Ah yes. Scuba diving is such a beautiful thing. A friend, Storm, introduced me to the wonderful underwater world back in 2011. If you think about it, 70% of Earth is covered by water, that is 70% of the world left unexplored. How insane is that? Since I’m a self-proclaimed diving addict, I’ve decided to a series of scuba guides to help answer any questions you’ve got. First off – a beginners guide!
During my travels, it’s not uncommon for me to stake out potential dive opportunities. I ‘sacrifice’ late nights for early mornings, days chasing waterfalls for finding Nemo, a day’s budget for a dive. I’ve even spent the holidays alone solely for the opportunity to go diving. You can say I’m pretty hooked… I’ve dove in some really beautiful places over the years, been on dive specific holidays and impromptu travel dives. I’ve a decent amount of knowledge under my belt and if you’re planning to learn how to dive on a trip, this is your go-to guide!
Learning to dive?
Personally, I was certified while living in Perth, as it was convenient for me. It did cost a significant amount more than going to South East Asia but I think it was well worth my investment. That said I know heaps of people who take a few days out of their travels to get certified. Sometimes getting locally certified isn’t always an option but if you’re headed to a beautiful location with warm waters and an amazing biodiversity, who can resist the temptation?!
Here are some things to know if you’re planning to get certified on the road.
Do your research!
I know this is a no brainer. Have a look online where you want to get certified. Some towns are cratered to beginners while others are more for the experienced bunch – dive conditions are usually a factor here. The famous places to get certified are Koh Tao (Thailand), Utila (Honduras) and Great Barrier Reef (Australia). It’s also good to check the time of year, when is diving season and package deals.
Remember to check their online reviews before signing up anywhere and make an educated decision. Another alternative is asking online forums or mates where they would recommend! I tend to have chats with the dive masters or store owners to suss out how comfortable I am around them and what I can expect underwater. Not going to lie but scuba diving is definitely an expensive sport to get into. The certification itself isn’t cheap and if you’re on the road, you want to save as much as possible but don’t let cost drive your decision-making when scooping out for a store. There are several other options to save money while getting certified. I’ll talk about that later on… You want to ensure you are getting the best quality of teaching, here’s not to say that the most expensive stores are the best! Just be safe and absorb as much as possible.
Scared? Do a discovery dive
Discovery dives are essentially an introductory to the diving world. It’s there to let you dip your toes in the waters and help you see if diving is/isn’t for you. Most, if not all, places offer this as an option. You are introduced to your gear, what to expect and you go through a crash course prior to hitting the water. Don’t worry, you won’t get thrown in the deep end immediately, a dive master/instructor is there to guide you through the entire dive. They will take you to a maximum depth of 12m and are there to help you with your buoyancy and ensure you enjoy it as much as possible. Your job is to get used to the equipment and breath! It’s a weird sensation for many at the start but all-good fun.
This isn’t a necessary step, as I personally didn’t do it. I took the plunge and got right into it. Anyways, thinking of getting your Open Water certification? Well, read on!
You may need a dive medical
Before starting your course; you will need to undergo a dive medical to ensure you are fit to dive. There are some medical conditions that unfortunately don’t allow you to dive so it’s always good to get a check up. In Australia, an appointment is made with a physician to get the medical done, setting you back about AUD$80. Once you’ve got this piece of paper, it’s always good to have a copy on you whenever you’re thinking of doing fun dives. Some shops didn’t require me to produce my medical to do fun dives but I had to when I was registering for fun dives in Koh Tao. As mine wasn’t on me, I had to go to a referred doctor and the appointment took no more than 15mins costing me an equivalent of AUD$20 – 30. The procedures were different but it was either that or no dive!
The course you will be taking initially is called Open Water. Takes anywhere between 3 – 4 days, training you to dive up to 18m/60ft. Traditionally, when you sign up you will receive the material on site at the beginning of your course. For my OW, my instructor lent me a CD with videos summarising the book. These days, if you book in advance, some schools give you the option of receiving the study material electronically to read up before commencing the course. There’s quite a bit of content to cover.
On your course
You’re on holiday after all so go ahead and enjoy yourself! Just don’t dive under the influence or tired. It’s not going to help you enjoy your dives and will induce seasickness. Speaking of seasickness – if you’re prone to that, be sure to take some seasickness tablets! I’ve puked underwater because I was feeling unwell, definitely not a fun experience although it did help attract the fish.
Get to know your dive buddy. The more comfortable around your buddy, the more you’ll enjoy yourself. It’s all about being relaxed during your entire course, above and underwater. The more relaxed you are, the less air you will consume and the longer you can dive for (be sure to dive within your limits). Also remember the golden rule: never hold your breath! You’re on your way to enjoying one of the best experiences.
While I’m no instructor, I can give you an idea of what to expect during your course. First and foremost, getting your theory down pack. You will go through the study material with your instructor & group and complete a theory test before things get exciting. While the dive tests are easy and straight forward, take them seriously. Unfortunately, I’ve had to use my emergency skills in a couple of situations and good teaching goes a long way.
Before heading out to the ocean, you will usually complete a couple of pool dives. Familiarise yourself with your new found skills throughout the pool dives as it will help you feel more confident and comfortable in the ocean. Once that’s done, you’re ready to join the big boys – in the open water! After doing a minimum of 4 open water dives and passing your theory test, you’re now a certified diver!
Congrats on getting your certification! Woo hoo. On ya.
Your plastic certification card is on it’s way to you mail box. The first of many cards to add to your collection. Here is my most important tip. If possible, I suggest getting an electronic certification card. In the long run, it will be cheaper. My wallet was stolen twice while travelling (with my card in it) and once I dropped my card into a marina while boarding the charter boat. Replacement cards don’t come cheap but with my e-card, I don’t have to worry about it any more.
Many dive-orientated destinations have deals if you’re diving. With some companies in Koh Tao, they offered free/discounted accommodation (subject to availability) if you’re on a course/doing fun dives. If you decide that diving is your passion and you want to advance your skills, there are options of doing Advance Open Water, Rescue Diver and Dive master (if you’re super committed and have cash to spare) on top of your Open Water, which come at a discounted rate. If you’ve no experience but know you’re gonna love diving and want to become a Dive Master, there’s a program nicknamed Zero to Hero training you from a complete newbie to a diving professional.
Different diving organisations
There’s almost what feels like an infinite list of diving certification organisations around the world. A lot of them are region/country specific (examples are BSAC, NDL and NAUI) but fundamentally, all of them are similar to one another. The more popular internationally renowned organisations that you will see floating around are PADI and SSI. It’s up to you as an individual which you want to go for and which is offered at the school you’re going to. The only significant difference is the prices.
I personally was certified under PADI.
There you have it! A quick guide on what you should know if you’re thinking about becoming a certified bad ass (aka a diver). Hope this will come useful on your next adventure! If you liked this guide, let me know what other guides you’d like me to do…
Go explore this beautiful world, on land and underwater.
Peace, love and good vibes