Parents with newly certified children will most likely go through all the same anxiety that they went through themselves as new divers. Even now, with our son’s logbook boasting 79 dives over the last three years, I watch him on a dive more than I do the reef, my gauges, my husband or anything else. After all, we spend much of our time trying to keep our kids safe, and now they’re engaged in a sport that is considered more “high-risk” by life insurance companies than driving a car. Here are some tips to help you be a good dive buddy to your child — without tethering them to you on a retractable leash.
No. 1: Begin with the basics.
New divers, or those who have not been diving in a while, need bottom time, and parents need time to form their own assessment of their child’s diving ability. Spend time in a quarry, shallow lake, or shore diving where there’s a gentle slope. Doing some dives where your child did his or her open-water certification can be a great way to make you both more comfortable in the water, and should allow you the opportunity to assess their ability while practicing or refreshing skills.
No. 2: Repeat and remind.
Just like with anything else, it is important to cover the rules of diving again and again with your children. Talk about the rules of the buddy system — keeping close to each other, getting your buddy’s attention before going off to look at something, checking on each other’s air, etc. You should do this at least before every dive trip, if not before every dive. Children are eager and excited to jump in the water when they get to a dive site, so the continual reminders will increase their awareness about safety.
No. 3: Plan the dive and add a challenge.
It can be unnerving to let your kids explore because, in my experience, they will think of it like running in all directions on a playground. Children can be easily distracted and “wander” off on a dive, so plan to head in a certain direction, and make it an out-and-back dive if possible. Engage them in a game of show and tell, where you alternate picking out something to show each other. This will keep them focused on you to see what you’ve found, and will require them to stay close to get your attention when they want to show you something.
No. 4: When diving on a wall or on a deeper site, talk about additional hazards.
Keep in mind that your child may not be as attuned to significant depth changes on a wall, especially in very clear water, so you need to talk about staying cognizant of it before you begin the dive. Explain that they can go a lot deeper (or shallower) than they intend to very quickly, and that they must monitor their gauges more than they typically do. You can also ask them more often how much air they have to keep them looking at their gauges.
No. 5: Sometimes it’s okay to hover.
Finally, even though you want to give them their space, if the diving conditions are such that you are nervous for them, trust your parental instincts. It is completely acceptable for you to “let them lead” on the dive while you gently hold onto a tank valve or a ring on the edge of their BC. Odds are that they will not even realize that you’re holding onto them. If you think they may be uncomfortable on a dive, remind them that they’re welcome to hold onto your BC or you can even just hold hands.
Adding your child to a dive may never result in the comfort level you feel while diving with a spouse, sibling, or friend, but it’s exhilarating to watch them discover the underwater world. Diving repeatedly and frequently with your child, as well as continually reviewing safety and good diving habits, will help to make both of you the best buddies you can be.