How To Scuba Dive (Summer 2019)
How to Scuba Dive: An All-Inclusive Guide
Learning to scuba dive comes along with many benefits.
It’s a one-of-kind experience that gives you up close and personal access to underwater beauty and fascination. It’s a new, vibrant world. Much different than the life we’re accustomed to above water.
It’s great outdoor exercise, too! If you are comfortable in water and in good physical condition, this is one activity that should go on the bucket list.
From admiring the deep-sea plant life to watching sea life in action, scuba diving can provide anything ranging from a one-time experience to a brand-new hobby.
Expanding social circles, providing material for many interesting conversation starters and exploring new, exciting travel destinations are just a few more exciting pluses that come along.
If you want to learn more about this fun and exciting hobby, read on for everything you need to know to get started.
Let’s dive right in!
- How to Scuba Dive: An All-Inclusive Guide
- Scuba Equipment and Gear Needed To Start
- Scuba Instruction and Training for Scuba Diving Certification
- Scuba Diving Certification
- Scuba Diving FAQ
- Safety is Always First!
- How to Scuba Dive – Wrapping it Up
Scuba Equipment and Gear Needed To Start
To get the most enjoyment out of scuba diving and be safe in the process, it’s important to first equip yourself with the right gear.
When you are starting out, you can rent scuba gear rather than buy until you become more accomplished. While owning your own gear is nice because it’s comfortable, familiar and convenient, renting is usually a simple and common process.
If you do opt to buy, here are the basics you’ll need:
To get started within a reasonable budget, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 on the low end to up to several hundred dollars on the high end. After you get your feet wet, you may want to upgrade to more high-end gear that better matches your diving level and experience.
When you sign up for training, your instructor may require you to purchase your own basic gear. This is to avoid any potential safety issues and delays which are caused by ill-fitting gear. There’s nothing more inconvenient, uncomfortable and frustrating than trying to find and fight with rented masks or fins.
The best place to purchase your scuba gear is at a professional scuba shop, where you will find many scuba suit sizes and diving equipment options just right for you.
Let’s go more in-depth a bit regarding some of the equipment you’ll need.
Scuba Diving Mask
A mask is one of the key pieces of scuba diving equipment. The purpose of the diving mask is twofold; to allow you to see underwater and allow you to equalize your ears. Basically, the mask creates an air or nose pocket which allows you to equalize air pressure in your mask as you descend into deeper water.
A proper fitting mask should cover your face without any gaps and pressing hard into the skin. As you breathe, the skirt (rubber around the mask) should stay comfortably in place.
Diving fins are another piece of key diving gear. The fins propel and enable you to move underwater.
You can choose from either an open heel or full foot fin.
The open heel is worn over a bootie (short sock) with an open back heel. It is kept in place by the strap which goes behind your heel. The open heel fin is a full foot fin which you wear over bare feet, without straps. It’s more like a shoe covering your whole foot.
Full foot fins are a little less expensive and are easier to walk around in when out of the water. As with any wet fin, be careful not to slip on puddles of water either on a dock or boat.
Another important piece of gear is a snorkel. The purpose of a snorkel is to allow you to breathe as you swim face down on the surface of the water. The snorkel is located on the left side of your dive mask, attached by the mask strap. You can also use a snorkel as a tool if you are floating in the water and the water is rough or just to help you breathe.
Breathing with a snorkel saves a little air and as you get more experienced, you can either choose to use the snorkel to make you the most comfortable.
Speaking of snorkeling, many people wonder what notable differences there are between snorkeling and scuba diving.
Both snorkeling and scuba diving give you a chance to see things in the water you cannot otherwise see.
Snorkeling doesn’t require any special training. It only requires a mask, mouthpiece attached to the snorkel and fins. Your face is submerged in the water where you can observe plants and sea life before the water’s surface.
Scuba diving allows a deeper experience as you are totally immersed in the water. It requires training and instruction to become certified. The equipment is more substantial than a mask, snorkel and fins, including a buoyancy control device, depth/air gauges, regulator/mouthpiece and air tank. It allows for further exploration in greater depths of a dive.
The diving mask, scuba fins and snorkel are the gear basics. You might be required to purchase at least these three basic items before beginning certification. It’s also wise to purchase these items because they should be custom fit for you. Rental gear can often be difficult to fit properly, and it has typically undergone quite a bit of use already.
You’ll be both familiar with the feel of your own equipment and more comfortable.
For more advanced scuba divers or as you become more experienced, there are other pieces of scuba diving equipment that may make your dives easier and more comfortable. Let’s take a look at those.
A scuba diving regulator is the piece of scuba gear that allows you to breathe underwater.
The regulator is used with a compressed air tank.
There is a simple, two stage process when setting up a regulator. The “first stage” is attaching the regulator to the top of the oxygen tank. The “second stage” is attaching the hose fitted with the regulator mouthpiece in place so you can breathe underwater.
There is a second, longer hose with another regulator mouthpiece attached that is called an “octopus.”
The octopus, usually bright, almost neon yellow in color, is in place as a backup to your primary regulator (air source). The octopus is also used as an emergency piece of equipment should a diving buddy need an air supply. The regulator and octopus are located on the right side of a full-face mask. The bright yellow color of the hose makes it easy to locate.
Pressure gauges are another part of the regulator setup. Among other things, they indicate your current underwater depth and how much air you have left.
Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD)
The BCD is basically a vest. It fits like a vest and is the piece of gear that holds the air tank on your back. Another purpose of the BCD is that it lets you control how deep you descend underwater.
If you want to descend, you let air out of the BCD by use of the release mechanisms.
If you want to rise (or ascend) from the water, you put air into the BCD. You can let air into the BCD by use of the power inflator, a button you press, and the air goes in. Another way to let air in is by using your mouthpiece, which attaches to the BCD with a hose.
Weights or Weight Belts
The purpose of using weights is to help you descend and remain underwater. You can either use a weight belt, with weights automatically built in, or you can add weights to the BCD.
The BCD, or vest, is designed with pockets and it’s in these pockets that you can add weights.
As you progress through your training, your instructor can calculate the amount of weight you need, and the weight can be adjusted as you get a better feel for diving.
If you think about it, important information about how long you are underwater and how far down you are seem like pretty important pieces of data to track. That is why a dive computer is another piece of key gear for a more experienced diver.
Among other things, a dive computer monitors:
You can choose from a model that is worn on your wrist, or a model that works in conjunction with your regulator.
When used properly, you can make the most of your dives and enjoy more “bottom time.”
As you get more experience under your belt, you are going to need some way to keep track of your diving times. As a safety measure with deeper and longer dives, you really need to monitor your time and diving depth.
While it’s better to use a diving computer as a primary means of timing your dives, and typically use a watch for dives no more than 100 feet.
When choosing a dive watch, there are many digital varieties that are reasonably priced. Your diving instructor can probably make some good recommendations on a safe and accurate dive watch.
A dive torch can be described as an underwater flash light. Its purpose is to illuminate your way while navigating through dark conditions underwater. It helps you check your underwater gear such as reading your dive computer or watch.
The torch also lights your way as you do some underwater exploring. It’s a great tool for checking out underwater caves, wrecks, observing coral/plants/fish that you could not otherwise observe in detail.
When making a purchase, you should compare models that are watertight, durable under deep water pressure and reliable.
There are bigger, more heavy-duty models that light a wider area, and there are more lightweight, slimmer models. The smaller torches are typically used as a backup versus primary light source, in case of primary source failure or in an emergency.
Last but certainly not least, you also need protective clothing. The reason special diving clothing is important is to protect your skin from minor injuries as may occur during dives and to move more easily underwater. A diving wetsuit also keeps you warm while you are enjoying a deep-water dive.
A proper fitting wetsuit should be comfortable and snug, allowing you to move and breathe freely. There shouldn’t be any gaps, especially around the wrists and ankles which could allow water in.
You may be familiar with a dive skin, which is a very thin piece of material, such as Lycra, covering the full body including arms and legs. While in the diving wetsuit family, it doesn’t keep you warm, but does provide protection from stings, scrapes and scratches.
A diving wetsuit is made of a thicker material, usually neoprene, and comes in either full body covering arms and legs, or in a “shorty” model. The shorty model is a shorter version that does not cover your arms and legs. A thicker wetsuit, measured in millimeters of thickness, keeps you warm during longer, deeper and/or more frequent dives.
As a rule, the thicker the wetsuit, the warmer you will be.
Here’s a general guideline for choosing the correct wetsuit thickness for different water temperatures:
Because a diving wetsuit can be a major investment, you want to follow manufacturers’ directions on taking proper care, so it lasts as long as possible. Everything from putting it on without tearing to proper long-term care and maintenance in and out of the water, be sure to check manufacturers’ guidelines and recommendations.
Scuba Terms and Lingo
As you dive further into the sport, there are some terms you’ll hear and should be familiar with, so you understand what the instructor is talking about, in addition to talking with others about the sport.
From a “Backward Roll” to “Viz,” there are some terms, words and otherwise hip lingo that will keep coming up. To be in the know, get to know scuba diving terms and buzzwords.
Scuba Instruction and Training for Scuba Diving Certification
Since you need to be certified (trained) to participate in scuba diving, there are a few popular certification courses..
Since you’ll need certification in order to participate in any type of diving, the first step is to check into local places to learn where and how to get certified. For further information, click on the links above or check local dive shops or community colleges. There are a lot of research options on-line for your convenience.
It’s not a bad idea to read student reviews about the testing process and instructors so you know you are getting a high-quality certification experience.
Here’s what you can expect from the certification process:
How Much does it Cost to get a Scuba Diving License/Certification?
The cost of scuba diving certification varies, but typically runs in the ballpark of $200+. It’s important to ask what is included in the total cost of training. The written test preparation can cost around $150, and that does not include the open and confined water dives.
Most training costs should include course work and open water test dives.
Scuba Dive Training – Part I
As a student, you will start by completing a general medical questionnaire. Based on your answers, you may be asked to produce a doctor’s release if there are any possible medical issues. Instructors want to make sure there is no potential for breathing or physical limitations that would pose problems or create an emergency situation during a dive.
You will also be asked to perform some basic water tests. These include:
- The ability to swim/float in the water without aids for 10 minutes
- Either a 200 meter/yard surface swim without aids or a 300 meter/yard swim with basic gear (mask, snorkel, fins)
Scuba diver training, or open water certification, is broken down into three parts:
- 1. Coursework / Written Exam
- 2. Confined Water (or Pool) Dives
- 3. Open Water (or Checkout) Dives
Because of advanced technology, most coursework can now be completed on-line from the comforts of your home. The on-line coursework will include areas of study for testing in the forms of reading and watching videos.
The minimum age for most certification agencies is between 10 and 12, depending on the agency. If under the age of 13, the on-line option may not be available and classroom study from a textbook may be required.
From beginning to end, it generally takes about 12-15 hours to complete the on-line/study portion of the process. This part of the training costs about $150.
Successfully passing the written portion of the test will result in getting a referral to move on to the open water dive portion of the test, which is usually conducted in a lake or other confined water location.
Scuba Dive Training – Part II
After passing the written portion of the test, you move on to the Confined or Pool Dive.
In this portion of the process, you will go through the basics of preparing for a dive and then performing basic dives in a pool or lake.
You will practice putting on and taking off your gear, learn how to operate the air tank, live and breathe safety procedures and understand location/proper placement of equipment.
Scuba Dive Training – Part III
After passing the Confined Dive sequence, it’s time to move on to the final, Open Dive portion of the test.
You will be tested on all the knowledge you gained during the Confined Dive portion of the test and graded on your successful demonstration of all these skills. You are required to complete 4 to 5 successful open water dives.
After successfully completing all three parts of the testing process, you will become certified. The instructor will issue you a scuba diving certification card, or c-card. The c-card will be issued through the certification agency you are affiliated with, whether it be PADI, NAUI or SSI.
How Long Does the Scuba Certification Take?
The amount of time it takes to complete all this training depends on how intensive the training.
A more accelerated, faster certification course may require a more intense reading/study period or depends on how quickly you get through the material on-line and pass the written test.
A general rule is to successfully complete 4 or 5 open water dives to complete this portion of the testing. It’s possible to complete the open water dives within a couple of days.
Scuba Diving Certification
So now that you’ve passed the written exam and passed all diving portions of the test.
Congratulations! You are a certified scuba diver!
Although the certification never expires, you should dive at least once every six months to stay current, active and in practice. For safety reasons, it’s never a bad idea to take a refresher course just to re-learn all the safety procedures and get back in the saddle.
With c-card in hand, you have mastered the basic skills required to participate in scuba diving. You can rent equipment, like air tanks, from scuba rental equipment locations.
Some establishments may require you to perform a “checkout dive” to remove liability issues and ensure that you are competent diver who can perform the skills necessary for a safe, successful dive.
Scuba Diving FAQ
Many beginner divers have questions; we’ve got answers. Below, you’ll find a couple of common questions asked by newbies. We’ll also discuss a bit more about certifications and dive types.
Do Scuba Certifications Expire?
Once certified, your scuba certification never expires. It’s good for a lifetime.
However, it’s a good idea to take a review, refresher or reactivation course if you are an infrequent diver. If you dive only once or twice a year, brush up on your skills prior to diving.
In some establishments, you may be asked for a record of your last dive or be required to perform a “checkout dive” prior to renting equipment.
How Deep do Beginner Scuba Divers get to Dive?
As a scuba diving beginner, you are allowed to dive 60 feet.
After advanced open water certification, you can dive down to 130 feet.
Advanced Scuba Diving Certification
Advanced open water certification requires additional study/coursework and five additional dives.
There are two specific dives that must be a part of the advanced certification. One dive must be an “underwater navigation” dive; the other a “deep water” dive, requiring a dive between 60 to 100 feet!
You get to choose the remaining three dives from a provided list, which give you a more specific look into the type of available dives. You can pick from options such as underwater photography or fish identification dives. It’s a very interesting and educational way to find out if a specific type of diving really appeals to you.
You can register for advanced certification as soon as you complete the basic certification requirements. There are no restrictions to this rule unless you are under the age of 15.
Different Types of Advanced Dives
Now, the underwater world is your oyster, so to speak.
Once open water certified, challenge yourself to keep expanding your knowledge and learn to participate in different types and levels of scuba diving. From advanced to specialized diving, you can further your scuba diving experience.
Some of the more advanced and even more cool scuba certification options include:
Safety is Always First!
When properly trained and certified, scuba diving is enjoyable, fun and safe. There are risks involved which can be minimized by following and always putting safety measures into place. Safety first is always the #1 goal with any type of scuba diving.
How to Scuba Dive – Wrapping it Up
To think that after training and certification, you can go to some of the most beautiful locations in the world and scuba dive should be exhilarating and exciting!
Scuba diving opens up a whole new world of experiences to you.
To crunch some numbers, according to Google, there are between 2.7 to 3.5 million active scuba divers in the United States; with as many as 6 million active scuba divers worldwide.
What an interesting way to make further social connections and bond with people in these groups, clubs, forums and other scuba diver social media platforms. It’s a way to connect with others who share the same love and respect for this incredibly cool recreational pastime.
The ability to connect socially with other scuba diving fans gives you the opportunity to learn about events, meets, group dives or cool places to plan diving trips.
It’s fun and easy to reach your scuba diving goals. It all starts with the right training, practicing the techniques and becoming certified.
Keeping in mind all the safety practices and getting equipped with the proper gear, you will be well on your way to experiencing a lifelong journey of all the wonder, beauty and hidden treasures that deep water diving has to give.