Unlike other 101s, taking your first figurative steps underwater will be the most exciting class you could ever take. Scuba diving is one of my favorite things in the world. I’m no scuba instructor but I love nothing more than getting people excited about things that I also love. When it comes to scuba diving I meet a lot of people who are incredibly scared by the idea. Whether they consider themselves bad swimmers, get claustrophobic or think Jaws is a true representation of what sharks are all about – scuba diving seems to terrify a few people. Yet the underwater world holds an incredible allure and I think if you have the chance you should dip your toes into the water and take the plunge.
To make it a little easier I wanted to give you my personal scuba diving tips and answers to some of the most common scuba diving questions I have come across. Whether you just toying with the idea to sign up for your diving course or have already become an open water diver – this post is meant to inspire and help you a little along the way.
With that said, I am not a medical professional so I will not answer any medical questions. Before you start diving you should have a GP check you out and you will need to show proof that you are in sound medical condition to go diving. Also, this post is by no means a substitute for getting a proper scuba certification. I have been diving for about 4 years and am a qualified PADI divemaster and simply want to just share my personal experience, things I wish I had known in hindsight, and scuba diving basics that worked well for me.
Scuba Diving Tips & Questions answered
Why should I try scuba diving?
Why shouldn’t you? Honestly, there is a whole new world waiting for you under the surface. One that even scientists haven’t fully explored and it is damn wonderful and exciting. Scuba diving is an absolute privilege and has also given me a direct reason why we have to protect our oceans.
Will I feel claustrophobic?
As I have described in my first scuba story, it came as a complete surprise to me that I would love it, almost instantly. I don’t like confined spaces and while the ocean is big, in a diving context it still is a confined space. You cannot just come up whenever you want to, your life depends on it that you take certain steps when ascending.
However, with it being so vast, you will not feel confined, I would almost bet you. Instead, you will feel elated, excited, and incredibly amazed. You are literally (at least I think I’m using literally correctly here, but let me know if you want to argue this) entering a new world. A world without borders, without weight, without noise. It is space that seems to zap negativity and disabilities, whether they are mentally or even physically, seem to just float away.
Sometimes diving does take effort, but it always has a rather effortless quality to it. And it will be the easiest meditation you have ever done. When my friend questioned my short attention span – which I really do have, I cannot even watch a whole movie – and how I didn’t get bored underwater ‘just seeing fish’, I didn’t have a good reply. All I knew was that I was never bored and my mind went wonderfully quiet as never before.
Where can I learn scuba diving & what to look out for in a good dive center?
Keen to say hello to Nemo? Great, it’s time to get wet. You can find dive centers around the world and even in obscure places like Siegburg, Germany are indoor underwater worlds these days. I prefer the ocean, but I guess if you are far away from your next holiday they are a good option to try. When settling for a school I would recommend to actually visit the dive center beforehand. In any given destination, prices will not vary so much but the vibe can. Considering that you are putting your life in someone else’s hands for the first few dives, you need to be able to trust them.
The most common dive organizations are PADI and SSI and they cover the same basics. Unless you are planning to go pro it doesn’t matter all this much which one you choose and availability will vary greatly by region. Rather look for good ratings when choosing a dive center.
Ask to meet your instructor and go with your gut – a good school should know how many concerns and questions a newbie diver can have and will address them accordingly. Patience is key. Move on if you feel hassled, not taken seriously or simply don’t like your instructor.
Equally important is the state of their equipment. Literally, your life depends on well-maintained gear so check it out. Is neoprene torn, are flippers missing straps, are regulator tubes cracking? Rather move on to the next center.
Most schools offer a discovery scuba course which gives you a basic theoretical introduction and then takes you into the water for two dives. This is a great way to try scuba diving without having to worry too much about the theory and the mechanics involved and you can just get a feel for what it will be like underwater. Many dive centers will allow you to use these dives towards your Open Water (OW) brevet, the first certification to become a diver.
Is diving safe?
My nephew won’t believe me when I tell him that sharks are really the least of my worries when I go diving and I mean it (you will most likely be really excited if you can call yourself that lucky to see some). However, there are risks involved when diving, most of which are easily minimized when you take certain precautions.
Never dive alone. Diving is done in pairs or a group so that in emergency situations you can share air or one diver can get help. Know your dive buddy’s abilities and do a buddy check before i.e. you check each other’s equipment to make sure everything is working properly.
Trust nobody but yourself. What sounds contradictory to the above is actually not. While you have a buddy, you are ultimately responsible for your own actions and gear. Make sure you know where you are going, what to do in emergency situations and trust your gut – if you feel uncomfortable with a planned dive or know that a dive site/conditions are too advanced for you – don’t dive.
You cannot dive without being able to clear your ears which tends to be almost impossible when your sinuses are blocked or you have a cold. If you are sick you will, unfortunately, need to sit it out and wait till you get better.
If you are not feeling a 100% in general whether that be due to period cramps, a hangover or fatigue, take it easy – don’t go as deep or dive as long as you usually would.
You need at least an 18-hour window between your last dive and a flight – this window may go up depending on the frequency and depths of dives you did the day before. Check with your airline and check with your insurance to plan accordingly.
Get diving insurance. Duh. This is sort of a no-brainer. Most dive centers will insure you when you get a certification afterward you are on your own. For people who dive regularly, DAN (Diver’s Alert Network) is a great option and they also cover professionals. Usually, travel insurances will not cover diving incidences unless you pay a premium (for example World Nomads offers an Explorer Plan that covers diving). It is important to double check that whichever insurance you have will cover decompression chamber treatments. While you will hopefully never need it they are incredibly expensive so you should be covered for it.
Stick to your certification limits when diving as most insurances will not cover you if you go beyond and something were to happen.
Get a surface marker buoy (SMB) and learn how to deploy it. This is not part of any recreational diving course but I think it is an incredibly important skill when it comes to safety. A surface marker buoy will allow you to be seen on the surface basically making sure that no boat runs you over (they usually say something like ‘diver below’) and that your boat can find you should you have been separated from your group or buddy. Some places will strong currents will require divers to carry one but I think it should be mandatory to have one for anyone. And while usually, your dive guide will deploy its SMB at the end of the dive you should learn how to do it yourself.
Is scuba diving expensive?
To be honest, it is not the cheapest sport in the world. Scuba equipment whether you rent or buy your own is important and not something you want to skimp on because your life depends on proper equipment. However, you don’t need to buy it all at once, you can buy your equipment piece by piece and rent the rest as you go along in your diving career.
Getting certified can be as cheap as EUR 300 in Thailand and may get a lot more expensive in places like Australia or fancy resorts. They will all teach you the same but as I said above, make sure you find yourself a good dive center and an instructor you trust.
Once you are certified you are able to go diving with a buddy or book fun dives with a group. Prices here will also vary depending on location. Boat dives are usually more than shore dives, guided dives cost more than if you go on your own with a buddy (something I do not recommend by the way until you have gained some more experience, know how to use a dive computer, make a dive plan, and use a compass).
Some of the best dive sites in the world are quite remote and getting as well as staying there might be pricey. With all that said, no scuba diving isn’t the cheapest but I like to think that it is absolutely worth it.
What beginner scuba gear should I get?
- Believe it or not, diving is quite comfortable. That is, of course, if you have the right equipment. At the beginning you will get rental equipment from the dive center, once you are qualified you can slowly look at getting your own gear. I got lucky as Scubapro sponsored my first set of scuba diving gear because honestly, there is nothing nicer than having your own stuff. But even with rental equipment, there is a lot you can do to make sure you are as comfortable as underwater as possible.
- A wetsuit should fit snug and have the right thickness. Don’t worry about looks, because, unfortunately, nobody ever looked sexy in a wetsuit, but it is pivotal that you don’t get cold. So trust a local to advise you on the right suit according to the depth of the planned dive and water temperature.
- Many new divers can’t wait to buy their own wetsuit and I get it. Wetsuits are quite personal and the idea of other people possibly having worn the same wetsuit as you (and maybe even pee in it) is not very appealing. However, I recommend you get a few dives under your belt before committing. This way you will have an idea if you easily get cold and what wetsuit you should buy. Needless to say this will also depend on the region and the water temperatures where you plan to take most of your dives but I have come to realize it is also a very personal thing. I get cold very easily so while everyone is wearing shorts and a rash guard in 30-degree water temperature, I am comfy in my full 3mm suit.
- If you feel iffy of using a rental wetsuit I recommend you buy yourself a rashguard and leggings first to wear underneath – they are much cheaper and you can also wear them for snorkeling or as an added layer for warmth.
- Usually, you wear your regular swimming costume underneath your wetsuit. I like mine to fit properly so I don’t have to fuss with it once the wetsuit is on and make sure that my boobs don’t pop out while I set up equipment and such. If you are going out on a boat trip, make sure to bring a spare set so you can change into something dry after a dive – bum rash is real!
- A well-fitting mask is crucial and if you plan on buying any equipment this would be the first piece I’d get. If you hire one, try different masks and also check it underwater as the fit may change completely with added pressure. Girls, invest in a neoprene mask strap – no more hair getting tangled or caught!
- Fins should rather be too tight than too loose and if you can choose, get a fin/bootie combo. It is so much nicer to walk around in non-sliding booties on a boat and easier to get in and out the water on a shore dive.
- If you wear hard contact lenses or glasses, get some soft daily lenses fitted for diving. It made all the difference to my diving to not have to worry about a blurry vision or losing them. Alternatively, you can get masks with prescription glasses made.
How do I become a good diver?
Well, if you have managed to be and breathe underwater I guess you can dive. Sort of. Honestly, I had no idea that there was so much more to diving than getting my certifications. Now going on 200 dives I like to think I am slowly getting a hang of things but the truth is each day and each dive is different as are conditions. I am what you will call a warm weather diver: warm water, good visibility, and little to no current. Anything else will still put me outside my comfort zone.
I used to think that getting a certification was all the practice I needed. Obviously, I was wrong. So get in the water as much as you can – warm water, cold water, sea water, lake water, in good visibility and in bad (yes, that may mean getting wet in the rain too!). Give yourself some time to get adjusted to this new and exciting underwater world and quickly it won’t be so new anymore (but still very exciting, I promise you this).
Some scuba diving tips that helped me to dive better and consume less air:
1. While diving is a physically demanding and exciting sport, you don’t need to consider yourself an adrenaline junkie to enjoy it. Actually, you want to breathe as calmly as possible underwater to make your air last longer. Same goes for movement – practice being still and to go with the flow. You don’t swim underwater, you basically hover and kick with your legs, one streamlined efficient movement. To get this right, it takes some time or in some cases, like myself, a lot of time – that’s okay.
2. Start to practice from the get-go: 5 breaths in, 7 breaths out (or a similar ratio according to your lung capacity).
Never hold your breath just make it as long and slow as possible.
Catch yourself when you are fidgeting underwater and stop moving your arms – think calm superhero pose or serene buddha arms. Everything else is a waste of energy.
Legs (usually) scissor up and down, move them from the hip for most efficiency.
3. If you are a new diver, leave your camera at home. Mind you, I get it – you want to take pictures of all this exciting stuff you find but cameras are a huge distraction even for experienced divers and using one will affect your air consumption (any kind of extra movement will). So wait until you are quite comfortable in the water and get your buoyancy right – no picture is worth crashing into corals for it. Which leads me to…
4. Dive like Switzerland. Neutral buoyancy is everything underwater. What it means is simple: you are not bobbing up or down but dive on one level. Unfortunately, it will also be the hardest thing to get right in diving.
To help this process you have your BCD (buoyancy control device) and your breath, just know that being able to control both perfectly will also take time.
5. Check your weight first. And no worries, you won’t have to get on a scale for it! You will wear a weight belt on each dive and how much weight you will need depends on a few factors: your own body’s buoyancy, the type of wetsuit you wear and the type of water you are diving. Get it checked asap for I wish someone would have told me sooner what a difference a pound makes. If you wear too much weight you will need to counterbalance with air from the tank, if you are wearing too little you won’t be able to go down – both scenarios you want to avoid.
If you start diving in a new place redo the buoyancy check. Salt content, water temperature, and wetsuit all make a difference.
6. Save the air in your tank and rather use your lungs to move: Breathe in – go up, breathe out – go down. Basic physics. Just know that there will be a slight delay in this effect, so whichever direction you want to go, give it a moment, no need to panic and no need to use your BCD.
7. Take notes. Every diver gets a log book to note down each dive with its location, conditions, depth, time and usually what marine life you saw. I started to use mine to also write down how my diving was. How was my breath, my buoyancy? It’s good to have a buddy who can be an outside observer of both and give you some feedback. I also write down the type of wetsuit I am wearing, the water conditions and how much weight I wear. And obviously, if that combination worked well or didn’t so I can adjust accordingly on my next dive.
I would also love to hear your thoughts to add to this list – what are your best scuba diving tips? What questions do you have about scuba diving?
& If you are a woman and looking to make some mermaid friends check out the amazing
Facebook group Girls that Scuba.
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