There are many things that we can do to improve ourselves as a diver and it starts before you even enter the water. From making sure you have the appropriate equipment for a dive to keeping your skills up to date; here are a few useful tips that you can apply to ensure you are the best diver you can be.
Know Your Equipment
Before you dive it is important to make sure that you have the correct scuba equipment for the type of diving you are planning. Ensuring your equipment fits correctly can sometimes be difficult if you do not own your own, that said it doesn’t mean that you cannot have a good dive in rental gear too. When using equipment that you have not used before it is important to familiarise yourself with it before you enter the water.
This starts from the initial set up. Make sure that during equipment set up you check you know how to inflate and deflate the BCD, check where all the quick releases are located and ensure you understand the particular weight system for that model if it has one. Next step is to check the regulator you are using is easy to breathe from and there are no leaks from any of the hoses.
If you have your own equipment, again make sure you have familiarized yourself with its use thoroughly and make sure it’s in good working order and serviced regularly by a qualified technician.
You should also consider any specialist equipment that you may need for the dive. SMB’s and Compasses should be standard equipment for any sensible diver. If planning to dive a wreck, ensure you have torch, lines and a reel before descending so you can safely enter and exit the wreck.
Use the Buddy System
Before any good diver enters the water, they perform a Pre-Dive Safety check with their buddy. There are 5 things we check so we are confident that both you and your buddy are safe and ready to go diving. BCD, weights, Releases, Air and the Final check are the steps or check list we use to ensure that all our equipment is in good working order as well as to become familiar with your buddy’s equipment and weight system. This is particularly important in the unlikely event of an emergency where you may need to remove your buddy’s equipment.
While underwater it is important to stay close so as to not lose one another, or be too far away to help your buddy if there is a problem. Maintaining good communication between you and your buddy is essential. Discuss hand signals before the dive and make sure throughout the dive that you both have sufficient air and are well within your No Decompression time. Remember to always follow the most conservative computer.
Diving with a buddy is not just about safety, but practicality and mostly for fun! You have someone to share those wonderful underwater experiences and adventures with.
Plan Your Dive and Dive Your Plan
Dive planning is another important step to discuss before you embark on a dive. Whether it is with a buddy that you will dive with or a Divemaster who is leading you around the dive site, it is a vital part of any safe dive. Agree on an objective- what you would like to achieve during the dive. Whether it be hitting a certain depth or observing certain marine life – it is always good to have a purpose before going underwater to avoid confusion underwater.
Next look at the dive site itself either by map or have someone who is familiar with the site explain to you. Think about your objective and any hazards or points of interest. Agree on a maximum depth and time and also your turn point. Consider both remaining air pressure and no decompression limits when determining this. Be aware of lost diver procedures and emergency protocol as these can vary from place to place.
If diving without a guide familiarise yourself with the key points of the site so you are able to how to navigate the site effectively and take the appropriate equipment so you can get back to the exit point safely. Discuss communication underwater with your buddy or buddies and remember underwater communication does vary; people may use different signals, so it is important everyone is on the same page before descending.
Dive For You
Scuba diving is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable activity, so you shouldn’t put yourself in any situation that is beyond your comfort level, either mentally or physically. If you are put in a situation that you feel you are trained for, or is beyond your level of experience make your feelings known to your buddy or the Divemaster.
After all if you spend your whole dive worrying about something and you cannot address it, you won’t find your dive enjoyable and this may put you off diving in the future.
Don’t be afraid to suggest a change of location or cancel your dive if you feel the conditions are beyond your comfort level or training. Dive sites can vary dramatically from place to place, day to day and sometimes even the time of day can be a factor regarding currents, visibility and surface conditions.
Sometimes a challenge can be fun, but be wary of trying something new underwater without correct training or supervision. Having the appropriate training is essential for deep diving, wrecks and other overhead environments. Enriched air nitrox can extend your bottom time but make sure you know the proper procedures for diving with it as this is different from diving on regular air.
Practice Your Descents and Ascents
Descending for a dive, doesn’t sound particularly complicated. After all it’s just going underwater, however situations can arise that make you descent a little less simple. As we discussed earlier it is important to make a plan before we dive. This should include descent and ascent procedures. This can depend on the type of dive that you are doing and some descents can take a little more practice.
For example a shore dive descent and ascent can be gradual and a significant part of the dive, whereas when boat diving you usually descent directly onto or nearby the dive site. In the PADI Open Water Course, you learn a few different types of descents. First of all you use a line to begin your dive, as you deflate the BCD you slowly descend down the line holding on as you go. This is helpful for beginners to help with equalizing and encourage nice slow descents.
You also learn how to descend using a visual reference and finally move on to what we call a ‘Free Descent’. This descent technique focuses on a descent with your buddy using your computer or depth gauge as a reference rather than something physical on the dive site. A slow descent is encouraged so you can equalize comfortably as well as avoid a rapid descent into deep water where divers can experience disorientation.
When ascending from a dive it is very important we keep a slow pace. If we exceed our safe ascent limit there is an increased possibility of DCS. If you maintain an ascent rate of 18 meters per minute, or slower you won’t have any problems. Dive computer ascent rate are even more conservative than this, so follow your computer if you have one. This will ensure a super slow and safe ascent rate.
Once you reach the surface after a dive, or while on the surface before a dive, always ensure that you are positively buoyant. This is not only to make sure you are safe but also to help conserve energy.
As soon as you reach the surface after a dive, or while on the surface before a dive, always ensure that you are positively buoyant. This is not only to make sure you are safe but also to help conserve your energy.
Practice Makes Perfect
Basic skills can be lifesaving in the unlikely event of an emergency. Skills such a signaling for and how to use a buddy’s alternate air source are critical should an emergency arise. Other important skills for increased comfort underwater include clearing your mask or remove and replace your weight system underwater.
Once you are comfortable and confident with your dive skills you can build confidence as a diver in the knowledge that’s you can handle a variety of situations should they arise? Foresight is an important skill to have when thinking about preventing accidents, and this comes much easier when you are confident in yourself ensuring you avoid situations that may stimulate panic or in helping others when in need.
The more you dive, the better diver you will become. Whilst the most important skill for a diver is buoyancy, this is something we are continuously practicing on every dive. Other skills you may not have repeated since your initial entry level training and it is important not to forget these skills. With this in mind you should always refresh your scuba skills by completing a scuba review if you’ve been out of the water for a while.
Author: Nina Horne (PADI MSDT #355693)