Congratulations on completing your basic training and becoming an open-water diver or equivalent. Although it’s a wonderful achievement, the OW certification isn’t the end of your training — it’s the beginning of a long learning curve that never ends. Here are a few of our top tips for new scuba divers to keep you happy and safe in the water.
This one is possibly the most important — if you take the OW class and then don’t dive again, the certification isn’t worth much. You’ve got to put all that learning into practice because there’s no substitute for experience. Find a similarly qualified dive buddy you know and trust and go diving. Or, introduce yourself around your local dive shop and let them know you’d like to stay active underwater as a new diver.
Apply the knowledge you’ve gathered during the course by planning the dive and diving the plan. Work on your buddy contact above and below the surface and practice your buoyancy, finning and other skills regularly.
We’re all still learning as divers. Even at the same dive site, the environment changes hour by hour, day by day and season to season. If you’re diving with a divemaster, instructor or guide, take their advice on how you might improve. Some dive instructors, divemasters and guides won’t offer technical advice to certified divers unless they seek it out for fear of compromising their relationship with their guests, so seek it out. These are experienced professionals who’ve seen you in the water and can offer helpful advice.
When you feel ready, move on to your advanced course. These intermediate level courses offer a taste of diving in different focus areas, such as wrecks, deep, night or underwater navigation. While not full specialty training, they broaden your knowledge base and help pique your interest under supervision. There is no need to rush from course to course to collect certification cards; gather training and experience at your pace.
Stay within your training limits
That rush of confidence you feel as a newly qualified diver may, in some circumstances, lead to unwanted Dunning-Kruger effect. The course structure and recommended limits are there for good reasons. Years of educational research and analysis by training bodies, such as the WRSTC, help to set safe boundaries. Want to dive inside that wreck? Go a little deeper? Use a mixed-gas? Dive in a drysuit? More advanced dives require more advanced training, so invest in the proper courses before you progress beyond your capabilities.
Buy as much of your own gear as possible
Buying your own equipment makes a huge difference to diving in rental equipment. Over time you’ll get to know its fit, features and functionality. Using it will become instinctive, with the corresponding positive boost to your skill level and confidence in the water. Instructors often encourage even the newest students to buy their own mask, snorkel and fins for good reason — the confidence and comfort of your own mask and fins will help ease you through the course. After that, a dive computer and remaining core equipment is a great place to start.
Avoid hand-me-downs and web/auction site specials for the sake of small financial savings. Go to your local dive shop, take advice, try on gear and buy directly from them. Get what you need for your level of diving. And don’t rush to buy that underwater video camera before you have the key safety equipment and some experience under your belt.
Dive in different environments
Not all dive sites are created equal. An OW qualification stipulates that your qualification is valid under conditions that are equal to or better than the conditions where you were trained. If you achieved your qualification in a warm, clear, tropical environment, making the move to a challenging environment requiring drysuits or one with current requires additional training and supervision. The same depth of 60 feet (18 m) in two disparate environments. Conversely, if you qualified in the calm (if colder) confines of a lake in central Europe, you’re equally ill-prepared to deal with a ripping current off the coast of Thailand or Indonesia. Gently ease yourself into each different environment and get the right advice, training and equipment to make those dives.
Log your dives
Most new divers are primarily interested in getting interesting log stamps from their guides to decorate their log pages or writing what fish they saw to tell their friends. But what exposure protection were you wearing? What weight did you use? What equipment were you using? How did you enter and exit? What route did you take? What was your gas consumption? All this information will provide you with a valuable reference. As you move beyond open-water diver level, you’ll be tracking your progress so that you reach divemaster level, for example, you have a wealth of information to draw on.
We often overlook fitness for diving, but makes a huge difference. If you intend to continue diving regularly, work on it. At the OW level, a swim of 200 m (approximately 650 feet) and a survival float for 10 minutes is the only requirement. However, as you progress in your diving, you’ll need to be fitter, especially in more challenging environments. Calm, warm, tropical waters are usually much less demanding than colder water. Similarly, if you’re always on a luxury liveaboard vessel, you’ll face limited demands. But if you intend to dive in locations with currents, do a lot of shore diving, or other advanced dives, you’ll want to stay as fit as possible. Fitness offers additional benefits when it comes to your confidence, calmness and gas consumption too.
Mind your manners
Diving is generally a communal activity. Diving often takes you to different parts of the world and exposes you to different cultures and ways of life, so be mindful when entering new diving environments and sensitive to local culture. We’re usually guests in someone else’s world. Something minor to you — such as boarding a boat in some areas with your shoes still on — may cause offense. Pay attention to local procedures and be sensitive.
Additionally, at a dive resort or on a dive boat you’re often part of a larger group of divers. It’s usually a fantastic experience and can lead to friendships with divers from around the world. Each area has different dive procedures and etiquette as well, so don’t be that diver who inadvertently upsets your fellow divers or the local guide.
As you progress through your diving there is always something to learn, see and enjoy. The tips for new scuba divers above will hopefully help allow you to have a more enriching dive experience and avoid a few of the potential pitfalls.