You’ve experienced a ride in a hot-air balloon, driven a convertible, and traveled in a horse-drawn carriage. But now you are ready for scuba diving – a whole new mode of transportation – and you probably have lots of questions about what to expect before you dive in. Is a scuba diving certification necessary and if so, what kind of certification is best? What type of marine life might you encounter? What type of dive shop should you trust? Narrow down your options on everything from scuba destinations to underwater cameras and what kind of marine life you might like to see before you embark on your first scuba diving adventure.
- pick a scuba destination that suits you
- dive even if you’re not certified
- bring an underwater camera
- switch up your dive spots
- join a local dive group
- let it scare you
- forget to research dive shops
- dive alone
Every destination in the world has a unique scuba setting, from warm water diving in the Caribbean, to the frigid waters of Seattle, to the more buoyant Dead Sea dives. Each location offers a different experience, so be sure to research locations to find the one that is best for your likes and dislikes. If you’re used to warm weather and warmer waters, try to stay away from the dives that require dry suits. If you’re a first-timer and aren’t sure this is your cup of tea, staying local is probably your best bet. No need to spend thousands of dollars on a diving vacation, only to find out you prefer above sea level sports. Diving doesn’t always have to be tropical; you may not realize there’s world-class diving in your backyard (and I don’t mean your pool!)
There’s a very common misconception that you can’t dive unless you’re certified. Well if that’s the case, then how do you get certified in the first place? Almost every dive shop around the world offers introductory classes that can be taken by themselves or along with a certification course. Introductory dive courses often include a classroom portion, a pool dive, and finally an open water dive. To participate in one of these courses, allow at least a half day. This is a great way to see if diving could become your new hobby or if it’s just a one-time occurrence without spending hundreds on a full certification course.
If you do decide you want to get certified, your introductory course should count toward your certification and you can then continue on with the rest of the classes and dives. It is important to decide whether you want to do your certification through NAUI or PADI. Both of these organizations have agencies around the world, however, each of them has different policies and training procedures.
PADI is the larger diving organization of the two, and tends to have a certification process that is faster and a little easier than NAUI. By no means does PADI offer less qualified courses or instructors, but it offers different price points that make it easier for people to get certified.
NAUI, on the other hand, offers more in depth training and tests which are more difficult to pass because of the amount of information presented. Those who certify with NAUI tend to use their diving skills for more than an occasional recreation dive, and tend to want to pursue higher levels of certification beyond the basic.
You can’t go wrong with either organization; it just depends on which direction you want to take within the scuba world. Also take note that the two certifications are interchangeable, meaning you can have a PADI certification and dive with a NAUI shop, and vice versa.
Whether you’re a first-timer or a diving vet, bring an underwater still or video camera. This is not just for those experienced photographers with flashy cameras. You can buy an underwater camera casing for as little as $15 to house a Kodak film camera.
There are so many amazing things that happen underwater that you’ll want to capture and remember for the rest of your life. You may find yourself swimming in a bale of sea turtles or following a fish you’ve never seen before. Plus, if you’re diving with friends or family, you can take turns snapping photos of one another.
If the thought of being responsible for one more thing while you’re under the sea is too stressful, don’t worry. Dive shops almost always have a photographer with the introductory class whose only job is to capture you in those unforgettable underwater moments. You can purchase a CD of all your pictures at the end of your dive, and you won’t have to worry about your camera slipping off your wrist or missing your friend face-to-face with an eel.
Diving in the tropical paradises of Jamaica and Hawaii may spoil you rotten. Suddenly water below 85 degrees seems frigid and the thought of putting on a wetsuit frustrates you to no end. You’ve found your reef dives to be relaxing, awe-inspiring, and full of adventure. And who wouldn’t when you can hear whale calls from miles away and the only thing on your mind is what fish is going to pop out of that next hole? Yes, those beautiful tropical dives never get old, but don’t close yourself off to oceans of adventure in different locations.
Consider doing a wreck dive where you can explore a sunken World War II corsair or a pirate ship lost in the waves. This is your one chance to look for buried treasure! Wreck dives are a great way to learn about the history of the area you’re diving in.
Or how about a night dive? A whole new world emerges after the sun goes down, and you get to be a part of it. Equipped with special night gear and flashlights, you’ll sharpen your dive skills while getting to experience the ocean on a whole new level.
If night dives are not in the foreseeable future, try a deep water dive. These dives are generally shorter in length, because more oxygen is used the deeper you go. But again, the deep sea is yet another world that is offered below the surface. You will see marine life you’ve never heard of and get to explore caves and caverns seen only by others diving. Plus, you’re almost weightless. It’s the closest feeling to flying you’ll get unless you plan on taking a trip to space.
If you’re like most people, you will become obsessed with your new hobby. You set your feet on dry land but long for the water again. You see a dive flag bumper sticker on the car in front of you and have the urge to honk uncontrollably while trying to motion “I dive too! I’m a diver!” You loved your dive instructor, and the friends you made on your dives, and wonder how you’ll ever find that same camaraderie again. This is where dive groups come in. With just the click of a mouse, you can find dozens of local dive groups to join so the fun never has to end. Many dive groups meet monthly and organize both local and international dive trips.
Plus, by joining a group, you will likely receive discounts on air and gear purchases and rentals from shops in your area. It’s a great way to meet people who are as excited to dive as you are and want to continue diving even after the vacation is over.
You are so accustomed to living above water that your first instinct when you are below water is to try to re-surface. You are weightless, yet everything moves more slowly and you can hear yourself inhaling and exhaling. It’s strange at first but so incredible! Your body quickly adapts to your new surroundings and suddenly you forget any fears you had. It is an exhilarating feeling that is not meant to be scary at all. You are in the presence of very experienced dive masters who will always know what to do in every situation. The more you relax and just enjoy everything diving has to offer, the more you will get out of the experience.
As was mentioned previously, you will want to decide which dive organization you want to learn from. Do your research on the various organizations (NAUI, PADI, SSI) first.
After you have decided which organization you want to dive with, pick your dive location. Whether you want to go up the street or to a different country, choose a place that best suits your needs.
And finally, research various dive shops in that area. You will want to get an idea of what classes they offer, what the pricing is, and what the prices include in terms of gear and number of tanks. Make sure the shops are reputable. If they are recognized by a dive organization, they are required to follow certain policies and procedures according to the agencies to which they belong, so you shouldn’t need to worry about its legitimacy.
It is also recommended that you visit the shops and meet the various dive instructors. Your dive experience is directly proportionate to your instructor. Just like in many places of business, if you deal with friendly and knowledgeable staff, you will have a positive experience and likely to return with your business again in the future. Ask the staff questions that are important to you. Their attitude toward you and diving will give you a clear answer as to which shop you should choose.
This cannot be stressed enough! No matter how confident you are or how experienced you become, never dive alone. You will probably dive hundreds of times and nothing will ever go wrong, but it’s Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong, it will. Especially when you are alone. This is not meant to scare you but to make you realize that it is very unwise to dive by yourself. Plus, you will find it much more enjoyable to dive with a buddy. This is where dive groups come in handy; you know there is always someone you can count on to dive with.
The views above sea level are amazing – skyscrapers, white sand beaches, peaceful gardens, or bustling markets all have something to offer you as a traveler, whether you’re a mile up the road or halfway across the world… but if you think you may have found your new (underwater) way to sightsee – what are you waiting for?! A whole new world has just opened up for you to explore as a traveler – incorporate scuba diving into your itinerary. This underwater adventure is the perfect way to explore a new city, country, and all this beautiful earth has to offer. At 40 feet below the surface, you find a world not many dare to explore. And once you’re down there, you’ll wonder why you should ever resurface. So grab that Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) and join me on the ocean floor! Try it once and you’ll be hooked!