Most people assume that qualifying dives take place in the ocean when learning to scuba dive. However, each year thousands of people take the plunge in a freshwater environment. This can be a lake, spring, river or quarry. What are the pros and cons of learning to scuba dive in fresh water? And how do you transition to salt water once you’re certified?
There are thousands of freshwater dive-training sites around the world, but why would you choose one?
First, it may be a case of simple logistics. You may live far from the coast and getting to the sea might not be a simple task. However, there may be excellent inland training facilities on your doorstep.
Second, the sea in your area may be more challenging than a tropical reef and not a suitable training environment for inexperienced divers. On-shore winds and surge may be prevalent. Or, alternatively, local sea diving may be conducted from boats, where the depth limits and water conditions are a too challenging for introductory training.
The local inland training facility may also simply be more friendly, professional and better equipped than the sea-diving alternative for offering introductory courses.
Finally, there are countless amazing freshwater dive sites to explore, so training in that environment can be an advantage.
Benefits of learning to scuba dive in fresh water
Learning in a freshwater environment has several benefits:
- First — and most importantly — many inland, freshwater dive sites, particularly lakes and quarries, have bespoke diving facilities especially tailored for dive training. Often the site features lots of resources to expedite diver training. There may be waterside parking for easy access, equipment sales or servicing onsite, a compressor and cylinder filling stations. There may be food and refreshments available at the site. Many freshwater diving sites also have attractions beneath the surface, such as wrecks placed in certain areas of the site to create points of interest. Often these training wrecks have been cleaned of entanglements and hazards, making them perfect for training.
In addition, many freshwater training facilities have onsite emergency equipment and procedures in place. Often a rescue team with a small boat and first aid supplies are just seconds away.
- From a practical standpoint, the lower density of fresh water — as opposed salt water — means that you’ll need to carry a little less weight. While the difference is only usually two to four pounds (1 to 2 kg), the reduced weight is a bonus if you’re walking to or from a shore- entry dive site. New divers not used to the weight of a full scuba kit can find the physical process challenging and additional weight can become a stressor.
- Logistically, there is rarely a long boat ride at a freshwater dive site. Many are shore dives, so you can enter the water and complete your training without worrying about time and tide. Diving a non-tidal environment means that visibility and water level usually remain consistent throughout the season, making for a more controlled setting. And, your new equipment won’t become encrusted with salt and you can clean it more easily when you’re done diving.
- Socially, at many freshwater dive-training sites, there will be lots of other new divers completing their initial training. On surface intervals, you may have the opportunity to chat and exchange stories, tips and experiences.
- Many freshwater dive sites have unique wildlife or topography that you simply won’t find at a saltwater dive site.
While there are many benefits to learning to scuba dive in fresh water, there are some considerations to be mindful of — and to carry along when you transition to the ocean.
- In colder, freshwater diving environments, regulator systems are more prone to free-flowing, which can cause issues both above and below the surface. If you’re learning to dive in a colder freshwater environment, be sure you have the right regulator for the job.
- Being smaller than the oceans, freshwater dive sites can become very busy. Choose your time to dive them wisely to avoid becoming part of a diver-soup.
- Taking your initial training in fresh water can trip you up when it comes to your weighting in salt water. When you assemble your weight system for your initial sea dives, add an extra two to four pounds (1 to 2 kg) with all other factors being equal. Complete a weight and trim check at the beginning of the dive.
- Inland freshwater dive sites are sometimes exclusively shore dives. These are unexposed to the tide and water movement of an ocean dive site. If you haven’t dived from a boat before, find out the proper procedures when you do. Listen to the briefings. Similarly, if you’re diving in a tidal region or in a location with currents for the first time, obtain a local orientation. When necessary, train for diving in that region. Take the proper equipment for the location and consult a local dive operator if you’re unsure.
There are several good reasons to make your initial training dives at a freshwater dive site. And, when qualified, there are some stunning freshwater sites in various parts of the world to explore. However, mind the differences when transitioning between the two environments. This will ensure that you have safe and enjoyable dives.