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Scuba Diving

The Basics



SCUBA stands for self contained underwater breathing apparatus. If you like the water and snorkeling, you'll love this sport. Scuba diving gives you more freedom of movement than snorkeling, and let's you stay underwater for extended periods. Once you get comfortable with all the gear and settle in, you'll start to feel just like one of the fishes.

Carrie 50 Feet Down

There are several options to finding out if this sport is for you. Snorkeling is the easiest introduction to the oceans and seas. For many, snorkeling is just a tease. The desire to go underwater and stay awhile is just too great.

Another type of introduction to the water is called SNUBA. Similar to scuba, Snuba allows you to remain underwater for an extended period. In Snuba, you don't carry compressed air in tanks on your back; instead air is pumped down from the surface through a hose, which you breathe through. You have limited amount of freedom, about 30 feet of hose. It's quite safe and because it requires little equipment, it's easy to do. Not all resorts offer Snuba diving. The Snuba International web site, www.snuba.com, has a list of resorts that provide Snuba.

The next level is through a resort course. Resorts offer a one-day scuba diving package for people who have never had any dive training. The package includes a 30-minute class, diving equipment and two dives in 30 to 40 feet of water. You are not certified or properly trained after this, but hopefully you've had a wonderful experience and are motivated to get certified. However, most certified divers will warn you against the resort dive experience. It can be very dangerous. If you aren't 100% confident and comfortable in the ocean, don't take a resort course. Get properly trained first. The course is too short to build your confidence, and panicking underwater can be very hazardous.

First Descent

Your first dive experience will either be in a pool or through a resort diving course. Resort courses are less safe because you are not properly trained. Even if you're only diving in 30 feet of water, there are hazards when you're using compress air.

If you're going to do a resort course, make sure it's a good course. Don't go bargain hunting. They should provide at the least a 1/2 hour lecture, any less time means you're not getting the basic information you need. In a resort course, a dive instructor will go with you underwater. It's important that there aren't too many students. 3 or 4 students to an instructor should be the maximum. Any more and the instructor will have a hard time making sure everyone is safe. When you're diving, stay close to the instructor. That way, if you get into trouble, you will be able to get help quickly.

Once you've decided to get trained, its time to find a scuba class. There are three main organizations providing certification. For your first level of certification, the general opinion is that all three are equal. PADI and NAUI are the most familiar organizations within the dive community. Additionally, the YMCA is the oldest scuba instruction organization in the U.S. They are considered to have the hightest training standards.

The standard equipment you'll need from your first day in the water is a mask, snorkel, fins, BC (buoyancy compensator), weight belt, regulator, and tank. During your course, the BC, weight belt, regulator and tanks will be provided. You should go ahead and buy your mask, snorkel and fins. Make sure you get "real" scuba diving equipment, not swim or beach equipment. Buy good equipment that fits properly. At 60 feet under you don't want to be worried about a mask that leaks. Your dive course provider will typically offer you a discount on equipment. They'll also be able to help you find the right fit.

Certified Diver

After you've finished your course, it's time to do your certification dives. Doing your check out dives in the tropics is highly recommended. The conditions are easiest, and the tropics will give you a taste of the best. You don't have to be at 100 feet to experience the best of scuba diving. In fact most fish and coral are closer to the surface, between 30 to 50 feet.

Your dive course provider will often provide a certification trip to a tropical area. If you choose not to go with your course, your instructor will be able to recommend several locations and dive shops. Once you choose a location, check out several of the dive shops in that location. You should ask them how they run the certification dives? What equipment do they provide and what equipment do you need to bring? How many people per instructor for the certification dives? Cost? Quality of equipment used? You don't want to bargain hunt for your certification dive. However you want to make sure that if you pay more, you're getting more.

Once you're certified as a diver, the places to go are endless. The type of diving seems to be endless too. There's reef dives, wreck, wall, drift, night and of course shark dives for the fearless. Many of these dives are available to an Open Water I certified diver. However, if you plan to dive often it is recommended that you go right into your advanced diver certification. This will open the doors to more extreme diving, deep dives, and will ensure that you're fully prepared and trained for most situations.

Finding a diving companion may be difficult. If you don't have friends that dive, look into joining a local dive club. It's a great way to keep involved and find other to dive with. Even if you don't have a dive partner, you can still go diving. When booking your trip, tell the shop that you'll need a partner. The divemaster on the boat will set you up with another solo diver. It is very important as first time dive buddies to plan your dive before you get into the water. Ask the divemaster on the boat about the site and where should you go. Find out if there's a current and what direction it's moving in. Most importantly, don't do anything you're not comfortable with. Just say no. There have been many cases where a dive buddy who appeared to be more experienced led both divers into a dangerous situation. If you aren't comfortable or compatible with your partner, let the divemaster know.

Being a dive buddy is a very serious commitment. When you accept the role of a dive buddy you are agreeing to assist and give help. In some cases divers have been sued and found negligent for not complying with their commitment.

Some dive destinations such as the Florida Keys don't provide a guide on your dive. It's worth requesting and even paying for a guide. You still have a dive buddy, but an experienced diver who knows the area will lead you through the dive site. They know the site and where to find the inhabitants, such as turtles and rays. They also know the hazards and will steer you clear of them. A guide will greatly increase your dive enjoyment and safety.

For most, it is difficult to go on a dive trip more than once or twice a year. If you haven't been diving in the last 12 months it is recommend that you take a refresher dive course. This is a one-day pool course that reacquaints you with the equipment and some basic skills.

Pushing the Depths

If your goal is to do some extreme diving, you must continue your dive instruction past the advanced level. The highest level is a master level. There are also many specialty dive courses such as ice, wreck, cave, deep, and photography. Additionally, you may choose to work in the dive industry as an instructor. Living in Key West, Florida and getting paid to teach diving would be a nice life.

Diving technology and equipment are constantly improving. The industry is also learning more and more about the long term effects of pressure on the human body. One of the newer discoveries is Nitrox. In 1996 Nitrox was accepted into the recreational dive industry. It is a mixed gas that contains more oxygen and less nitrogen than regular compressed air. Less nitrogen allows for longer bottom times. There is still quite a bit of controversy about using Nitrox for pushing the standard dive limits. On the other hand there is a solid agreement that using Nitrox with standard limits actually improves safety. Using Nitrox in conjunction with standard dive tables for compressed air will reduce the amount of nitrogen that is absorbed and therefore reduce the chances of decompression sickness. As in any new technology or technique, do your homework before you make a decision. Nitrox does require additional training.

As divers, we are not only responsible for our own safety but also for the health of our oceans. Humans have already done immeasurable harm to the oceans and seas. Experienced divers must set an example. Never touch or disturb the reef. If you see others harming the reef, it's important to let them know they are destroying a precious resource. Setting an example and teaching others is the only way we're going to preserve the reefs. There are many excellent organizations that divers should be involved in such as Reef Environmental Education Foundation, www.reef.org.

If you have a favorite environmental organization, please send SheGear the information.

Don'ts

  • Don't touch or stand on the reef, ever. Don't let your equipment touch or drag across the reef. This is really important, because one touch is all it takes to kill the coral. And it takes hundreds of years to rebuild the damage. The world is rapidly losing its dive sights because of ignorant divers.
  • Don't take anything. You may hear of some divers taking shells, but its not acceptable practice among the diving community. A good scuba diver strives to leave the underwater environment totally unchanged by their visit.
  • Don't leave your dive buddy. You've agreed to stay together, so stay near.
  • Don't just follow your dive buddy's lead, leaving your safety in someone else's hands. Play a role in the dive. Don't rely on someone else to watch the time, your depth, etc. If you don't feel right about going somewhere or doing something, say so.

Tricks

  • In order to keep your equipment from dragging, use Velcro strips to keep your gauges close to your BC jacket.
  • Always wear some kind of wetsuit or dive skin, no matter how warm the water is. Even if the water is 85, you'll get cold after an hour.
  • Bring your own wetsuit. Rentals are kind of nasty.
  • Bring a flash light
  • It can be difficult, but finding a regular dive partner can really enhance your diving.

Safety

  • Number one rule for safety is stay calm. Panicking underwater just magnifies any situation making things worse.
  • If it's been over 12 months since your last dive a refresher course is suggested.
  • Planning your dive is vital to having a safe dive.
Dive Picture

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