As divers, we often seek out exotic locales around the world, but things can go wrong. Make every dive a good dive on your next trip by avoiding these top nine dive travel regrets.
As divers, our adventurous spirits often spur travel to exotic dive spots. But things can sometimes go wrong, from problems on the dive boat to poor planning on our part. Avoid these top nine dive travel regrets (of which I have personal experience) and you’ll be much more likely to make every dive a good dive on your next trip.
My best friend and I booked a boat dive with a trusted shop, and headed out in calm seas. Things quickly went south after the boat left us in stormy open water 15 miles from shore for 1-1/2 hours. The anchor line broke while the temporary captain was asleep at the helm. Subsequently he drifted away from our group of 10, along with two divemasters, as a hurricane blew in early. The captain hadn’t marked our location and woke up many miles away. He tried to find us, but couldn’t hear our whistles or see our safety sausages in crashing 6-foot waves. Scared of the consequences, the captain waited too long to contact the dive shop for help. Although he did contact the dive shop and we were rescued, this story could have turned out much differently.
Although a boat probably won’t leave you at sea, it could happen. You may also become separated from your group due to strong currents. In any case, buy a Nautilus Lifeline or Personal Locator Beacon. Or get both, since neither works in every situation.
Before a liveaboard trip in the Maldives, I researched the boat, the flight, the country and the dive shop organizing the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t research the dive conditions in the area, which included ripping currents as well as down currents. Consequently, when a whirlpool sucked me downward during a safety stop, I was clueless and had to quickly figure out what to do while low on air deep underwater.
This would have been far easier to handle if I had been prepared. Do your research on what to expect underwater before you splash in, from a(vailable medical treatment) to z(oography).
I’ve always gone diving with respected shops. I’ve serviced my gear regularly and tested my air before every dive via a few breaths through my regulator. Imagine my shock when my service guy told me he believed I had been diving with bad air. He saw a massive amount of black soot in my regulator and hose. He explained that he had seen a number of shops with poor compressor maintenance, as well as ones that used maxi pads in lieu of the more expensive air filters.
Don’t trust your precious air to another person. Contaminated gas may not always have an unusual smell or taste, a clear warning that something is off. Buy a combo carbon-monoxide and oxygen analyzer and use it religiously on each tank.
I loved Barbados on my first visit. So when I had a four-day weekend coming up, another trip to the island made sense. I didn’t need to do any research and just knew the trip would be wonderful. It was a nice trip, but nowhere near as fantastic as the initial visit, simply because it wasn’t a new, exciting location.
Although some will disagree with me, I think returning to the same dive destination over and over is a mistake. Returning somewhere you love is easy, but with so many other incredible dive destinations for you to discover, why limit yourself?
All of my shark-, ray-, grouper- and eel-feeding dives thrilled me. Who wouldn’t want to get a kiss from a stingray as shown in my photo? It wasn’t until my dolphin dive that I became uneasy. The operation billed the dolphins as “semi-wild.” Supposedly, the animals could leave for open ocean if they liked. When the dive was blown out, the shop allowed us to swim with the dolphins in their overnight enclosure.
The pen seemed small to me, but it was the tricks the dolphins performed for food that made me begin to question whether this was ethical. A few years later, I read an article on the horrors of dolphin captivity, citing a former trainer. When I realized she had been the head trainer for the “semi-wild” dolphins I visited, I felt sick. I channeled my revulsion and anger into research on all the different types of dives where food is offered.
Although swimming with captive or semi-captive dolphins is different than feeding wild sharks on dives, I also regret participating in these types of experiences. You’ll meet divers on both sides of the feeding-dive controversy. I used to be a proponent, believing that these dives made people more aware of and interested in marine life. Now, I avoid dives where a trainer offers food. I’ve become convinced that these dives put divers and/or marine life at risk. There are so many dive spots in the world to see cool marine life. I still dive with swirling sharks, pods of dolphins, rays, groupers and eels. The difference now is that none are captive or frenzied by free food, and I have no ethical dilemmas.
I loved the Bahamian dive shop I took my friend to for her Open Water certification dives. At least until they tried to force my newly certified pal to dive very deep on an advanced dive, and then mocked me when I questioned them. I should have found another dive shop for the remainder of the trip, but I didn’t and I still regret it years later.
If you are unhappy with your dive shop or feel they are putting you at risk, change shops — simple as that. Forget about the hassle, the cost and loyalty. Your life and happiness are more important.
I waited a long time to take my camera underwater. Wanting to perfect my skills first, my 100th dive was my magical entry to underwater photography. I adored it as much as I did on land. Going through my photos after the trip, though, I realized I had spent every single day trying to take the perfect shot and didn’t enjoy the dives as much.
Take some photos to remember the trip. But unless you’re a professional photographer, don’t spend every dive trying to capture a photo you can easily find online. Unplug and just enjoy the dive.
Ever wonder what it’s like to live in another country? I found out when I got a bad case of dengue fever. I had to remain in the Philippines for six weeks at the the Culion Sanitarium Hospital, known for its historical leper colony.
Wear bug spray, all the time — day and night, even if there are few mosquitoes. Mosquitoes bit me only five times, but it only takes once. Trust me, you don’t want to get dengue (or chikungunya, Zika or malaria).
A tale of two trips: one to the Philippines where I got dengue fever and another to the Solomon Islands, where my liveaboard broke down. Both dive trips had unforeseen circumstances, but I only had flight and dive insurance during the former trip. On the latter, I also had separate travel insurance. Guess which vacation ended with a fat check from the insurance company, not only covering the entire pre-paid trip, but also ensuring that my continued stay in the area and any extra costs were covered?
Separate travel insurance is expensive, but completely worth it, so don’t skimp up front.
When it comes to safety, starting your dive properly sets the tone for the entire experience.
Making a proper ascent gets much of the attention when it comes to safety and scuba diving. From safety stops, to ascent rate, to avoiding traffic on the surface, a lot of training involves rising from the bottom. But descending for your dive is equally important, although course work does not emphasize it as much. Read on for tips on the best procedure for making a proper scuba descent.
Before you even start your descent, complete a few steps to ensure that you’re ready to descend at all. Preparing at the outset of a dive means that you won’t waste time remedying a situation once you’ve already begun.
1. Check your gear.
Before getting in the water, make sure you have everything you need for the dive. Make sure that everything is in its place and secured. There’s nothing worse than trying to descend, only to find that you’ve forgotten your weights.
2. Check the current.
Again before jumping into the water, check the current, both direction and strength. Knowing which way the water is moving will help you decide where to descend, or even if you should consider pushing the dive to a later time or date.
3. Check that you’re at the right location.
Once you’re in the water and just before you’re ready to descend, look down to make sure you’re above your intended start point. Confirm the direction you’ll be heading in once you’re at depth.
4. Check your brain.
You should already have checked in with yourself to make sure that you’re physically and mentally ready to dive, and that you simply feel good about the dive. But just as you’re about to descend, take a few seconds and a few deep, calm breaths to center yourself. Become present for the dive. Focus your mind on the activity at hand.
5. Make eye contact.
Finally, find your buddy and make sure you’re both ready to dive, and are within a reasonable distance of each other before you begin your descent.
Now that you’re prepared, you can begin your actual descent.
1. Let air out of your BCD and start the descent.
Start by letting all the air out of your BCD. You’ll float at about eye level in the water if you’re properly weighted. Exhale, pushing a bit more air out than you would during a normal exhalation, and feel yourself starting to sink. Once you’re a few feet below the surface, begin breathing normally again, but don’t take overly deep breaths, as these will make you buoyant enough to bring you back to the surface. This is probably the most common reason that new divers struggle to descend, a problem they often address with additional, and unnecessary, weight.
2. Equalize your ears.
As the saying goes, equalize your ears “early and often.” Start your equalization as soon as your head goes below the surface, and continue to do so in frequent intervals as you descend. The more often you equalize, the less force you need to apply, and you may find you need only to wiggle your jaw a bit if you get it right.
3. Keep an eye on the dive site and your buddy.
As you start to sink, keep an eye on your dive site, make adjustments for any current, and stay in touch with your buddy. Depending on the current or how far you are from your dive location, you can start slowly finning in the appropriate direction once you’re about 10 feet below the surface. Until then, you should be vertical in the water. This will not only help with your descent, but will also keep your sinuses above your lungs, which helps with equalization.
4. Add air to your BCD.
As you descend, the inherent buoyancy from your exposure suit, the air in your tank, and whatever else is giving you buoyancy decreases, so you’ll start sinking faster and faster. To avoid descending too fast, add small amounts of air to your BCD to slow your descent. While we always talk about safe ascension rates, we should also make sure we don’t descend too fast. The deeper you go; the more air you’ll need to add.
5. Come to a hover.
As you reach the bottom or your intended depth, add a bit more air to your BCD to achieve a complete hover. Stop here for a breath or two to ensure that you’re actually correctly buoyant. You should neither sink nor float up, and only change depth minimally when you inhale or exhale. Movement, such as finning, creates buoyancy, so taking a moment to hover without movement helps ensure that you are neutrally buoyant before venturing off.
6. Make like Tom Cruise.
Whenever I have new divers on a course, I challenge them to do a Mission Impossible dive. I ask them to descend vertically until they’re almost at the bottom, and then assume a horizontal position. Whoever can come closest to the bottom without touching it wins. My students practice this challenge on every descent as long as the bottom surface is suitable, i.e., a sandy bottom without any coral or anything else that can be damaged.
With just a bit of forethought, training, and a few good procedures, a proper descent can help kick your dive off right.