there.
More technical divers will go deeper by using mixed breathing gases. Along with a number of technical diving disciplines.
Safe scuba diving
Never hold your breath
As every dive student should know, this is the most important ruler of scuba. This is for a very good reason. Holding your breath under water can result in serious injury & possibly even death.
(“Under Boyle’s law”). The air in a divers lungs contracts during decent & expands during ascent. As long as the diver breathes continuously, this is not a problem because excess air can escape. But when a diver holds his breath. The air in their lungs can no longer escape as it expands. Then eventually the alveoli that make up the lung walls will rupture causing serious damage.
Pulmonary barotrauma. Is the name for when the lungs are injured due to over pressurization. In most extreme cases it can cause air bubbles to escape into the chest cavity & bloodstream. These air bubbles can lead to an arterial gas embolism, which is often fatal.
So just don’t hold your breath!!
Check your gear
When scuba diving, your survival depends upon your equipment. Conduct your buddy check thoroughly. If you or your buddy’s equipment malfunctions. It has the potential to cause a life threatening situation. Most equipment related accidents. Occur because the diver is uncertain of how it works. So ensure you know how to use your gear before you dive.
Dive within your limits
Don’t ever be afraid to cancel a dive or change a location if you feel that the conditions are unsafe. The same site may be within your capabilities one day & not the next. Never attempt a dive that is beyond your qualification level. Or put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Remember that diving should be fun, so dive within your limits to get the most enjoyment out of it.
Plan your dive, dive your plan
Taking time to ensure you plan your dive is an important part to securing your safety underwater. Be aware of emergency & lost diver procedures. These may differ depending on where you dive & the nature of your dive. Agree on the maximum time & depth of your dive. Make sure you know the area first & you can navigate your way back to your exit point.
Check your hand signal with your buddy before you start. This is more important if you have been paired with someone you don’t know.
Practice safe accents
Always ascend slowly. If divers exceed a safe ascent rate. The nitrogen absorbed into the bloodstream. At depth will not have time to dissolve back into solution. As the pressure decreases on your way back to the surface. Bubbles will form in the bloodstream, leading to decompression sickness. There is a simple way to avoid this, just maintain a rate of 30ft per minute.
Use the acronym taught to new divers to explain a five point ascent. (STELA): signal, time, elevate, look, ascend. Always perform a 3 minute safety stop at 15 feet. Which will significantly decrease your chances of decompression. Never ever use your inflator button to get to the surface.
Rule of Thirds
Apply the rule of thirds to air supply management. According to this rule. A diver should designate a third of their air supply for the outward journey. A third for the return journey & the final third as a safety reserve.
You should always factor a margin. That leaves you with enough air for a slow ascent & a safety stop. Make sure your buddy is included in your thinking. will you have enough air in your tank to donate to your buddy on your ascent to the surface. Also worth noting. That strenuous conditions or cold temperatures will speed up your consumption considerably.
Use the Buddy system
Diving alone is an absolute no no unless properly trained. There is an old diver saying “when you dive alone, you die alone” gloomy I know. But it exists for a reason. Most emergency skills rely on having a buddy. Without a buddy. The possibility of an alternate air source in an out of air situation, you don’t have many if any options.
Statistics from BSAC, DAN * DAN Australia. Showed that 86% of fatal cases were that the diver was alone when they died. Either losing their buddy or straying too far, can be a fatal mistake.
Your buddy is your life line!
Establish positive buoyancy at the surface
25% of diver fatalities stem from problems that arise on the surface would you believe it. Fatigue is a large factor. This mostly due to a diver attempting to remain on the surface while over-weighted. Establishing positive buoyancy at the surface conserves energy, preventing exhaustion & drowning. You can do this by inflating your BCD fully. Then dropping your weights if necessary.
Tips for choosing scuba diver gear
- There’s nothing more comforting than a snug wetsuit that conforms to your body. Invest in a wetsuit for the water temperature that you will be diving in the most.
- Different scuba brands tend to fit different body types better. To see what works for you, rent or borrow equipment before buying.
- Take care of your equipment by rinsing it with fresh water after a dive. Hang it out to dry & keep it out of the sun. sand, sun & salt are harsh elements that can deform your equipment if unchecked.
- You might not always wear the same amount of weights. Depending on your wetsuit thickness & even water temperature. If you’re not sure how many to wear, consult a guide before you go. A good guide will keep an eye on your buoyancy & can add or take weight away.
Tips to become a better scuba diver
- Always stay close to your guide & follow their directions. Even if other divers stray from the pack.
- Always keep an eye on your gauge. Beginners tend to breathe more than advanced divers, so you can consume more than you realize. Make sure to let your guide or instructor know when you are low. Don’t be shy!
- Never poke or chase sea life. Not only is this disrespectful & harmful to the sea life. But many sea creatures can be aggressive or poisonous. The look but don’t touch policy is the best policy.
- Constantly communicate with your buddy & check that they are okay.
- It is easy to get mesmerized by what you see below, but also up out into the blue as well. Most times it’s where the larger sea creatures or schools of fish will be.
- Give other divers enough space to move around without banging into you. Likewise hover a safe distance above the reef. Until you have perfected neutral buoyancy. Strapping on a tank, fins & a mask is an unusual thing and takes a lot of getting used too.
- What to do if you see a shark, well, don’t panic or bolt to the surface. Keep breathing & follow your guide instructions. If you are diving with a buddy & you are both frightened to continue, end the dive as normal. Sharks are generally harmless & swim past divers every single day without incident.
Well guys if you are just starting out as a beginner in scuba diving. We have given you some useful information on how you go about starting out. Then progressing to become a more seasoned diver. I know some of what we have shared with you can be a bit scary. But it is important you know the challenges and potential dangers so you can avoid them. Then you can truly enjoy the magical experience that is scuba diving.