So as I shared on my last blog post, I’ve now become a PADI qualified Open Water Scuba Diver!
I used to be super nervous even dipping my head underwater, so I’ve put together a list of things you should know before your first time scuba diving in the hope it helps others who might be anxious too.
1. Jump straight into the Open Water course
We were planning to do a discovery dive (basically a ‘try-dive’ or a ‘test-run’ before enrolling into the Open Water course, to make sure we liked it before committing.
Due to timing, we had to enrol straight into the course as the dive centre we chose were running the course the next day, and we’d have to wait another 4 days otherwise.
I am SO glad we did it this way as I 100% would have never got back into the water after my first dive, had I not committed to the course.
I would highly recommend jumping straight into the course so you can really build your confidence and get a REAL taste for scuba diving, rather than a nerve-wrecking panic induced one.
Read my blog post about my personal experience of the Open Water course here.
2. Choose a highly-rated PADI centre
Check out reviews online and make sure the centre is fully certified with PADI or another scuba diving body.
Some of the centres we went into were so unprofessional and did not make us feel confident about learning to dive with them.
In Moalboal where we learnt, there’s a recent spate of local tricycle divers running open water courses. They’re not even qualified themselves, so if you got into trouble into water it could be horrific. Your travel insurance likely only covers you to dive with another qualified diver, too.
3. It’s normal to be nervous!
Our instructor assured us that even the most confident (& cocky) people display signs of nervousness when they first learn to dive. Scuba accidents are relatively rare if you follow everything you’ve learnt and calmly address any problems rather than panicking and following your gut instincts.
4. Choose a course with a high ratio of instructors to students
We had 3 students to 1 instructor in our course, and I wouldn’t have liked any more students without another instructor.
A good centre won’t put your safety or confidence at risk, so alarm bells should be ringing if they have more than 3 or so students per instructor.
Another couple were potentially joining us and our instructor said she would have got someone else to join us if there had been 5 of us.
5. Get the right fitting equipment
It’s completely normal to have some teething problems at first, so don’t stress if your equipment doesn’t quite fit you properly the first time.
My mask was poorly suited for my face and filled up several times during our first dive, Alex’s BCD was too small and neither of our weights were quite right.
Make sure you tell your instructor about anything that doesn’t feel right so they can work with you to adjust it for the subsequent dives.
6. Learn what the course entails
I had no idea what I was signing up for, I really wanted to just learn to dive and beat my fear of water!
You should probably know that the course involves an exam (a multiple choice questionnaire that asks you questions you’ve covered by watching the videos and chatting with your instructor.)
It also involves a 200m swimming test (any stroke), or 300m if you want to wear fins, mask and snorkel.
There are a few other things you have to do too, like fill your mask with water and learn to clear it (not as scary as it sounds and literally so easy) and learn to tow your buddies back to shore or the boat.
You’ll be fully prepared for every part of the course if you choose a good centre, so if the mask-fill sounds scary now I promise it won’t be when you get to the test!
7. Practise filling and clearing your mask to perfection!
Before your first proper dive, practise, practise filling and clearing your mask…& then practise again!
I’ve had two dives where my mask completely filled with water and I had to clear it underwater, so this is a skill you really need to master.
Your dive will be so unenjoyable if you can’t clear your mask, as you literally can’t see a thing which can be quite scary.
8. Try and choose a centre with a pool if you can
We gained so much confidence by practising in a pool before and in between our sea dives.
You feel so much calmer and safer and it’s such a good way to practise your skills without having to worry about choppy waves or jellyfish!
If you can choose a centre that has a pool to use, I’d highly recommend doing so.
9. Tie long hair back
Long hair is really annoying underwater. It gets tangled in your mask and floats in front of your eyes, all at the same time.
I found a side plait was the best option for tying my hair back – a bun gets in the way of your mask placement and a ponytail constantly floats in front of your eyes.
10. Try and learn about some of the creatures you’ll see beforehand
It’s hard to communicate underwater so you can’t really ask your instructor what the animal you’re looking at is called. It’s also hard to remember all the animals you’ve seen when you get back to the surface and then try to describe them to your instructor!
If you can, have a rough idea of some of the animals you might see underwater and how to identify them so you know what you’re looking at, and learn the hand signals for them so you can tell others to look too!
11. Know that you can’t fly for 18 hours after your course
Don’t book your course to finish right at the end of your trip, as you can’t fly for 18 hours after doing multiple dives, or 12 hours after a single dive.
This is due to the altitude of a flight and your ear pressure. It could cause significant ear problems so it’s absolutely not worth the risk.
This also applies if you’re staying in a high altitude area, so it’s best to stay in accommodation near to sea level if you can! Our instructor told us she once dived and then realised she couldn’t get back to her hotel which was on top of a mountain, so she ended up sleeping in her car. Be warned!
12. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take (non-prescription) medication before your course
You won’t be able to dive as these substances can affect your ability to regulate your breathing and coordinate your movements underwater. If you’re in doubt, just check with your instructor.
Obviously please don’t omit taking any prescription medication on my advice – please check with a doctor or your instructor first!
13. Prepare your new mask
New masks are coated with a substance that stops them scratching in transit and in stores. You need to remove this substance before diving to avoid the mask fogging up and preventing you from being able to see.
Scrub the glass with toothpaste several times before using it, and leave it with toothpaste soaking in overnight before your first dive.
When you come to dive, you can use an anti-fog solution or spit in it (gross, I know) and rub it in before cleaning it in the water. This also helps to prevent it fogging during use. You can also use soap which has the same effect, but I try to avoid doing this as I’m worried it could be harmful to marine life.
14. Do your bit!
As a diver, you have exclusive access to parts of the world that many people never ever see. You’ll probably be shocked at how much rubbish is underwater, and if you’re anything like me you’ll want to try and help
PADI’s Project Aware works to clear the seas of waste and conserve our oceans. Take a look at the site and get informed on how you can help protect the underwater world and see how you can help save it too.
You can also do your bit by remembering to look but not touch – touching coral can kill it and it can take years to regrow. This disturbs the ocean’s delicate ecosystem and can also ruin the homes of many underwater creatures.
15. Get clued up on the different diving hand signals
The only real way of communication underwater is by using hand signals. Try and learn the most important ones so that you can tell your instructor or buddies if there’s a problem and can point out interesting animals too.
Make sure you’re particularly clear on the signs you’ll need for descending, communicating how much air you have and those you’ll need when ascending.
16. Enjoy it!
But know that you’ll probably hate your first dive – you’ll be anxious, lacking in confidence, unsure of what you’re supposed to be doing and confused at what’s happening.
It gets soooo much better after this, so please persist! Try to enjoy your dives as much as you can by following the advice above and staying calm and relaxed and listening to your instructor.
Diving is so much fun once you know how!
I hope you now feel a little more confident before learning to dive. If you’ve enjoyed my post or have any questions, feel free to comment below!
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