There is nothing quite like exploring the ocean through scuba diving, it’s an incredible adventure into the underwater world which gives you the opportunity to connect with marine life like never before. If you are new to the idea, this beginners guide to scuba diving will be a great starting point. Scuba diving is an adventurous activity, but one which is also conscious and calming. You have to be present and free from distractions while you’re underwater, which allows you to notice the little things and absorb every moment.
I started diving at a young age, around 13 years old, and it has remained a passionate hobby of mine ever since. It’s allowed me to foster a deeper connection with the ocean, marine life and nature. It has enabled me to experience and explore destinations in a new and exciting way, one which exposes me to the other 70% of our planet – the one underwater. If you’re thinking of giving it a go, I hope this guide provides you with all the initial information you need to start your journey to becoming a qualified, responsible and respectful diver.
How To Start Diving & Qualifications:
If you’re wanting to start scuba diving, you can’t just throw on a tank and jump into the sea. You need to gain qualifications and learn essential safety information to go underwater. Here are the initial qualification levels:
- Discover Scuba Diving. Otherwise known as a Try Dive. This is typically a half day experience where you’re given a short but detailed briefing on underwater basics (such as dive equipment and communication). You then do a confined water practice in a swimming pool, to get to grips with the feeling of breathing through your regulator & swimming in your gear. After this you do a shallow open water dive in the ocean – the real deal! A DSD course does not qualify you to dive but it is a great way to get a taste of the scuba diving experience and see if it’s for you. This roughly costs £50.
- Open Water Diver. This is the course all divers must take to be qualified to dive down to 18m. It is typically 3-4 full days and includes knowledge development, water skills, confined water practice sessions and four open water dives. You’ll learn how to assemble & disassemble your kit as well as some key safety skills. This roughly costs £300-400.
- Advanced Open Water Diver. This course allows you to develop further underwater knowledge and skills (such as underwater navigation and wreck diving), as well as giving you the ability to dive to 30 metres. This course takes 2-3 days and costs roughly £200.
- Enriched Air (Nitrox) Diver. This short knowledge based course allows you to breathe enriched air, which has less nitrogen than regular air. Nitrox enables you to enjoy longer dives and shorter surface intervals between dives.
Personally I am an advanced open water diver with Nitrox, and that is the level that I recommend most people aim to qualify to. It allows you to have lots of freedom underwater, diving deeper and longer on a wider range of dive sites. The qualifications beyond these initial levels become more complex, including Rescue Diver, Dive Master and Dive Instructor. They are great qualifications to have if you want to really expand your knowledge and skills or pursue a diving career, but if you’re aiming to be purely a recreational diver then they aren’t essential for day to day diving.
In terms of course providers, the most well respected and regulated are PADI (who I qualified with) and SSI. There isn’t a huge difference between the two and honestly the most important choice is which dive centre and dive instructor you learn with, as that will influence your experience more than the specific qualification provider.
Selecting A Dive Centre:
The dive centre that you choose to learn or dive with is really important. Their professionalism, enthusiasm and attitude will hugely affect your experience underwater. Here are some key ways to check you’re using a good dive shop:
- Reviews. Look at reviews on google and trip advisor, taking note of any instructors which previous customers have mentioned positively so you can express a preference to dive with them.
- Paid Five Star Centres. You can’t go wrong with a top notch PADI centre as they have to fulfil extensive criteria including commitments to environmental responsibility.
- Scope It Out. There’s nothing more reliable than a gut feeling, so I always try to walk in and check out a dive centre before I commit to diving there. You will get a feel for the way it operates and the vibe of the instructors.
It is possible to gain your scuba qualifications at any reputable dive shop across the world, from the cold waters of the UK through to the warm seas of the Maldives. If possible, I would consider these key points:
- Water temperature – the warmer the better in my personal opinion!
- Best time of year to dive – there are defined “diving seasons” for each destination when the visibility and wildlife are at their best.
- The marine life – each diving destination will have different things to see, from vibrant coral to schools of sharks.
Some great beginner friendly (and warm water!) locations for diving are:
- The Maldives (St Regis is the dream spot – Here’s my review)
- Thailand (Koh Tao is a big diving destination – Read my travel guide here)
- Grand Cayman
- Roatan, Honduras
For divers seeking qualifications or newly qualified divers, I would recommend using dive shops based on land. Once you’ve got a few more dives under your belt and feel confident underwater, there are other options to explore such as live-aboard boats.
A big part of scuba diving is the equipment you carry and use to enable you to go underwater. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry about bringing any of your own. Dive shops will have a full range of equipment for you to rent and use for the duration of your course or dive trip. However, if you’re a more experienced diver and plan on diving on a regular basis, it may be worth investing in some of your own gear, to save the hassle and cost of renting it every time you dive.
The easiest things to purchase and travel with are a mask, snorkel and fins. Even if you’re only diving every so often, these items are useful for other ocean activities such as snorkelling. I also recommend everyone bring their own dry bag (to keep their essentials dry in the dive centre and on the dive boat) and some reef safe suncream.
Since I now dive a few times a year, I have invested in my own equipment – a BCD (buoyancy control device), SMB (surface marker buoy), regulator, wetsuit, reef hook and dive computer – which I bring on my diving trips. One thing to note is that these items aren’t cheap so I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you’re an avid and committed diver.
Beginners Scuba Diving Tips:
Finally, here are some quick fire beginners scuba diving tips to make your experiences underwater even better, safer and more enjoyable.
- Embrace the bizarre sensations. Humans are not designed to go underwater, so your first few dives may feel out of your comfort zone. I promise it gets easier and more natural in time.
- Listen carefully to the dive briefings, you will be given one before every dive and it will guide the decisions you make underwater.
- Speak up. No question is silly or too stupid to ask your dive instructor or guide.
- Don’t worry if you’re consuming air quickly, beginners tend to breathe harder and faster. The more time you have underwater the more calm your breathing will become and the more slowly you will consume air.
- Diving is not meant to be heavy exercise or require exertion, go slow and steady.
- Avoid diving if you have a cold or sinus congestion, as you will need to equalise your ears as you descend to release pressure.
- Ensure you follow all decompression protocols, do the necessary safety stops and ascend slowly for your own health and safety.
- Be a respectful, supportive and safe dive buddy – check in with your diving partner throughout the dive to ensure they’re ok and don’t swim too far away from them.
- Use your legs, not your arms, to swim underwater. I like to have my arms crossed or bent with my hands together in front of me.
- Do not touch anything underwater, whether that is marine life or coral. This will damage the underwater world and could also cause harm to you.
- Long haired divers, either braid your locks or tie them back to avoid a knotty mess!
- Get dive specific travel insurance, to protect you underwater. This is key.
And most importantly, have fun! Once you’ve become a certified diver, you have officially joined one of the best communities in the world – a collective of ocean lovers and explorers! Delving into the underwater world is an incredible privilege, enjoy.