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Scuba diving in Pattaya

Pattaya is known far beyond the borders of Thailand. During the Vietnam War, there was a barracks for the American army east of Pattaya. When the Americans went out, they went to Pattaya. The soldiers were less interested in the region’s attractions than in the resulting red-light district. The red light district has become a sad landmark for Pattaya. Pattaya, like Thailand as a whole, is trying to shed the image of “the world’s largest brothel”.

Pattaya is located 170km southeast of Bangkok in the north of the Gulf of Thailand.
The best way to get to Pattaya is by flying to Bangkok, and from Bangkok you have the option of taking a bus or train to Pattaya. The train is the cheaper option and you can admire the natural attractions comfortably from the train. However, the train rarely runs.
Pattaya is also reached from Phuket and Koh Samui.

The best time to travel to enjoy Pattaya’s attractions is from November to February.
The rainy season is from June to October.

Pattaya’s attractions not only include the long beach and the
offshore islands, which are ideal for diving. As in all of Thailand, there are also a number of temples in Pattaya,
each of which is an attraction in itself. The two most impressive are Wat Yansangwararam about 17km
from Pattaya and Khao Chinchan (Rock Buddha) about 25km from Pattaya.

Pattaya itself was a small tranquil fishing town until the Vietnam War.
Due to the very young history, you will not find any historical attractions in Pattaya.
The most important attraction in Pattaya is the cabaret Tiffany’s Show, which is well-known throughout Thailand.

More and more posh luxury hotels are emerging in Pattaya, which are aimed at wealthy tourists.
Pattaya is trying to get away from the red light image. At the moment there are still hotels in all classes in Pattaya. A special recommendation, especially for diving, is the Siam Bayview Hotel.

Diving and diving areas in Pattaya / Thailand
In Pattaya there are some diving centers that make diving a very special attraction.
The renowned diving stations, the diving trips from Pattaya to the offshore islands, which are particularly suitable for diving, follow here in alphabetical order:

Aquanauts Scuba Divers
Daves Divers Den
Dive South East Asia
Mermaids Dive Center
Moose Divers
Neptun Dive Center
Paradise Scuba Divers Pattaya
PJ Scuba Co. Ltd.
Seafari Dive Center
Siam Divers

The above dive centers offer diving trips to Koh Sak West, Koh Krok, Koh Rin,
Kho Samaesan and Koh Chuang. These dive sites are particularly good for scuba diving.
Unfortunately, the visibility in the north of the Gulf of Thailand, with a maximum of 12m, is not a unique
attraction for diving.

Koh Sak West is up to 15m deep. Visibility varies from 3m to 10m due to the changeable current. Turtles are the attraction when visibility is good. Koh Sak West is more suitable for advanced surfers.

Koh Krak is up to 22m deeper than Koh Sak West. Koh Krak is also an advanced dive site.
Visibility is between 3-9m. The current at Koh Krak is changeable.
Koh Krak’s attractions include turtles and clown fish.

Koh Rin is an attraction because of its coral diversity. Visibility ranges from 5m to 12m
which is quite a lot for the dive sites around Pattaya. Koh Rin is up to 15m deep and
only recommended for advanced divers because of the changeable current.

Koh Samaesan is the wreck of a WWII Dutch ship.
Due to the changeable current and the dangers of a wreck that is one of the attractions
, Koh Samaesan is only suitable for diving for experienced divers.
The wreck is up to 26m deep. There is a strong current at the wreck.
Visibility is limited to 3m to 10m. Moraines have settled in the wreck, which are the attractions next to the wreck itself.

At 28m, Koh Chuang is the deepest dive site for scuba diving in the north of the Gulf of Thailand.
Due to the strong current, Koh Chuang is only recommended for experienced divers.
Visibility here is also only 3m to 10m so you have to be lucky to see the barracuda and rays that populate the reef around Koh Chuang.

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Scuba diving in Phi-phi Island

Diving in Koh Phi Phi / Thailand
48km from Phuket and 40km from Krabi is the Koh Phi Phi archipelago. Koh Phi Phi is also known as Phi Phi Island. However, this is not the name commonly used in Thailand.

Koh Phi Phi is divided into a main island and a side island. Koh Phi Phi Don is the main island and Koh Phi Phi Leh is the subsidiary island. The main island is 28 square kilometers in size.
Koh Phi Phi Don is also called Bamboo Island and Mosquito Island.

The 1999 film “The Beach” was shot on the neighboring island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.
The film, set in Thailand, stars Leonardo di Caprio, who went diving on the Titanic two years earlier.

Koh Phi Phi is reached by ferry from Phuket or Krabi.
The travel time is three hours in both cases . The ferries run twice a day.

On Phi Phi Island, the hotels are mostly located near the attractions on the main island of
Koh Phi Phi Don.
Hotel Zeavola is one of the hotels that make diving in Thailand easy .

Koh Pi Phi is a diving region that is growing in popularity in Thailand.
This is due to the many attractions that there are to dive. On Koh Phi Phi there are now a large number of diving centers and diving schools for Thailand diving.
As in all of Thailand when diving, make sure that the dive center has usable equipment.

Diving and diving trips in Koh Phi Phi / Thailand
The diving centers that have been considered professional in terms of Thailand diving for years include the following:

Aquanauts Scuba
Barracuda Diving Center
Harlequin Scuba Diving Center
Hippo Divers
Island Divers
Moskito Diving Center
Para Dive
Phi Phi Diver
Phi Phi Divers Team
Phi Phi Princess Divers
Phi Phi Scuba Diving Center
PPK Diving
Sea Frog
Viking Divers
White and Blue Dive Club Koh Phi Phi

The above diving schools and diving centers for Thailand offer the following attractions related to Thailand diving. Diving trips to Bida Nai,
Garang Heng, Loh Samah Bay, Phi Phi Shark Point, Bida Nok, Hin Dot and Maya Wall which is a special attraction are offered. The currents at the dive sites are very changeable.
It is therefore advisable to only dive with experienced local divers who can give an accurate assessment of the situation.

Bida Nai is one of Thailand’s attractions for those interested in underwater flora.
One can experience staghorn corals, whip corals and barrel sponges up close.
Other attractions include the leopard sharks. Bida Nai is 5m to 30m deep.
The currents at Bida Nai dive site are very changeable. The current ranges from none to
very strong.
Depending on the current, Bida Nai is also a dive site for beginners. Visibility varies from 10m to 20m.

At the dive site Garang Heng you will experience one of the rather rare attractions when diving in Thailand. Here in Garang Heng, yellowtail baracuda can be seen while diving. Fusiliers and snappers are also available at Garang Heng.
The visibility is rather moderate at 5m to 15m. Garang Heng is 8m to 24m deep.

The attraction of Loh Samah Bay dive site is the angelfish. There are very few other dive sites in Thailand where you can dive with angelfish. In addition to the angelfish, there are
also scorpionfish and lionfish at Loh Samah Bay.
The depth at Loh Samah Bay is between 5m to 20m. Visibility is poor
to moderate at 5m to 15m. Since there is little current at Loh Samah Bay, the dive site is also
very suitable for beginners.

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Why Learn to Dive on Holiday?

Just in case you didn’t know, scuba diving can be dangerous sport. The equipment used needs to be handled properly and as of today, we humans still can’t breath underwater without this equipment! So, before using scuba equipment or submersing in any water (even a swimming pool) you should seek training from a recognised instructor. This is the first of a five part post that will give non-divers an insight into what they will do when they learn to scuba dive.

Before we begin this I should point out 2 things. One, scuba is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus and two, if I was to say I’m going diving many people would have visions of swimming pools and high dive boards. To avoid any confusion I always say scuba diving or scuba when referring to the underwater type.

Why Learn To Dive?

So if it’s a dangerous sport why would you want to learn to dive? It’s only dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing and with proper instruction you will know exactly what to do. How I like to describe it is that anyone can buy scuba equipment and jump in the sea but the dangerous start before you hit the bottom. You need to understand your maximum depth, how long your air supply will last, dangerous creatures you may encounter and the most important thing how to get back to the surface safely.

Beach holidays have always been a popular choice but so many people are now looking for something at little more exciting to do, except sit on the sand all day and scuba diving is the perfect answer.

When you first learn to scuba dive it will feel a little unnatural as your body gets used to the feeling of weightlessness, you will fight every little current that pushes you side ways and feel that your are forever out of balance. As time passes though you will so learn to enjoy this weightlessness and let that soft gentle current wave over you.

After you have completed the course you now know a new skill, woohoo!! This new skill can now be taken home with you and what you will find is that around the world, no matter how far you live from the sea, there will be a thriving scuba community. Just because you learnt to dive on holiday doesn’t mean you should only leave scuba diving to holiday times. Find that community and join it, they will have some fantastic dive spots that are not too far from your home.

So you now understand that you need training before you can scuba dive, that its an exciting sport that allows you to explore a relatively unseen world, and that its not only a holiday sport, now what? In part two of this post series I will talk about different training agencies and is it better to learn to scuba dive at home or on holiday?

Home or Away?
As mentioned in the previous learn to dive post it is only after your first introduction to diving that you would even look at your home town for a dive shop, if you live in-land like I do. You will be surprised however at the number of dive locations that can be a few hundred miles (or km) from the sea. You would also be surprised that regardless of the temperature people still learn to dive. I have found myself in waters as low as 5degreeC teaching people to dive!! So it’s not only holiday makers that learn to dive, many people take up the sport as a hobby while still in their home country.

learning to dive at capernwary

Obviously whether you should learn to dive at home or away is defiantly a personal choice, diving in 5degreeC isn’t for everyone, but there are a few considerations before you make the decision. The main benefit I see from people who learn to dive while still at home is time. Dive courses are split into 3 segments, pool training, open water training and academic training. This last part I think is best done over a longer period than the 2-3 days you get while on holiday.

My reason for saying this is that when you have more time people will actually read the stuff you have asked them to, but on holiday many people will read only what they need to know to get through the exam. This doesn’t make them bad divers just not fully informed in my opinion.

The main advantage of learning to dive when on holiday is variety. Depending on where you live and how far from the sea you are will depend on the number of dive schools in your area. You may only have the one school who only teaches from one agency and the dive school may not really be that good. On holiday to most beach destinations, however, you will find at least 6 dive schools or as many as 200, teaching all the main agency standards. With these types of place you literally have the dive world to choose from.

What Dive Training Agency Is Best?
Short answer, None!

I have trained under only 2 different agencies but looked at the other agencies training programmes and to be honest now they are all pretty similar in their structure. It wasn’t always like this though and when I learned to dive with BSAC (British Sub-Aqu-Club) training was a lot different then. Academic and pool sessions lasted for about 6 months before we were allowed into ‘real’ water and we ridiculed PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) trained divers, for their short inadequate training. Today however, things have changed and most training agencies now have a 4 day course that you can learn while on holiday.

I am now a PADI instructor teaching these 4 day courses and can say that people are trained well enough to become certified divers, and PADI’s wishes to get people in the water as soon as possible is the right way to do it. If you talk about it so much people can get a little apprehensive but if you get in the water the day you book your course or the day after you feel great.

Before I finish I would like to point out that PADI (not sure about other agencies) have a course that does allow you the advantage of learning the academics and pool stuff while you’re at home. You then can go on holiday and finish your Open Water Diver Course in the open sea. These referral courses are a great way to learn to dive as it allows you the time to read and understand the academics and gives you more time to play in the pool. Just don’t do the course so early before your holiday you need a refresher before the next part or so late you fly the day after you complete it.

You should now have an idea why it would be good to learn to dive from post one, now you have something to think about, regarding what agency you should choose and if you can wait till your next holiday to learn to dive. Personally I enjoy diving regardeless of location or weather, so I always advise people to take up the challenge of learning to dive sooner rather than later. In the next part of this post series you will get to know what happens on a typical dive course.

A PADI Open Water Diver Course (OWD) is the first level at which, after qualification, you can dive independent of a dive instructor or professional guide. With this in mind you can understand that you will learn a lot on this course and it’s not until your Rescue Diver course will the learning curve be so step.

pool training

The OWD course is split into 3 sections knowledge development, confined water and open water. When you first sign up for your course you’ll be handed a load of stuff some of which will not make any sense to you yet. The book however will be your first introduction to the world of scuba diving and will be the focus your academic training.

Knowledge Development
Most schools now opt for their customers to do independent study and monitor how much they read and understood the chapter. Depending on where you learn to dive you may also get a DVD or video to take home that talks about each chapter and shows you examples of what it’s talking about. Your answers to the knowledge developments are used for monitoring how well you understood the topic and if you get stuck then the instructor only needs to go over that one area instead of waffling on about stuff you already understand. Good huh!!!

The five knowledge developments are broken down like this

KD 1

Buoyancy
Comfortable Ascents
Comfortable Descents
Breathing Underwater
KD2

Staying Warm
Streamlining Yourself
Diving Together
KD3

What’s It Like Where We’ll We Diving?
Care For Yourself
Care For Others
Solution Thinking Underwater
Offshore Adventures
KD4

Nitrogen Narcosis
Decompression Sickness
Dive Table Introduction
Using The Recreational Dive Planner (RDP)
KD5

Making Safety Stops
Emergency Decompression
Altitude Considerations for divers
Finding a minimum surface interval
Electronic dive planning
There is no time limit on these chapters but to proceed onto the confined water sections you must have completed the appropriate chapter in the book, for example to start confined water one you must have completed KD1. In theory this is great, in practise in a holiday resort it doesn’t work. You may find yourself doing 2 chapters then 3 confined water sessions or maybe only 1 chapter than all confined session in a day. This is something you will work out with your instructor.

Confined Water
To most people confined water would be a swimming pool but you may find your first training session to be in the sea. What is meant by confined water is swimming pool or open sea area that offers swimming pool like conditions in respect of clarity, calmness and depth. As you begin your training it should first be conducted in waters shallow enough to stand up in to build your confidence and ability then move on to water to deep to stand up in.

The confined water session are spilt into 5 parts, each taking the training a step further. This is a breakdown of some of the main things you will learn in each part.

CW1

Scuba Equipment & How To Put It Together & Put It On Safely
Breathing Underwater
Hand Signals
Recovering & Clearing A Regulator
Clearing A Partially Flooded Mask
Swimming Underwater
Using Your Submersible Pressure Gauge
Locating & Using An Alternate Air Source (AAS)
Ascents From Deep Water
CW2

Pre-Dive Safety Check
Deep Water Entry & Controlled Descents
Mask Removal, Replacement & Clearing
Air Depletion Exercise
Surface Swimming In Scuba Gear
Snorkel Clearing
Scuba Equipment Removal On The Surface
CW3

Fin Pivots, Neutral Buoyancy Skills & Swimming
Air Depletion & AAS Location & Use
Free Flowing Regulator
Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA)
CW4

Mask Removal & Swim, Replace & Clear Mask
Neutral Buoyancy Skills & Swim
Buddy Breathing
CW5

Scuba Unit Removal & Replacement Underwater
Scuba Unit Removal & Replacement On The Surface
Open Water Sessions
Now for the real fun parts with four dives in the open water. You are limited to only 2 training dives in any one day so these dives have to be conducted over 2 days. On your first day you will not go deeper than 12m and on the second day you will go no deeper than 18m. How these dives are conducted is where there is a big variation in the PADI courses around the world. Some will be done in fresh water quarry pits, some will be done from the shore of a quite bay, some from a busy beach or from a boat. What ever the location or type of water, there is still a standardised way in which the dives will be done.

The skills you trained for in the pool will now be practised again but this time in deeper waters but like the pool you will have time to get confident in your surroundings before you do any skills.

Ideally your first dive should only include skills that you would do in every dive anyway. The breakdown listed here is only what you may do on any specific dive and the actual dive you do the skill on may vary, so this is just an idea of what you may do.

OW1

Equipment Preparation Putting It On & Adjustment
Pre-Dive Safety Check (BWRAF)
Entry Appropriate To Location
Weight Check
Controlled Descent & Swimming
Ascent & Exit
Logging The Dive
OW 2

Buoyancy Control
Partial & Complete Mask Flood & Clear
Regulator Recovery & Clearing
Alternate Air Source Use Stationary & Assisted Ascent
Weight Removal At The Surface
Snorkel/Regulator Exchange
25 m/yard Tired Diver Tow
OW 3

Cramp Removal Self & Buddy
50 m/yard Straight Line Surface Swim With Compass
Free Descent With Reference
Buoyancy Control
Complete Mask Flood & Clear
Buddy Breathing
Underwater Exploration
Remove & Replace Weight System At The Surface
Remove & Replace Scuba Unit At The Surface
Debrief & Log Dive
Ow4

Free Descent Without Reference
Buoyancy Control
Mask Removal, Replacement & Clearing
Underwater Navigation With Compass
CESA

Now you have the full breakdown of what you will do on your PADI Open Water Course you should be rushing out to book yours or start to look for dive operators at your next holiday destination. In the next post I will be talking about what to do after you have finished your course. Many people learn to dive on holiday and only ever do the four dives required for the course, so I’ll talk about what to do to get the best from your new skill.

So you are now a fully qualified diver with a new shiny badge to say so, now what. Well the first thing you may notice is that when you try to book a days diving not all the dives will be available to you. To understand why this is you need to go back to your training and remember that as an open water diver you are restricted to depths of 18m or less. Although the majority of coral and life are within this 18m area there are sometimes, well lots of times actually, when going below this depth will reward you with some wonderful dives. Many wrecks are below the 18m depth and large pelagic’s usually rest in waters deeper than 18 m. So your convinced, you want to get below the 18m mark but how do you do it?

Happy Divers

What Will I Do On the Next Course?
Back to training for this but before you all run away listen to what is need to get you down to a maximum depth of 30m. Unlike your Open Water course there is no classroom or pool work this time, but you will have to read a bit more and complete the knowledge developments again but the big thing is there is NO EXAM!

The PADI Advanced Open Water Course takes only 5 dives in open water and their corresponding knowledge developments from the book. From the 5 dives one must be a deep dive to 30m and one must be a navigational dive were you learn to use a compass underwater, the other 3 dives are made up from a list of about 20 options. When I say about 20 that’s because some of these are dependent on location but you will have a great deal to choose from regardless of where you dive.

When Should I Do An Advanced Course?
There is a lot of discussion about this on forums and in diver publications and the answer is, in my opinion, when you feel comfortable with your diving skills. Now what I mean here is that some people complete the PADI open water course and curse the fact they have been missing out on life underwater, others feel that there was not enough instruction, that they have not mastered the skills yet or that they just don’t feel 100% comfortable underwater. These less confident people would be better to complete a few dives with a guide for some support and comfort, the other more confident people could further their training and move straight on to the next course.

It is possible to complete the first course and move straight onto the next without any dives in-between, but what I have always recommended is that you should try for at least 10 dives after your first qualification, 20 dives if you are a home diver and have more access to dives.

These 10 dives will give you some practice at buoyancy control and other skills you learnt during your Open Water Course. It also allows you some time to make sure it really is the next hobby you want to take up, scuba diving equipment is not really expensive in comparaison to other hobbies like skiing or golf, but you still don’t want to waste your money.

When Does This Training End?
In reality you will never stop learning to dive. Every dive will bring up new situations that you will learn from, but if its academic style training then you can always continue this also.

After the advanced course you could take on the PADI Rescue Diver Course, but be warned this is not a fun course and most people will find it exhausting and difficult but very very rewarding. It teaches you how to spot and prevent incidents before they happen and to react to incidents in a calm manner and how to deal with anything that may happen while on a days scuba diving, both above and below the water.

As you gain more confidence in the water you may find you have a liking for a particular type of dive, drift dive or coral dive, or for something you do while on a dive photography of videography. PADI has a whole bunch of specialities were you can learn more about these types of dives. So as you can see after you learn to dive you can go on and learn some more!

So far I have discussed why and where you should learn to dive, I have also talked about what you will do on your course and what to do after it. In the next post I’m not going to talk about learning to dive or courses but what I do plan to do is try and convince you that diving is something you should learn as soon as possible.

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Scuba Diving FAQs

General Diving Questions

1. Where do I start?
2. Is it rational to worry about panicking whilst underwater?
3. I’m not a strong swimmer. Does that matter?
4. Is scuba diving expensive?
5. Shark attack!!! How likely is it?
6. My ears hurt when I swim to the bottom of a pool, is that a problem?
7. What’s in a scuba tank & how long does it last?
8. What if I run out of air?
9. I wear glasses/contact lenses, can I wear them whilst diving?
10. Is learning to dive difficult?

Course Related Questions
1. Are there age requirements?
2. Will I have time to get fully certified while on vacation?
3. Classroom study: What does it cover?
4. Pool practice: What does it cover?
5. How are the open water dives different?
6. Can I dive on holiday without getting certified?
7. Are the instructors qualified?

General Diving Questions

1. Where do I start?

By taking the plunge and making the decision to contact one of the dive schools on this site! Contact them prior to your arrival or simply note down their contact details and call in in person when you arrive on the island.

2. Is it rational to worry about panicking whilst underwater?

Of course it’s rational to worry. But here’s a quick test to see if you’ve got what it takes. Go into your bathroom, fill the sink with water, close your eyes and pinch your nose. Duck your head into the water and hold this position for a few seconds. If you managed to pull your head out without having a panic attack then you’ll be fine when it comes to learning how to dive. All you really need are good overall health and to feel comfortable in and around water.

3. I’m not a strong swimmer. Does that matter?

Let’s be honest, it’s better for both yourself and those around you if you can swim to reasonable standard. As it is PADI specify that you should be able to swim 200 metres with no equipment or 300 metres with a mask, fins and snorkel.

4. Is scuba diving expensive?

Taking an Open Water dive course in Koh Chang coasts around 10,000 Baht (~US$250). Owning all your own equipment is great but you’ll find that this isn’t necessary as your dive operator will provide all the equipment that you require. Like any hobby, you can invest as much or as little as you like depending on your level of interest – a keen mountain biker or snow skier would spend a similar amount of equipment as a keen diver.

5. Shark attack!!! How likely is it?

‘Jaws’ has got a lot to answer for. The simple fact is that the vast majority of marine life is more afraid of you that you should be of it. Humans are not the natural prey of sharks and in most of the world shark attacks are extremely rare. The attacks that do happen, almost always do so by accident and happen to swimmers and surfers, not divers. The shark mistakes the splashing on the surface for a seal or sea lion, and takes a bite. As we don’t taste like seal or sea lion, one bite is usually the end of it but, unfortunately, even a single shark bite can cause a lot of damage.

6. My ears hurt when I swim to the bottom of a pool, is that a problem?

Your ears hurt because of the water pressure on your eardrum. It’s the same effect that you feel when the airplane you’re in takes off or lands. During your scuba course you’ll learn simple techniques to equalize your ears to the surrounding pressure.

7. What‘s in a scuba tank & how long does it last?

Recreational divers breathe air, not oxygen. The air in a scuba tank is like the air you’re breathing now but is also filtered to remove impurities. People breathe at different rates and as you go deeper you consume air faster. As a guide a diver in calm, warm water, 5-10 metres below the surface can spend about one hour underwater with an standard size tank.

8. What if I run out of air?

It’s true that safe diving does rely on the use of life support equipment. One of the most important pieces of equipment is your air gauge. This tells you exactly how much air you have left at all times. So you are no more likely to run out of air than you are to run out of gas while driving a car. During your course you will also learn how to use tables that which show how long your air will last when diving at certain depths.

9. I wear glasses/contact lenses, can I wear them whilst diving?

Wearing soft contact lenses or gas permeable hard lenses to dive shouldn’t be a problem while you dive. Glasses can’t be worn for obvious reasons, however those with an aversion to contacts can have prescription lenses put into a face mask.

10. Is learning to dive difficult?

No, it’s probably easier than you imagine — especially if you’re already comfortable in the water. PADI’s entry-level course consists of pool diving, classroom-based knowledge development and open water dives. The course is performance based, meaning that you progress as you learn and demonstrate knowledge and skill. Your instructor will ensure that you progress at a pace that is comfortable for you.

 

Course Related Questions

1. Are there age requirements?

Kids over the age of 10 are catered for by the Junior Open Water Diver Certification. At age 15, the Junior certification upgrades to a regular Open Water Diver certification.

2. Will I have time to get fully certified while on vacation?

The PADI qualification which will enable you to dive anywhere in the world in the PADI Open Water Diver course – the the most popular dive course in the world! The PADI Open Water Diver course can be split into five or six sessions over as little as three days to a much as six weeks. Dive centres in holiday spots usually offer the Open Water course as a four day intensive course. Note that this is a beginners course, if you become hooked on diving you’ll find yourself taking intermediate and advanced level courses.

3. Classroom study: What does it cover?

The main focus of the classroom portion of the Open Water Diver course is on the effects of pressure on your body. As you dive deeper, the pressure on your body increases. This changes the pressure of air your regulator delivers and, especially, the amount of nitrogen absorbed into your blood. It is vital you understand the implications of these effects.

4. Pool practice: What does it cover?

This is where the fun begins. Taking your first breaths underwater on a scuba regulator is a memorable experience. The pool sessions are where where you begin mastering basic practical skills: breathing from a regulator, safe descent and ascent procedures, proper buoyancy and so on.

5. How are the open water dives different?

In terms of skills, they aren’t. The main difference is that now you are in open water and therefore can’t stand up, grab the poolside etc. As in the pool, the purpose of the training dives is to allow your instructor to determine if you have mastered the skills you need to be a certified diver.

6. Can I dive on holiday without getting certified?

Yes, you can. These experiences go by different names according to where you are: “Introduction to Scuba” or “Scuba Diver Course” are two of the most common. The activity usually consists of a morning pool session during which you are introduced to the equipment and practice several essential skills. Then you are taken on a open water guided shallow dive, closely supervised by your instructor. These courses are a quick, safe and inexpensive way to see if scuba diving is for you.

7. Are the instructors qualified?

Yes, you will find that the Instructors and Assistant Instructors working on Koh Chang all have a great deal of practical diving experience in addition to their paper qualifications. Diving is a very competitive business and cutting costs by hiring unskilled instructors is a sure fire way to go out of business. Read this article on identifying a good instructor.

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How to Find a Good Dive Instructor

Recognising a good instructor when you meet one.

In the good old days training was conducted in a military manner. Barked orders and stern reprimands were the methodology of the day. Thankfully a more laid back approach to training is now pervasive. However, an instructor who is the life and soul of the party and the student’s best friend may not be doing their job either. How do you identify a good instructor? Your real focus should be on teaching ability and style. Here’s some pointers on what to look for:-

People skills.
The first thing that you should find is that your instructor is easy to speak to. You should feel comfortable asking questions. A good teacher won’t spend classroom time standing still, reading notes. They will interact with the trainees and make eye contact. They should be patient with “dumb” questions and clumsy performance.

Individual attention.
Ask how the instructor will handle it if you have problems learning a task. They should understand that people learn at different rates and should offer to spend extra time if it’s required to master a skill. If they reply to by saying “Don’t worry, you won’t have any problems.” Then they’re letting their ego get in the way.

Empathy.
The good instructor understands that it’s reasonable for new students to have some fears – whether they are justified or not and will reassure them rather than heightens fears by telling ‘war stories’ about terrors of the deep. Anyone instructor who peppers his conversations with anecdotes of this nature is again more interested in his ego than in you.

Experience.
Good teachers are not made in a day. For how many years has he been an instructor? An assistant instructor? A divemaster? A diver? Does your instructor seem to teach from his own experiences or does he regurgitate the course manual?

Organization.
The class should keep moving without irrelevant digression. The instructor should be following a lesson plan which is fun but structured. The aims and objectives of which should be clear to you at the start and finish of each classroom session.

Punctuality.
The instructor should show up on time and prepared to start the class. He should end on time too, and not early. Avoid any instructor who appears to over enjoy partying. Nothing should be more important to them than teaching you skills on which your life will depend and for which you are paying them to teach.

———-

The following are also worth enquiring about when considering which dive school you should choose:-

Class size.
How many students per instructor will there be on your course. A maximum of 6-8 is plenty. Any more, you may spend too much time hanging around, waiting and receive too little individual attention.

An assistant instructor.
If the class is large will there be an assistant instructor on hand to help out without holding up the class?

Lots of water time.
You learn by doing, not by reading about it. Make sure you check that an Open Water Diver course contains the PADI required four open-water dives. It’s also well worth finding out where you will be diving, are the four dives in the same location? Or are they in different dive sites?

A fair price.
How much does it cost, and are there any extras such as purchasing PADI manuals etc.? Price shouldn’t be your primary concern (you’ll find most dive schools offer similar prices), but one course may be cheaper than another. However, if you have any doubts about the instructor or the school then taking a cheaper course to save a few hundred baht is definitely a false economy. An excellent instructor and enjoyable diving experience are always worth the price

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Topics covered in the PADI Open Water Diver course.

An Overview of PADI’s most popular dive course

This article lists the topics that you will cover during the classroom portion of your course. During your course you’ll be given access to the course manual. As the cost of manuals is quite high, over 1,500 Baht – they aren’t included in the cost of dive courses by the dive schools on Koh Chang. The same applies to accompanying videos and VCDs/DVDs which you’ll have access to at the dive school but will have to pay extra for if you require your own.

You’ll notice that the manual is divided into five chapters. Each chapter contains it’s own exercises and ‘Knowledge Review’ questions, pay attention to these questions as there is a final exam and the format and questions are very similar to that of the Knowledge Reviews in the manual.

Chapter 1

The Underwater World
Diving Equipment
Scuba Systems
The Buddy System
Confined Water Training Preview
Chapter 2
Adapting to the Underwater World
Respiration
Diving Equipment
Diving Communications
Buddy System Procedures
Confined Water Training Preview
Chapter 3

The Diving Environment
Dive Planning
Boat Diving Procedures
Problem Management
Confined Water Training Preview
General Open Water Skills
Open Water Training Preview
Chapter 4
Accessory Diving Equipment
Health for Diving
Breathing Air at Depth
Dive Tables Introduction
Using the Recreational Dive Planner – Wheel booklet
Complete Sample Problems and Exercise Questions using the Wheel
Confined Water Training Preview
Chapter 5
Recreational Dive Planner Special
Circumstances
Finding Minimum Surface Interval – Complete Sample Problems and Exercise Questions
Dive Tables Definitions Review
Basic Compass Navigation
Confined Water Training Preview
Open Water Training Preview
Continuing Education
Epilogue
Summary of Diving Safety Practices
Now you’re ready for your final review session. You’ll find that classroom sessions are often alternated with practical confined and open water training to allow for more variation during the course.

Some dive schools hold part of the classroom training on the dive boat itself. This can serve two purposes, it fills the time spent getting to the dive sites and also cuts down on the time taken to complete the course.

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Buying Dive Gear

It isn’t worth buying diving gear prior to taking your first course for a couple of reasons, firstly – there’s the (small) chance that you may not feel that diving is a sport for you after all, and secondly, you won’t have had any practical experience using different types of equipment and therefore won’t really know what suits you best. Trying on a mask in a shop is very different to wearing a mask for 30 minutes underwater.

Diving is an equipment intensive sport. Unlike jogging or soccer – where all that are needed are shorts, t-shirt, socks and the appropriate footwear, diving requires a variety of specialised equipment. It’s important that although a lot of equipment is required, it is all necessary in order to dive safely. Each item was developed to perform a specific function.

Owning your own equipment will enhance your enjoyment of the sport. Of course you will always be able to rent equipment no matter where you choose to dive, but do you really want to rely on much-used rental equipment for your personal safety and enjoyment of diving?

The best way to ensure that gear fits and is comfortable is to use your own. You will know how to operate it properly and will have looked after it responsibly. You will know the condition of your gear, where it has been, and who has been using it. That familiarity contributes to the highest level of safety, which in turn gives you peace of mind when underwater.

A basic set of equipment would include a mask, snorkel and fins. All enthusiastic snorkellers probably own this gear already. Divers who have completed their Open Water course will probably be looking to add a Regulator and Buoyancy Compensator to the basic equipment. A wrist worn Dive Computer is a very handy piece of equipment to have when diving in unfamiliar waters. Wetsuits come in all styles – some suitable for cold water diving others for warm water such as those found off Koh Chang. . Unless you know where you will be doing most of your diving a wetsuit probably isn’t a necessary purchase as dive shops will rent suits to fit the local waters. Fit and comfort , and not fashion, are the main criteria you should use when selecting gear.

You will find the process of buying dive gear is fun, adds to your knowledge of diving and also ensures that the gear you dive with does what you want it to do the way you want it to. Owning dive gear also marks you out as a serious diver and motivates you to dive more often . . . . . which can only be a good thing!

Now let’s look at each piece of kit in more detail.

Mask

The old black, rubber oval masks have long since disappeared and are now only seen in old James Bond movies and re-runs of ‘Hawaii 5-0’. Modern masks have a nose pocket which allows you to equalise the pressure in your ears as you descend and come in a variety of colours. A good fit is essential therefore when trying on a mask in a dive shop always:

Place the mask on your face without using the strap and gently inhale through your nose. The mask should seal easily on your face.

Place a regulator or snorkel mouthpiece in your mouth. Does the mask still feel comfortable?

Repeat the ‘inhale’ test with a mouthpiece in place.

Now adjust the strap and put the mask on your face. The nose pocket shouldn’t touch your nose and the watertight skirt should feel comfortable on your upper lip.

You should be OK if you select any mask in your budget that meets the criteria.

Snorkel

There are a vast array of snorkels to choose from. This may seem odd as all you are really buying is a curved plastic tube with a simple valve to allow for easy exhalation. You will only ever use a snorkel if you are on the surface and want to conserve the air in your tank.

Therefore, unless you plan on doing a lot of snorkelling it’s advisable to buy a cheap snorkel with a comfortable mouthpiece that also attaches easily to your mask.

Fins

If you plan to swim with the fish then you need to swim like a fish i.e. by using fins. Fins translate power from the thigh muscles into efficient movement through water, thus making it easier for you to swim underwater.

When trying on fins look for a good snug fit, if you can’t move your toes the fins are too small. Fins’ efficiency is due to their size and rigidity, a simple rule is the stronger your leg muscles the stiffer the fin you should use. Choosing a suitable pair of fins is very important, an unsuitable pair can lead to muscle cramps and ruin your diving experience.

Regulator

Regulators have been perfected to the point that a high performance regulators can be found at budget prices. The regulator is the device that converts the high pressure air in your tank into ambient pressure air which is breathable. It also delivers air to the Buoyancy Compensation Device’s inflator.

Once again a comfortable mouthpiece is key in the selection process. As breathing through a regulator in a dive shop is very different to using one underwater, try different ones when diving prior to buying to give you an idea of how different makes and models perform underwater.

Buoyancy Compensation Device (BCD)

Your BCD is not only the most complex piece of dive equipment you’ll own but also one of the most important. This is a multifunction piece of kit, it allows you to carry tank with relative ease, keeps your gear in place, allows you to float on the surface but also achieve neutral buoyancy at any depth.

When buying a BCD, the correct size and fit are what to bear in mind. You’ll need to try on the BCD whilst wearing the wetsuit that you will be using to dive in. The best test of fit is to inflate the BCD until the overflow valve starts to vent i.e. until the BCD is inflated to the maximum. If you have any difficulty breathing then select another BCD. Also test all the straps & adjusters etc for ease of use. Finally, are the inflate and deflate controls clearly marked and can you easily operate them using one hand?

Wetsuit

Wetsuits, or more accurately ‘exposure suits’ trap a thin layer of water between the suit wall and your skin which insulates your body from the effects of heat loss. A suit is required even in tropical seas, such as those off Koh Chang, as warm water can rob your body of heat over twenty times aster than air.

The thickness and type of exposure protection you need depends on the dive conditions. Your dive suit should fit your body like a glove. Don’t buy a loose fitting suit as any gaps allow water to circulate within the suit and reduce the suits ability to insulate your body.

Dive Computer

Understanding dive tables, as your Open Water Course, will have taught you is a vital part of safe diving. Very few people enjoy mulling over rows and columns of figures but it’s something that has to be done.

A dive computer can make your life far less stressful whilst you are underwater. It’s main function is to monitor the depth you are diving at and time you are in the water and then calculate the time you can safely stay under the water i.e. your no-decompression status. This helps to extend your time underwater.

 

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Is diving safe?

Safe compared to what? To never diving? To sitting on a couch? To playing golf? To mountain climbing? To jumping out of an airplane? To riding a motorbike along mountain road on Koh Chang?

There’s no simple ‘Yes’ or No’ answer to this question but it is one that is asked all the time. Like the debate on many other difficult to answer questions, this one seems to be 90% semantics and personal philosophy (e.g., What do you mean by “safe”?), and only 10% about hard facts (e.g., data of accident rates in diving vs. other activities).

Let’s start with the statement “Scuba diving is safe. Why tell beginners otherwise?” and start an debate . . . But, if you check your dictionary you’ll find that ‘safe = without risk’. So can you say “Scuba diving is without risk.”? Of course not. However, for most people, safe and entirely risk free don’t have exactly the same meaning. So you could say also that “Diving is safe, but it isn’t risk free.”? If it isn’t risk free then some may argue it is unsafe. Now, should we start telling would-be learners that diving is unsafe? Hang on, being unsafe also has a different meaning for most people than simply having risks involved. But there are risks in everything we do in life, including washing the dishes or crossing the road. Take driving, for example, that’s safe but not risk free and very few people would classify driving a car as unsafe. Diving is certainly safer than driving a car. Or is it? Can you prove that? And so the argument goes on well in to the night . . . .

Whether or not semantics are a factor, its important that everyone acknowledge important differences of opinion, and realize that the opinions and attitudes of the most experienced i.e. the instructors will affect newbie divers.

The debate about safety has been going on since the sport of scuba diving began and will likely continue as long as people dive, perhaps because the sport attracts such a diverse group of people. Anyone attempting to answer the “Is scuba diving dangerous?” question will almost certainly be looking at the question from one particularly biased point of view.

For example, a manufacturer of scuba gear would respond “Yes” but add a caveat “proper training and high quality equipment are required for safe diving.”

A dive school, seeking to gain new customers would also answer “Yes” but go on to emphasize that anyone undertaking a course must be in good health and must follow the instructor’s direction at all times.

A doctor experienced in treating dive accident victims, might respond “No”, scuba is not safe and that “you dive at your own risk.” An accident victim or their family may respond likewise.

A non-profit agency like the Divers Alert Network (DAN) might not respond directly but instead emphasize the importance of continuing research to understand the nature and causes of diving accidents, and on how to make the sport safer.

The comprehensive data collecting methods of the Divers Alert Network assure that most, if not all, scuba diving deaths and serious accidents are reported to it. According to DAN, about 100 North Americans die while scuba diving each year. A large percentage of these deaths occurred when divers exceeded recreational guidelines, such as: diving deeper or longer than called for by dive tables; entering wrecks or caves without proper training or equipment; diving with medical illnesses which should have prohibited the dive.

In addition, DAN receives notice of approximately a thousand non-fatal diving injuries each year. Based on this information, scuba diving must be considered to present a finite, albeit small, danger to those who participate.

Therefore, in the context of millions of recreational dives a year, the incidence of diving accidents and deaths is considered very small.

Comparing the amount of risk with other adventure sports (e.g., mountain climbing, snow skiing, bicycle riding) is difficult, if not impossible, for two reasons: 1) the true number of people actually participating in any popular sport is unknown, as is the frequency of their activity; and, 2) the nature of accidents varies from sport to sport, and any given injury can affect the victim to a varying (and unpredictable) degree. For example, breaking a leg on the ski slopes or suffering a concussion while bike riding cannot be meaningfully compared with a non-fatal case of the bends.

Similarly, comparing risks of scuba diving with essential but risky activities like driving a car is also difficult, since the number of miles driven, the type of driving, etc., are all unknown variables.

Anyone engaging in scuba diving must accept that the sport presents certain risks that aren’t present if you simply, stayed at home watching TV. Accepting this fact, the diver should understand that risks can be significantly minimized by such common sense steps as obtaining proper training, diving in good health, staying physically fit, adhering to established dive tables, and not participating in dives that exceed the limits of the individual’s training.

At the end of the day it is up to the individual, through proper training and diving common sense, to minimize the risks to themselves.

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Under pressure. The laws of physics applied to diving.

For you to understand the ins and outs of diving you must first understand the concept of pressure, how it varies according to the depth that you dive and what these variations mean to you. You may well be thinking that laws of physics discovered a couple of hundred years ago are pretty irrelevant or at least unimportant or uninteresting when it comes to modern day diving. But please read on and then make your decision.

Were going to look at pressure. Pressure is a force or weight per unit area. Everything weighs something – even air. Therefore everything and everyone on the surface of the earth is exposed to air pressure. This pressure is called ‘Atmospheric Pressure’.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that water is heavier than air. Therefore, as pressure is related directly to weight, water pressure must be far greater than air pressure.

Gravity keeps the air that keeps us alive, the atmosphere, held next to the earth. (No gravity would basically mean that the air would be weightless and would float away into space. ) The force of gravity is strongest the nearer you get to the centre of the earth. Therefore, at sea level the force is greater than on the top of Mount Everest. This is why mountaineers must also carry air to breathe. 9,000 metres above sea level the air is about one third as dense as it is at sea level, and therefore weighs less. In fact everything weighs less the further you get from a centre of gravity, humans don’t notice the difference at the top of a mountain, but if you keep heading away from earth you soon become weightless as any astronaut will tell you.

Air pressure can be specified in several ways – the most popular term used in scuba diving is “Pounds per Square Inch” or “PSI.” At sea level the pressure exerted by the atmosphere is 14.7 PSI.

Another way to get your head around the idea of almost 15 pounds of air per inch is to remember that we’re talking about a column of air one inch square and about 50 miles high! So that’s not really a lot of pounds for something that high.

Can you lift 300 pounds with one hand? It might come as a shock to you but this is something that everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to your Grandma can do. Here’s how . . . open your hand palm upward, now lift your hand quickly upward with the palm flat out. Phew! Take a rest, shake it out! Hit the showers!

What was all that about? The average open adult hand with fingers closed has an area of about 25 square inches. Assuming you are at sea level, and your hand is average-sized, you are lifting 25 x 14.7 or 368 pounds of air!

So why is it so effortless? It feels effortless because air pressure is evenly distributed around your hand, and the molecules of air are easily movable. At sea level, air pressure is 14.7 pounds per square inch on top of your hand, underneath your hand, and on all sides. Therefore, you don’t really ‘lift’ 368 pounds, though that is the weight of air on top of your hand. As you move your hand you move some air molecules out of the way and other molecules immediately come under and around your hand. The pressure surrounding your hand stays the same: 14.7 PSI and because the pressure is evenly distributed, you don’t feel any weight in lifting your hand.

Pressure goes by many different names. ‘Ambient Pressure’ is the pressure of your immediate surroundings. When surrounded by air, ambient pressure = atmospheric pressure = barometric pressure. When you’re surrounded by water, ambient pressure = water pressure.

The most commonly used units of pressure are ‘bars’ and ‘atmospheres’ (atms). The main difference is that the term ‘bar’ is more common in Europe. One atmosphere / One bar of pressure = air pressure at sea level = 14.7 PSI.

Remember that this is just a measurement. If you were inside a submarine you’d find that you are surrounded by one atm. of pressure, however the hull of the vessel may well be under a pressure of 10 atm.

If you know how much sea water weighs then it’s easy to calculate how much pressure you are under at a certain depth. As it happens, sea water weighs about 64 pounds per cubic foot. Using this value, 33 cu. feet of water weighs 33 x 64 = 2112 pounds. So if you dive 33 feet deep and lie horizontally you will have 2112 pounds of water over every square foot of your body. 2112 pounds of water per square foot = 14.7 pounds per square inch, which is the atmospheric pressure at sea level.

So at 33 feet (10metres) under the water, you are under two atmospheres of pressure. One from water directly above you and one from the air directly above that. The deeper you dive the more the pressure increases, an increase of one atm. for every 33 feet (10 metres) depth.

Air is a mixture of gases, mainly oxygen (21% by volume) and nitrogen (78% by volume). The other 1% of air is made up of several other gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), argon, krypton and neon.

In any mixture of gases (e.g., air), the individual gases don’t chemically combine with each other. The percentages don’t alter inside a tank of compressed air regardless of depth. This fact takes on critical importance as water pressure increases with increasing depth because, although the percentages are unchanged, the total pressure exerted by each gas component increases proportionately. The increases in component gas pressures account for some of the major problems inherent in compressed air diving: nitrogen narcosis, decompression sickness and oxygen toxicity (see Sections G and I).

Scuba divers are interested in what happens to air under water. Air under water obeys the same laws as air in the atmosphere. The four gas laws, Boyles’s, Charles’, Dalton’s and Henry’s, are useful because they predict changes in air pressure, volume and temperature as compressed air divers descend and ascend.

Boyle’s law states:

At constant temperature, the volume of a gas varies inversely with the pressure, while the density of a gas varies directly with pressure.

Therefore, if you increase the pressure on a fixed volume of gas, the density increases. This part of the law becomes important on deep dives. In reality it means that the inhaled air will become denser the deeper one goes. Therefore, the deeper you go, the more difficult you will find it to breathe.

Charles’s law states:

‘At a constant volume, the pressure of gas varies directly with absolute temperature.’

Given a constant volume of gas, such as that trapped in an air tank, the higher the temperature the higher the gas pressure, and vice versa. Charles’s law is more important for dive operators and those involved in filling air tanks – especially when there is a large difference between air and water temperatures. A tank filled in the icy cool surroundings of an air-conditioned room, will show a different pressure reading as soon as it is put in warm sea water.

Dalton’s law states:

‘The total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is equal to the sum of the pressures that would be exerted by each of the gases if it alone were present and occupied the total volume.’

In layman’s terms, the pressure of any gas mixture (e.g., air) is equal to the sum of pressures exerted by the individual gases (e.g., oxygen, nitrogen, and each of the minor gases).

With increasing altitude, for example, the partial pressure exerted by each gas in the air will decrease. With increasing depth, the partial pressure exerted by each gas in the air we breathe will increase. As you are breathing this air into your body the effects of the increase of pressure are felt inside you.

Henry’s law states:

‘The amount of any gas that will dissolve in a liquid at a given temperature is a function of the partial pressure of the gas in contact with the liquid and the solubility coefficient of the gas in that particular liquid.’

To keeps things simple, this law implies that as the pressure of any gas increases, more of that gas will dissolve into any solution with which it is in free contact.

Taken together, Henry’s and Dalton’s laws predict two very important consequences, one applicable to mountaineers, the other to divers:

1)When ambient pressure is lowered (as at altitude), the partial pressure of oxygen and nitrogen in the body must fall, and there will be less molecules of each gas dissolved in the blood and tissues.

2)When ambient pressure is raised (as when diving), the partial pressure of oxygen and nitrogen in the body must rise, and there will be more molecules of each gas dissolved in the blood and tissues.

The second statement is the physiologic basis for three important problems associated with compressed air diving: decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis, and oxygen toxicity.

And that’s why the laws discovered by geeks hundreds of years ago are important to you as you hop off your dive boat and into the clear blue sea in some exotic destination.