So you've heard about SCUBA diving from friends, or maybe you have even given it a go whilst on holiday, and you are now a little curious. Find out how you go about learning to dive here, and also what to expect on your course.
Being a PADI instructor, I can tell you exactly what to expect on your PADI Open Water course, however there are many ways to learn to dive. You have BSAC, SSI, NAUI, to name just a few, and all these different agencies are basically different methods of learning very similar fundamental skills. The most commonly known, and internationally recognised dive training agency does happen to be PADI, which is the system I know, so I will fill you in on that one. Just bear in mind that the system that you choose may vary slightly from this.
In order to be an independent diver, certified to dive to 18M with a buddy, you will need to complete your Open Water course. You can do a Scuba Diver course first if you prefer, which certifies you to dive to a maximum depth of 12M and only under the direct care of a PADI professional. Or if you are really unsure as to whether you are going to like this at all, you can have an even smaller taster by doing a "Discover Scuba Diving" session where you complete a few simple skills in shallow waters or a swimming pool, before going on a small, shallow dive with the instructor to see if this is something you want to do.
Assuming that it is the Open Water course that you wish to undertake, there are certain things you should consider before you even book the course. First up is your health. Whilst there is no need to be a fitness freak, you do need to be in fairly good health and there will be a medical questionnaire prior to your course, in order to help you assess your own fitness to dive. Most health issues do not cause a major problem with diving, however there are some that are potential problems so do need checking out with a doctor before you consider going under water on a SCUBA system.
You also need to be relatively comfortable in water. Usually at the start of your course, you will complete a 200M swim (in your own time and using any stroke) and a 10minute float (or tread water, whichever works for you). This is a way for us to see that you are indeed comfortable in water, relatively fit, and that you can hold your own whilst out of your depth, as well as being a good confidence builder.
The theory aspect of the course consists of five videos with corresponding quizzes and knowldege reviews. During these you learn about the physical aspects of being underwater, how to plan your dives, how to be prepared for diving in the sea and under different conditions among other things. It is even possible to complete this part of your course on line, in your own time, with the PADI E-learning system if you prefer. Once this has been completed a final exam is taken to ensure that it has all sunk in. Don't worry, no essays are involved, it is essentially a re-wording of the multiple choice quizzes that you will have already completed.
With an instructor, you will also complete five confined water sessions (each introducing and building up your basic dive skills). These will take place in a swimming pool or in the sheltered shallows of the sea or lake. The instructor will explain the skills during a briefing, demonstrate each skill underwater before you then practice the skill yourself.
Finally, you will get to do four open water dives in the sea or a lake, over a couple of days, during which you will repeat some, but not all of the skills you learned earlier in the course.
Your course is likely to last around four days (depending on the dive centre, number of students and their comfort levels), and you are likely to be on the course for the bulk of the day with both water sessions and classroom sessions on the first two days. This was one of the most rewarding weeks of my life, and you only get such a reward by completing something that is a worthy challenge.
To make life easier for yourself, you can buy a copy of the latest PADI Open Water manual (Let's go Diving!) ahead of your course. You will need one for the course anyway, and if you read through and complete the knowledge reveiews before you start, you will be well and truly ahead of the game... no homework for you!
Another way of doing your course is in two sections, which is called a referral. You can complete your theory and pool sessions at home with one dive centre, whilst doing the four open water dives somewhere nice and warm with another dive centre. This is not the cheapest way, however it means that you do not spend the first few days of your holiday, sat in a classroom watching videos, and sitting in a pool. Instead you get to go straight in the sea to complete your first Open Water dive!
By the end of the course, you will have learned how to plan your dive safely, set up your kit, and dive with a buddy. You will have learned how to prevent or deal with potential incidents that could occur during your dive and how to control your buoyancy and direction in the water. Assuming you are successful (it is not a guaranteed pass), you are now certified to dive with your buddy to a maximum depth of 18M, in similar conditions to your course environment. So bear in mind, learning in an idyllic tropical location means that you are likely to need some further training and experience before embarking on diving under more challenging conditions. Assume that you have just passed your driving test, you wouldn't go straight onto the motorway, well the same goes with diving, build your experiences little by little. This way your skills and confidence build at an equal pace, rather than jumping in at the deep end (literally) and at best putting yourself off diving altogether, at worst putting yourself or your buddy in danger.
Don't forget to use it or lose it... things can get rusty, so keep diving. The more you dive, the more fun you will have and the happier you will be in the water. If you do have a break, then do make sure you request a Scuba Review, more for yourself than anyone else, just to refresh your skills. Certainly if you have a break of a year, then most decent dive centres will insist that you have a review of some kind depending on your experience levels.
Dive safe... dive happy :)
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