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.
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.
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
What’s It Like Where We’ll We Diving?
Care For Yourself
Care For Others
Solution Thinking Underwater
Dive Table Introduction
Using The Recreational Dive Planner (RDP)
Making Safety Stops
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.
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.
Scuba Equipment & How To Put It Together & Put It On Safely
Recovering & Clearing A Regulator
Clearing A Partially Flooded Mask
Using Your Submersible Pressure Gauge
Locating & Using An Alternate Air Source (AAS)
Ascents From Deep Water
Pre-Dive Safety Check
Deep Water Entry & Controlled Descents
Mask Removal, Replacement & Clearing
Air Depletion Exercise
Surface Swimming In Scuba Gear
Scuba Equipment Removal On The Surface
Fin Pivots, Neutral Buoyancy Skills & Swimming
Air Depletion & AAS Location & Use
Free Flowing Regulator
Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA)
Mask Removal & Swim, Replace & Clear Mask
Neutral Buoyancy Skills & Swim
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.
Equipment Preparation Putting It On & Adjustment
Pre-Dive Safety Check (BWRAF)
Entry Appropriate To Location
Controlled Descent & Swimming
Ascent & Exit
Logging The Dive
Partial & Complete Mask Flood & Clear
Regulator Recovery & Clearing
Alternate Air Source Use Stationary & Assisted Ascent
Weight Removal At The Surface
25 m/yard Tired Diver Tow
Cramp Removal Self & Buddy
50 m/yard Straight Line Surface Swim With Compass
Free Descent With Reference
Complete Mask Flood & Clear
Remove & Replace Weight System At The Surface
Remove & Replace Scuba Unit At The Surface
Debrief & Log Dive
Free Descent Without Reference
Mask Removal, Replacement & Clearing
Underwater Navigation With Compass
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?
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.