There’s a whole world beneath the surface of the ocean, as vibrantly colorful as the most spectacular forest in fall and teeming with schools of fish and seemingly out-of-this-world life. For many people, that world can be looked down on from the surface, but will always be just out of arm’s reach. But with scuba diving, suddenly the underwater world becomes a new realm for exploration.
For me, scuba diving has opened up a world of possibilities, led to a wealth of new friends, and resulted in adventures that are hard to imagine before going underwater. And while it may seem like a massive challenge, trading out life on land for swimming with the fish for a few hours at a time, scuba diving is surprisingly accessible to beginners.
The first place to start is to find a mentor and take a scuba certification class. Once you’ve got that under your belt, you’re ready to go diving – but there are still many tips and tricks that can help you to make the transition from a new diver to a practiced pro. Here, we’ll cover some of the basic techniques that can help beginner divers take their underwater jaunts to the next level.
[su_box title=”Practice Breathing Underwater” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
Diving is, at the end of the day, simply breathing underwater – so it’s incredibly important to perfect that skill! What I mean by this is that it’s important to breathe efficiently underwater so that you’re not always the first diver to run out of air. Practice, at home and in the water, taking deep breaths as if you were sleeping. Hold your breath briefly after completing your inhale, and make sure to exhale down to the depths of your lungs before taking another breath. Together, these practices reduce carbon dioxide build-up in your lungs and reduce the rate at which your body uses oxygen.
[su_box title=”Learn to Move Efficiently” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
Another important mistake that many beginner scuba divers make that rapidly depletes their air tank is wasting energy underwater. Every bit of energy your muscles use requires oxygen, so more movement in your arms and legs means faster use of your air tank. One of the best ways to achieve efficiency is to move in slow motion – kick slowly, paddle slowly, look around slowly, and even reach for your camera slowly. In addition, your choice of fin can dramatically impact how much energy your legs expend for kicking. Long, stiff fins may have you moving quickly through the water, but they use a lot of energy. Consider split fins, which are designed for divers to reduce energy expenditure, as a way to spend more time underwater.
Another important consideration for moving efficiently through the water is reducing drag. A significant portion of drag, especially among beginner divers, is body position. Poor body position, in particular arching your back or hips out of a horizontal plane, creates drag through the water that forces you to use more energy. Practicing your swim stroke at your local gym can help you to keep a horizontal position, as can maintaining proper neutral buoyancy underwater. Of course, be sure to keep gear like regulators, snorkels, and camera gear close to your body rather than floating away from you to reduce drag as well.
Lastly, think about where you’re swimming. Trying to swim directly against a current uses a huge amount of energy, while in many cases it is possible to reduce the effects of a current by swimming close to the seafloor. This can be especially helpful when there are rocks that you can use to slowly pull yourself forward with your hands. When no current is present, swimming close to the seafloor can actually take more energy, since it produces turbulence.
[su_box title=”Quadruple Check” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
One of the most important parts of every dive is the safety check. And there’s not just one, but four of them. Before you step off the dive boat, check yourself – did you forget any essential gear? It’s hard to come back for gear once you enter the water without aborting the dive. This is a good time to have your dive partner look over your setup as well.
Once you enter the water, pause again. This is a good time to make sure that nothing fell off when you entered the water (especially your weight belt, which is prone to falling if it wasn’t on tightly enough), to acclimate to the water temperature, and to notice any currents.
The third check should come once you’ve reached your maximum depth, but before you swim away from your anchor line. Ensure that your dive buddy has safely reached the bottom with you, and take a moment to remember the scene around the anchor line so that it’s easier to find when you return.
The final check should come at your safety stop, about 15 feet below the water’s surface on your ascent. Be sure to look above you for propellers or other obstacles that could make the remainder of the ascent problematic.
[su_box title=”Test Your Buoyancy ” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
Getting your buoyancy right during dives is essential to having a good experience. Although slowly floating upwards or sinking downwards throughout the dive can be comical, it can also force you to use air more quickly and even cause serious danger when there are sharp objects like a ship below you or an uncontrolled rise causes decompression sickness.
The first step in nailing down your buoyancy is to get your weight belt right. Many beginner divers add too much weight, and you can either reduce weight incrementally and experimentally or use an online calculator to estimate how much weight you’ll need on your next dive.
Of course, the weight belt is only half the equation. Controlling your buoyancy compensator is equally important. Many beginner divers tend to overuse buoyancy compensation, dumping and refilling air multiple times. Instead, establish neutral buoyancy at the surface, in the safe vicinity of the dive boat, using a simple float test. Once you’ve established neutral buoyancy, practice inhaling and exhaling to enact nuanced changes in buoyancy rather than changing the air in your buoyancy compensator.
[su_box title=”Plan for an Out-of-Air Ascent” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
No one wants to think an emergency can happen to them, but it’s much better to plan for it than to be caught not knowing what to do. Practicing for the scenario of running out of air, in a pool or during shallow dives in familiar locations, can help you to stay calm in the water. And staying calm makes a huge difference – much more damage will be done by panicking and swimming to the surface than by simply running out of air.
If this does happen to you, remain calm and find your dive buddy in the water. After signaling to them that you’re out of air, swim (slowly!) towards them and take their secondary regulator out of its holder. Once you’re settled on the air supply, it’s time to end the dive. Ascend together towards the safety stop, careful to stay together to avoid pulling on the regulator hoses.
[su_box title=”Map a Dive Site” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
One of the key skills that moves beginners who need a guide for every dive to self-sufficient divers is mapping a dive site. This is a time-consuming task, and so is best for sites that you’re likely to return to again and again.
To begin, set a buoy or obvious reference point roughly in the center of your diver area. From there, swim outward in a U-shaped loop, keeping track of the number of kicks it takes you to get to each landmark you find along the way on a dive slate. Use your compass throughout the loop to keep track of where you are in relation to your central reference point. Of course, keep an eye out for potential hazards throughout this mapping process – these should be noted prominently on your map of the area.
[su_box title=”Minimize Your Decompression Sickness Risk” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
Decompression sickness is one of the most feared results of a dive gone wrong, but thankfully the risk of developing symptoms is low with a few smart adjustments to your diving style. The most important thing you can do is structure you dive to spend longer than just your safety stop at shallow depths. One way to accomplish this is to start out at the deepest part of your dive, slowly moving upward as the dive goes on. Another is to leave extra time in the water above your safety stop, exploring just below the depth of snorkelers before heading up to the surface.
It’s also important to consider your actions outside any single dive. While many people like to plan multiple dives in a short time for vacation, avoid this when possible and be sure to leave a day or more between dives and airplane flights. In addition, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, as well as exercise immediately after a dive, has been suggested to reduce the risk of developing decompression sickness.
[su_box title=”Be a Better Buddy” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#f5417d” title_color=”#222″ radius=”10″ class=””]
You expect to be able to count on your dive buddy not only in case of an emergency, but for all aspects of a dive from the pre-dive safety check to the underwater experience to making sure everything is done as planned during the ascent. So, it’s important to have near-flawless communication with your dive buddy. Review hand signs before diving together, and when diving with new buddies start out in low-risk environments. Over time, a dive buddy relationship can develop into an unspoken understanding of when to lead and when to follow that can increase safety and enjoyment for you both.
In addition, it is critical to respect your own abilities and those of your buddy. Diving is one of the rare sports where two people of vastly different experience levels can work together, but it is extremely important in these cases to understand what your buddy is comfortable with before leading them into a potentially dangerous situation. Being honest with each other about what you each want out of a dive, what risks you are or aren’t willing to take, and whether you feel your experience has adequately prepared you for the requirements of a dive is essential to the success of a dive buddy partnership.
Scuba diving can take you within arm’s reach of amazing underwater environments that would be inaccessible without an air tank, making it one of the most dynamic and fun sports out there. While there is a lot to learn at first, getting the basic techniques down is relatively straightforward. From there, it just takes practice and focus to hone your skills and take your diving to the next level, which can both help you and your partners enjoy your dives more and reduce the risk of something going wrong. Practice makes perfect, and there’s no practice more fun than swimming with the fish.