Diving is incredibly an incredibly varied sport. While each dive involves being underwater, the variation in the style and experience may be massive depending on your location. Negotiating the rocky topography of Silfra, Iceland in a drysuit, for example, is a vastly different experience to a drift dive beside an atoll in the Maldives, in a 3 mm wetsuit. If you’re planning a dive trip, doing your homework before booking and traveling can help you to choose the best destination for both your skill level and the experiences you seek. That, in turn, will lead to a safer and more enjoyable dive trip. But what questions should you ask of both yourself and the dive operation you choose?
There are some basic decisions to make about the type of diving you would like to do on your trip.
Land or boat based?
At the most fundamental level, you must decide if you’d rather be based on land or a boat. A liveaboard trip is a wonderful way to visit some of the more exclusive dive sites and they’re generally all-inclusive except for some extras like alcoholic drinks and crew tips. However, it means living offshore on a dive boat for several days. If your partner is a non-diver this may not suit them.
Alternatively, at many resorts, you can take day (or even half-day) dive trips. You may leave your hotel in the morning, take part in one or two local dives, and return by early afternoon, allowing your non-diving family or friends to explore on land or relax while you explore beneath the surface.
What is the distance from your hotel to the dive shop?
If you choose a land-based trip, how are you getting to the dive center and onward to the dive site each day? Some dive centers are based within the confines of the hotel; others are independent but will arrange your pick-up and transfers to and from the dive center. Additionally, what is the travel time to/from the dive site? Some ‘local’ dive sites may still require considerable transport time by road or boat.
With the above in mind, consider your personal comfort during the day’s activities. Are refreshments provided? Or will you need to take some food and water with you? Are there facilities onboard such as toilets? How many dives per day? Is there protection from the elements at the dive site or onboard the boat? What is the anticipated time of return to the hotel or resort? Be sure that you’re not chasing the clock with your dives and don’t risk diving too close to your flight home.
Also, be aware of any medical conditions you have that may impact diving. Most dive boats and shops will ask you to fill out a medical screening form, so if there has been any change in your health since you last dove, have a physician’s approval on hand if you answer any questions with a ‘yes.’
Asking pertinent questions will help you decide if you’re qualified or experienced enough for the diving at your prospective location.
When is the dive season?
Some diving locations, such as the Red Sea, offer year-round diving. However, in other locations, there is a very distinct season, which may be due to weather patterns, such as a monsoon season. Or, it may be for legal reasons, such as a marine park being closed for a period each year. Additionally, if there are a particular marine species that you want to see, research the time of year they are most likely to be present in that area. Do your homework before you book.
What is your dive style?
Not all dives are created equal. If you’re a novice diver or an infrequent diver, inquire about the local diving requirements and technique. For example, if you have a passion for history and wish to explore the wrecks of Scapa Flow, you must have a suitable qualification and experience in a drysuit, colder temperatures and lower visibility. The wrecks are at depth in the challenging conditions of the North Sea and diving them is nothing like a tropical reef.
At the other extreme, some warm, tropical waters are exposed to strong currents as the ocean funnels between channels, around atolls or spirals around pinnacles, creating up and down currents. Diving in these environments requires an aptitude at drift diving and an awareness of your surroundings during the dive. You may have to perform a negative entry at some of these locations or, at the least, you may have to leave the surface as quickly as it’s safe to do so to avoid missing the dive site altogether. Researching the local conditions will help you decide if you feel comfortable with the diving in a particular location. If you don’t, you can obtain the proper training or, alternatively, choose an alternative destination.
Many liveaboard dive vessels in demanding environments require that divers have a minimum of Advanced Open Water qualification (or equivalent), with 50 logged dives. Carrying a dive computer is often also mandatory. This is usually because of the challenges of the individual dive sites, or because most of the sites on the itinerary require the qualification and experience to dive comfortably in the 100-foot (30 m) depth range, often using nitrox.
Be sure to pack the equipment you’ll need for the dive environment, for that time of year, and for the itinerary. Ask what may be suitable.
Water temperatures can vary considerably — even in some warmer environments — so ask what the water temperature will be at the depth of your dives and time of year. Consider the cooler temperatures and thermoclines sometimes found at depth. It’s better to be overdressed than too cold during the dive, so pack an appropriate exposure suit, hood, and gloves, if required.
Check any other equipment recommendations for diving in the area. Whether you have a guide or not, SMBs and reels may be mandatory. Each diver may be required to carry a dive computer, and nitrox may be the standard gas. Conversely, when diving in a marine park, gloves, pointers, reef hooks or knives may be forbidden. After some research, it will be easier to decide what equipment of your own you’ll take, and what equipment you may wish to rent locally.
Supervision and groups
Don’t assume you’ll have a dive guide, whether on a boat or diving from land. While in many places a dive guide is standard, it’s not universal. In some areas, such as parts of Australia, a dive guide costs extra. It may be expected that certified divers will plan and execute their dives in buddy pairs independently once briefed. In contrast, in some areas it’s mandatory to dive with a local guide due to local marine-park legislation.
Ask how many divers are typically in each group. Should you have special dive requirements, it’s better to let the dive operation know early. Trip leaders will often split groups into nitrox vs. air, photographers vs. non-photographers, and so on. For example, a photographer in a group of non-photographers is sometimes a frustration for both parties. If you have any doubts or feel your diving may be compromised, you can usually pay for a private guide.
Making the effort to discover the basics of local life will usually pay dividends. What configuration are the local electricity sockets? Do you need to change your currency to local currency for paying bar tabs? Or are US dollars, Euros or British pounds acceptable? What is the tipping etiquette in the local area? Many local boat crews and guides survive on the customer tips they receive, so knowing a realistic tip will help you to budget accordingly.
Additionally, if you’re visiting another country to dive, knowing the basics of the local language enough to be able to say thank-you, please, yes, and no, as a bare minimum, will help you be courteous to the local boat crew.
There is so much more to consider when planning a dive trip than simply choosing a location and flight. Do some work before you go. Intelligent research, along with asking the right questions, can help you have a safer and more rewarding dive trip.