New to Scuba Diving? Here Are My Diving Tips.

Photo: Rhett Allain. A photo of my wife scuba diving in the Bahamas. Note: this is an old picture before those easy days of digital cameras.

Oh, I hear you are going to start a scuba diving class. Or maybe you headed off for a 2 month adventure where you do a WHOLE bunch of scuba diving including scuba certification all the way through Dive Master. Great. I’m sure you will have fun. I’m going to give you some of my best scuba tips.

But what the heck do I know? OK, I’ll be honest — all my scuba knowledge is pretty old since my prime diving days in the 90s. During that time, I did a BUNCH of dives. Mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, but in lots of other places too. I was also into cave diving. We did a bunch of stuff in the panhandle of Florida.

Photo:Rhett Allain. Not technically cave diving — but this is me in my cave set up at Blue Water Park (Pelhman, AL).

I also did a deep air course (down to 220 feet) — but I don’t think people do that anymore. If you are going to go that deep, you should use trimix which is much more available now. Finally, as a dive master, I helped out with many open water scuba courses.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the scuba advice (in no particular order).

Don’t Depend on Your Dive Buddy

One of the big ideas in your open water scuba course is that you need to dive with a buddy. Your buddy can help you check your gear before a dive and will be there to help you in an emergency. We can all use a buddy. Here’s one of my dive buddies.

Photo: Rhett Allain. Scuba diving in Destin Florida. Charter via Scuba Tech. From left to right: Boat mate Steve Miller, Ashley Allain, Rhett Allain.

But here’s the thing. Your buddy is only there in case you need help — but don’t plan on relying on your buddy. You need to be in charge of your own dive. Oh, but it happens. Sometimes you will see a dominate diver with a follower diver. But what would happen if the leader got into some type of trouble. Would the other diver be able to take charge? I hope so.

So, this means that you need to plan your dive, manage your time and depth, keep track of your air. That’s your job, not your buddy’s job.

Every Dive is a Decompression Dive. Use Safety Stops

Yes, I’ve done a bunch of deco dives. I remember this one cave dive where we had 2 and half hours of deco. BORING. Oh, what is a deco dive? When you are underwater and breathing air, most of the air (79 percent) is nitrogen. Your body doesn’t use this nitrogen but it gets absorbed into your tissues. Then, when you move to lower pressures (shallower depth) this nitrogen leaves your tissues and goes into your blood. If the amount of nitrogen is too high and the change in pressure too great, then this nitrogen can form bubbles in your blood. These bubbles are super bad. They can even kill you. Yes, this is called the bends.

Photo: Rhett Allain. Deco stop in Blue Water Park, Pelham, AL. From left to right: Jeff Dunlap, Rhett Allain.

So, to prevent the bends you need to do a deco stop. This is a timed stop during your ascent at some particular depth. You wait there to let the nitrogen outgas at a smaller pressure differential. After enough nitrogen is out, you can transition to a greater pressure differential (more shallow). At some point, this pressure difference can even be at the surface.

For a normal open water dive, you plan your time based on the depth (along with your previous nitrogen loading from a previous dive). The calculated dive time is essentially how long you can stay down such that any required deco time takes place during your ascent to the surface (assuming you ascend slowly). So you don’t have to actually stop. But it’s STILL a deco dive.

The bad thing about dive tables and dive computers (to calculate your time at depth) is that they are just approximations. Every human is different. So, it’s entirely possible that you could still get bent by following the tables (especially in extreme cases).

Now, say hello to the safety stop. The safety stop is a pause usually at around 15 feet of depth on your way up from a dive. It’s basically a deco stop even if you don’t technically need it. DON’T SKIP YOUR SAFETY STOP. Really, what’s your rush? If you have air in your tank at this safety stop, might as well use it. Right? Also, you shouldn’t be burning through that much air at 15 feet anyway. So, don’t get anxious about getting out of the water — just do the safety stop (maybe like 5 minutes).

Air Management

You don’t want to be labeled as an air hog (someone who always runs low on air first). Honestly, there’s one simple trick to improve your air consumption and then there’s one thing you should never do.

Let’s start with the bad thing. It’s called “skip breathing”. The basic idea is to inhale, hold your breath for a short bit and then exhale and breath again. Seriously — DON’T DO THIS. Even if it does work at saving air, you increase your chance of carbon dioxide poisoning (build up of CO2). Oh, don’t forget that you shouldn’t be holding your breath anyway while diving. Why not? Well, if you hold your breath and then ascend — the air in your lungs can expand to the point where bad stuff happens (air embolism).

Here’s what you SHOULD do — just be calm. Yes, if you are calm underwater and you breath calmly you will use much less air. Oh, I remember when I first started diving and I breathed A LOT. Full inhale, full exhale — bubbles everywhere. I wasn’t calm. But now when I dive, I usually have the most air left in my tank. That extra air is great in case of emergencies.

Know Your Gear, Be Your Gear.

Your scuba gear is the stuff that keeps you alive so you really should be familiar with how it works. I’m not saying you should service your own regulators, but if you know how they work — you can know when somethings not quite right.

The same is true for the rest of your stuff. Be sure you know how to operate your dive computer, your lights and other gear. Oh, don’t forget to rinse that stuff off after going in salt water.

Know When to Say When.

Sometimes things just don’t work out right. Maybe the current is too high or you are just not feeling well. Yes, I know you spent all this time traveling to go scuba diving, but if it’s not right then don’t go. No one wants to call off a dive — but if you put yourself in a situation that you aren’t ready for, it can be worse than canceling.

This can be even more difficult when you are diving and traveling with someone. It’s possible that the other person is ready to dive and you aren’t. That’s just the way it is sometimes. It’s OK. If it’s on a charter boat, they can usually find another buddy to dive with — hopefully.

Dives Are Better Than Certifications.

Yes, you might be a certified dive master — but there’s no replacement for experience. Just because you completed that advanced open water course doesn’t automatically mean you are ready for every dive.

Don’t worry about going to fast. Take your time. Dive the dives you are comfortable with. With more experience comes a greater proficiency.

--

--

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. WIRED blogger.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Rhett Allain

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. WIRED blogger.