Learning to scuba dive requires mastering certain skills and remembering specific rules. And diving safely requires remembering those skills and rules. However, lots of certified divers leave large periods of time between dives. Months or years may pass between dives due to financial or family circumstances, or you may only dive once a year on an annual vacation. In any case, if you haven’t been diving for a while, it’s wise to take a scuba refresher course.
Both PADI and SSI, the two largest training agencies, offer refreshers. In each case, a professional diver will review your knowledge and help you hone your skills in confined water. Finally, they’ll sign your logbook to confirm that you’re ready to dive. But why should you take a refresher at all? Why not just jump straight back in? Here are a few top reasons.
Refresh your scuba mind
Like a second language, unused scuba knowledge fades over time. Dive-tour operators expect a certified diver to safely plan and execute dives in accordance with their qualification. Their role is not to re-teach a course. Dive planning, procedures and behavior often need reinforcing. Can you remember how to plan your dives within no-stop limits? What should you do if you’re separated from your buddy? Or if you run low on air? What are the signs and symptoms of DCS? What should you do if caught in a current? Working with a professional will bring you back up to speed and help you begin thinking like a diver again.
Consider it a dress rehearsal
Many dive centers and resorts will expect you to prepare and assemble your own equipment, know how much weight you need and check that all is functioning correctly. A scuba refresher will help you review the correct way to assemble your scuba unit and remind you of common mistakes to avoid. If you’re not sure about your weights — or where they go — a refresher gives you a chance to fine tune these potential issues.
Smooth the rough edges
Many divers forget the correct dive procedures after a period of inactivity and may pick up bad scuba habits. Running through some of the key skills with a professional will help remind you of the correct procedures. These include not only basics like regulator recovery, but also the key parts of a buddy check, safe entries and exits, and correct descent and ascent procedures. If you’re anxious about any skills, this is the perfect opportunity to practice in a controlled environment. The watchful eye of a pro can also help iron out any bad habits you’ve picked up over the years, whether that’s premature mask removal, poor finning technique, weighting, buoyancy control, or configuring your equipment in a poor way.
What if it all goes wrong?
Scuba diving is a very safe sport. However, we’re all diving in an alien environment and, if something goes wrong, there is a risk attached. It’s critical for the safety of you and your dive buddy to know what to do if you find yourself in a low-on-air emergency situation. Strangely though, certified divers rarely practice these skills. Running through them skills under the guardianship of a professional diver allows you to practice them in a safe, risk-free environment so that they become more instinctive in the unlikely event something does go wrong.
Test your equipment
If you’re about to jet off to the other side of the world, it’s sensible to test your equipment before you go. On a liveaboard boat 100 miles offshore is not the place to find you have an issue with your regulators, computer or BCD. Similarly, if your equipment is just back from service, you can test it before you make the journey. Regulators, in particular, have a margin of adjustment at service and it’s prudent to test them before doing a big dive.
Dive computers also bear special consideration, as each has a subtly different display and user interface. If you’ve treated yourself to a new dive computer, 100 feet (30 m) underwater is not the place to try to decipher the display for the first time. Instead, take it for a test dive on your refresher course. Learn how the display presents information in a controlled environment.
Save a dive
Many conscientious dive centers will, sensibly, insist that a long-inactive diver takes some form of scuba refresher course or check dive before attempting more challenging dives, no matter what their qualification. This can be frustrating, but it’s best for both your safety and the other divers and dive staff. Don’t spend valuable time on your dive trip doing a refresher in the pool or lagoon with the local center when you’d like to be on the offshore pinnacle — arrive pre-refreshed, up-to-date, logbook stamped and ready to go.
Avoid the nerves
So much of diving takes place in the mind. Confidence is key. A good dive is like an underwater meditation; a bad dive can quickly turn into a nightmare. If you’re rusty, you’ll more likely make embarrassing mistakes at best or, at worst, suffer anxiety and potentially work yourself into a panicked-diver situation. This puts you and the other divers in your group at risk. Eliminate those first-dive-back stumbles and nerves with sound advice from a professional diver and practicing those skills before your trip.
Scuba diving is an ever-evolving sport. Each year, training methods and course curriculums change. Technology moves on rapidly; dive computers and cameras have evolved in the past decade in a parallel with smart phones. A refresher with a professional dive center allows you to discover the latest diving technology and get up to speed with modern training techniques. If scuba techniques and etiquette have changed, a good dive professional will bring you up to date during your scuba refresher course.
Many instructors who conduct refresher courses have thousands of logged dives logged. There’s a reasonable chance they may have been diving in the very location you’re about to visit. They can offer advice on local dive procedures, protocol, and etiquette. They may also be able to tell you the go-to-dive-center, or even the best place to grab a drink when the diving is done.
If you’ve been out of the water for a while, a scuba refresher course is well worthwhile. Done correctly, it can offer so much more than simply a swim around in a pool. These courses can enhance both your fun and safety on an upcoming dive trip — and everyone you’ll be diving with as well.