What not to do when you’re learning to dive
By Shelley Collett
We’ve all been there — when you’re a new diver, it’s easy to make inadvertent mistakes. Here are 10 to avoid as you hone your underwater skills.
1. Skipping the Buoyancy Check
Whether you are over-weighted or under-weighted while diving, it happened because you didn’t do a buoyancy check at the surface. If anything has changed since your last check — weight loss or gain, new wetsuit or different thickness, fresh water instead of salt water, new or different BCD — then you need to do another one to make sure that you’re weighted properly. The wrong weights can cost you precious energy and air at best, or cause an out-of-control ascent at worst.
2. Diving Outside Your Training Limits
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new dive site, and to feel like you’ll be fine because you’ve got someone with you who has more advanced training. This is often a big mistake. Most diving accidents happen because a diver was not properly prepared for the conditions in which they were diving. Don’t ever think that additional training or experience is a waste of money or time. Every year, divers who have never taken a wreck, cave or cavern class die inside cave systems. Nearly as often, divers without proper training die inside the overhead environment of wrecks, too. Get proper training before attempting any dive above your skill level.
3. Lack of Buddy Communication
Whether it’s your friend or a family member, or even an insta-buddy, communication is essential. From early training classes on, I see divers who don’t even know where their buddy is at any given time. Keeping tabs on the person who may be called upon to help save your life — or whose life you may have to save — should be your top priority. Go over your hand signals so there’s less confusion down below; keep a watchful eye on your buddy’s location so you always know how far away they are; and keep tabs on their air as well as your own.
4. Lack of Situational Awareness
New divers tend to focus on one or two specific things, such as their equipment or the marine life, and miss the bigger picture. This is understandable, but it’s also dangerous. While you’re staring at the pretty fish or fussing with your mask, you may be getting pushed down current and lose the group or the boat. One of the most common issues involves new divers being unaware of their depth. Wall dives in particular are notorious for this, as divers stare at the wall and marine life and don’t pay attention to an unnoticed descent. In some places, a down current could push divers down, and far past recreational limits if they’re not careful. Lack of situational awareness is also an issue when divers swim with their arms, as they’re often unaware of other divers nearby.
5. Not Watching Air Consumption
New divers are famous for completely ignoring their air-pressure gauge, which is frightening since air is the single most important thing to a diver. I try to train my students to keep such a close watch on their air that when I ask them how much they have, they shouldn’t have to look to know. Watch your air and know at all times how much you have — there is absolutely no excuse for neglecting this. After your dives, chart your air consumption so that on future dives in similar conditions you’ll be able to estimate how much air you’ll need.
6. Straining on the Surface
New divers always seem to forget they can inflate their BCD at the surface and just kick back and relax. My students often struggle to tread water after surfacing, even if they inflate their BCD. They often continue to kick out of sheer instinct, tiring themselves out in the process. Diving gear is uncomfortable on the surface, so it may take some practice to learn to relax with it. Your best bet is to inflate your BC enough so that you can lean back slightly and relax your legs.
7. Using the Power Inflator Too Much Underwater
While many newer divers tend to forget about inflating their BCD at the surface, they never seem to forget about it underwater. Inflate, deflate, inflate, deflate — that seems to be the habit of most new divers instead of learning good buoyancy control. It practice to perfect, but that’s difficult to do if you’re always reaching for your power inflator.
8. Task Loading
You’re on a beautiful reef with spectacular marine life, so it makes sense that you want to take pictures. But newer divers already have a lot to deal with — adding more can be detrimental. I’ve seen divers on their first open water dives, alone in a brand new environment, wearing new equipment and carrying expensive cameras and lighting equipment. Try not to do too much at once when you’re still learning new habits. Once you have a few dives under your belt in various conditions, and are familiar with your new dive gear, then break out the fancy camera equipment and fire at will.
9. Not Equalizing Soon Enough
Despite going over and over it in class, many new divers still wait until they feel pain or pressure before equalizing. Aside from physical problems in the ears, this is the most common reason divers have difficulty equalizing in the first place. Once you’re experiencing pain, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to equalize your ears. Even trying to do so could cause irritation and inflammation, making it even harder on the next dive. Equalize every couple of feet on your way down, before you feel pain or pressure, and especially in the first 30 feet. If you do feel pain, ascend a little and then try to equalize. Don’t force it; you could end up causing damage.
10. Relying Solely on a Guide
I understand if you don’t want to learn how to navigate with a compass, or try to figure out the best dive pattern for a dive site, but placing all of your trust in a guide and neglecting to pay any attention to where you are is dangerous. I’ve seen divers completely ignore dive briefings about currents, marine life, bottom times and depth limits because they feel they don’t need to think about any of that since they have a guide. I’m not claiming that the trust is misplaced, only that every diver must be responsible for himself even if he is relying on a guide to show him around. Pay attention during the dive briefing; take notice of landmarks and directions while swimming; be an active participant in your own dive adventure and responsible for your own safety. Doing so will help keep you and the people with you safer, make the journey more enjoyable, and make you a better diver.
(originally printed in Scuba Diving September 2011)
Diving Tips: Saving Air
Do you breathe your tank down faster than your buddy? Here are 5 diving tips to help conserve your oxygen and extend your bottom time.
1. Fix the small leaks
Even a tiny stream of bubbles from an O-ring or an inflator swivel adds up over 40 minutes, and may be a sign of more serious trouble ahead anyway. A mask that doesn't seal is another kind of leak in that you have to constantly blow air into it to clear out the water. It's also a source of stress, which needlessly elevates your breathing rate and thereby reduces your breathing efficiency. Does your octopus free-flow easily? That can dump a lot of air quickly. Detune it or mount it carefully so the mouthpiece points downward.
2. Dive More
Inexperienced divers are famous for burning through their air supply at a furious rate, so one of the best diving tips for saving air is to simply dive more often. You may not be a new diver, but unless you dive almost every week it's still an unnatural activity. By diving more, your body will get used to the idea, and you'll breathe less.
3. Swim Slowly
The energy cost of speed is even more than you might think: Swim half as fast as you do now, and you'll use less air.
4. Stay Shallow
Because your regulator has to deliver air at the same pressure as the water, a lungful at 33 feet (two atmospheres) takes twice as much out of your tank as does the same breath at the surface. At 99 feet (four atmospheres) it takes twice as much as at 33 feet. There's absolutely nothing you can do about that except to avoid being deeper than you have to be. If you're making a transit over an uninteresting sand flat to get to the edge of the drop-off, do it at 15 feet instead of at 40 feet, and you'll save air.
5. Minimize the Lead
If you're over-weighted, you have to put more air into your BC to float it and be neutral. The inflated BC is larger and requires more energy and oxygen to push it through the water. An extra eight pounds of lead means your BC is one gallon bigger when inflated enough to make you neutral.
Adapted from an article by John Brumm of Sport Diver magazine
Night diving is special because even a familiar site looks different at night. When you make a day dive, you normally scan the entire dive site looking at your surroundings. At night, you see only the area of the dive site that is lit by your light. This forces you to slow down and concentrate on that one area.
Stay close and shallow. Night dives tend to be shallow, so you’ll have plenty of bottom time to go slow and take it all in. Colours, for example, are much more vivid on a night dive than they are during the day. It’s simple dive physics. If you’re making a daytime dive in 66 feet of water, sunlight gets absorbed, stealing away the colours. On a night dive, your light source is never more than five or 10 feet away, so the water doesn’t take away any of the light spectrum.
Redefine “night.” When the sun is low in the sky, very little light penetrates the surface, making it pretty dark underwater, even when there is still a fair amount of light above. Diving at dusk is a good way to start your night-diving career. You have the convenience of gearing up when it is relatively light, but get the full effect of making a night dive. On ocean dusk dives, you also have the added benefit of watching the reef creatures migrate through a kind of “shift change” as the day animals disappear and the night animals come out to play.
Get the right gear. You’ll need a primary dive light and a backup light. The primary light should be the larger and brighter of the two. How large and how bright? That’s up to you, and your choice may vary depending on the clarity of the water. When shopping for a light, try out several as some have different grips and handles to suit your personal preferences. Your backup – or pocket – light should be small enough to stow easily, yet bright enough to help you find your way back home. Most lights designed for this purpose are smaller and typically shaped more like a traditional flashlight. Remember, though, that if the primary light fails and you switch to your backup, it’s time to end the dive. We are reviewing dive lights later this year, but for our 2012 Editor’s Pick for Best Dive light, read about the Sola Dive 500
Tie one on. Most dive lights come with a way to attach a lanyard or wrist strap. Get one. It’s cheap insurance against dropping and losing your primary source of illumination. Most dive lights are negatively buoyant; if you drop one in deep water it may be gone forever.
Know the signals. If there’s one aspect of night diving that is more complicated than day diving, it's communication. You and your buddy should review hand signals before entering the water and agree on the ones you'll use. You have two options: One is to shine the light on your hands so your buddy can see what you’re saying. The other is to make signals using your light. You can signal “OK” and “Yes” or “No” by moving your light in a circle, or up and down, or side to side. You can even get your buddy’s attention by circling or “lassoing” his light beam and then pulling it toward you. If you’ve practiced this beforehand, your buddy will know what you’re doing.
Should you become separated from your buddy, get vertical and shine your light outward while turning a full circle. Your buddy should do the same and chances are you’ll spot each other. If you surface far from the dive boat, point your light at the boat until you get the crew’s attention, then shine it down on your head so the crew can see you clearly.
Aim carefully. On any night dive, you should treat your light like a loaded gun. Never shine your light directly into another diver’s eyes — you can ruin his night vision.
Go easy on the light. First-time night divers tend to buy the biggest, brightest beam they can find and cling to it like a security blanket. As you gain experience diving at night and get comfortable, you’ll find smaller primary dive lights do just as well, particularly in clear water. On some night dives, lights of other divers, the boat and the moon can provide so much ambient light that you may leave your torch off for much of the dive.
If you do need a light, you may not need its full power. Some LEDs have a half-power setting you can use to dial back the brightness. Or try dimming your light by cupping your fingers over it. In any case, you’ll see more natural behaviours if you use the edge of the pool of light, not the hot spot, to pick out fish and critters.
One of the unique things about night diving in the ocean is bioluminescence. Some varieties of single-celled plankton give off light when they are disturbed underwater. Your fin kicks or a wave of your hand can create an explosion of undersea sparks, but you’ll miss the show in anything but dark conditions.
Do reconnaissance. Before you make your first night dive on a site, you should dive it during the day. This allows you to learn the layout of the site and get comfortable with it.
Mark the way home. If you’re diving from shore, rather than from a boat, you should also place lights on the beach. It's a good idea to have two lights close together at your entry/exit point and then a third farther away. This gives you something to swim for after the dive when you're swimming back in.
Making a night dive from a boat brings with it a different set of concerns. The boat should be marked with a flashing strobe you can use to find your way back. When surfacing near the boat, shine your light toward the surface and watch carefully to avoid colliding with the hull.
Have fun! Most important, relax and enjoy the dive. It’s natural to be a little anxious before stepping in the dark void of an unlit ocean or lake, but it’s also exciting. When you overcome your anxieties about night diving, you get another eight hours of each precious dive day to explore and create new and lasting dive memories.
What happens if you get separated from your buddy or the boat after finishing a night dive? There’s a reason why we recommend carrying at least two safety signalling devices when you are diving at night.
Night Dives at Turtle B ay Dive Resort
We recomend three great sites for night dives at Turtle Bay Dive Resort:
- Our house reef - easy shore dive, lots of special stuff including manadarin fish (just before dusk), electric clams and lots more;
- The Muck Dive Site by Moalboal Town pier - a lot of really unusual stuff you will not find anywhere else including star gazers; and
- Pescaor island - beautiful coral and a chance to see sharks come up from the depths
Announcing its ambitious target of 10 million visistors per year by 2016, the Philippines Department of Tourism (PDOT) said it plans to position the country as a “must-experience destination” in the Asia Pacific region, with the roll out of tactical marketing campaigns, promotions and other initiatives.
“We have a very high target for visitors by 2016, but believe this is achievable. We have plans in the next few years to work closely with the hospitality industry, by focusing on market development, hosting familiarisation trips, sales missions and trainings,” said Ramon Jimenez Jr, the Philippines’ Secretary of Tourism.
Attracting 10 million visitors in 2016 would be an impressive achievement for the Philippines, as it would mark a 150% jump in tourist arrivals in just five years. In 2011 the country attracted 3.92 million international visitors – itself a new record – and is expected to break the four million barrier this year. In the first nine months of 2012, the Philippines had welcomed 3.15 million tourists – up 9% year-on-year.
The recently-launched tourism marketing campaign, ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’, combined with increased air access, could make the target achievable. Resurgent national carrier Philippine Airlines, which secured investment from the San Miguel brewery earlier this year, has placed orders for dozens of new aircraft, while low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific is also growing rapidly in the international market. Both airlines are planning to expand into the long-haul market in 2013, with routes to Australia, the Middle East, North America and Europe being discussed. Any direct European services however, would be dependent on the European Commission removing restrictions on Philippine carriers, all of which are currently banned from flying in EU airspace.
The PDOT is committing to its marketing strategy. It recently created a new tourism video to back up the ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’, highlighting key tourism destinations such as Palawan, Cebu and Boracay, and is also creating online promotional games.
Have you palnned your Philippine vacation so you can experince "More Fun in the Philippines"?