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With more and more people wanting to experience the wonders of the oceans and more businesses being set up to make that happen, it has become a subject that needs a reference page so that potential first time divers can know what to expect. How hard it will be to do and what the risks and health issues are? Hopefully this Insider page will be a big help in the road map of how to get below the surface without first getting "certified" through an approved course. There is a shortcut method to go diving, meant to be a tease, used to get you to see how wonderful & exciting diving really is in the hope you will sign up & get certified. The generally used name is "the resort course" which is commonly taught at many areas around the Caribbean which are popular dive destinations, but can be used anywhere to get you signed up and below the surface in a very short time. This condensed version of diving instruction has the benefit of not taking long, but it also has limitations of what you will be allowed to do (depth and ratio of divers per instructor primarily) and it does not count towards future dives elsewhere, nor towards experience should you decide to later get certified. Basically it teaches you the minimum you need to know since your instructor is supposed to stay very close during all dives you will be allowed to do, and it keeps you from diving deeper than a depth that would make it too difficult for that instructor to get you back to the surface safely should something bad happen. I am not trying to scare you here, but diving is no different than any other sport or activity, it has safety rules, requires skills, and takes practice. Most people are willing to learn these rules & skills in order to enjoy the wonders of the seas, and hopefully this page will prepare them for that adventure.
Pictured is the primary regulator, with the hoses attached to it, a secondary regulator, which is the part with the mouthpiece, and a depth gauge, all of which I will show in more detail. You will need to learn these names, and what each part does.
Pictured is the pressure gauge, and you must learn to check it regularily during a dive. You must start your ascent before the tank is empty, which is why there is a section starting at 500 PSI highlighted in red. This particular gauge has a built in thermometer for the water temp.
This is a basic and simple depth gauge, and the red hand set just over 100 feet deep records the maximum depth of your dive if used correctly. You are supposed to reset that hand to zero before the start of each dive. It is important to know your depth as it determines how much air you wil consume, and that in turn effects the amount of nitrogen your blood will absorb. Nitrogen absorption from the air we breath changes when breathing compressed air at depth, so is a safety concern that must be learned as part of certification, but not really for resort course purposes.
As part of this information page I may refer to three well known training organizations using the commonly used abbreviated titles, so for your own knowledge they are PADI ( Professional Association of Dive Instructors, NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International) but there are many more training organizations worldwide. I am using these names only because they are the ones I regularily see on the walls of the dive shops in the Caribbean, and are well represented all over North America. In order to try and provide factual and up to date information I have e-mailed each of these training groups, and also gone to a local dive shop where I know the owners, and who have offered full cooperation in trying to get the course guidlines for me. They were very quick to print out the PADI course outline, and have offered to contact some business owners that teach the others. To date PADI has also answered my e-mail and offered to read and make suggestions if I make any errors interpreting the material I obtain. I should also mention that I am PADI certified, and therefore have a better understanding of their rules & practices than of any of the other organizations. My goal with this "Insider" page is to try and set out a general understanding of what you need to be taught, how it should be done, and why it is important for you to make certain that you understand it all. The excitement of getting to go diving must not overshadow the need to understand the safety rules, and to follow them. This course by-passes fully learning you all of the safety procedures, and with that in mind the ones it is trying to teach you must be considered very important.
In this photo you should notice that I have a large hose with another secondary regulator, and it acts as my back up (octopus) in case my main one should fail. The large hose is the inflator hose for the BCD (buoyancy compensation device) that the tank is mounted to and you wear to carry the tank. We weigh ourselves down with weights so that we will sink to the bottom, and then by adding air using a valve in the inflator, we try to control the depth we can hover at. It takes practice to master, but with time becomes second nature.
A better view of my combination inflator valve & backup octopus. The round red buttom adds air to the BCD, and the large rectangular button dumps the air. The small hose is attached to the primary regulator on the tank which is where the air comes from. Many BCDs will just have an inflator valve that is not also a regulator. I have chosen this style to reduce the number of components of my gear that could damage fragile reef growth.
Here you see the more common style of inflator valve, the button pointing up inflates, the button at the very end dumps the air. Mounted to the inflator is another back up regulator, but this one is not integral to the valve. Secondary regulators come in many styles, so the ones you may be taught to use may look different, but they all function in the same basic way. They are your lifeline underwater, so they require regular inspections & rebuilding of them by trained professionals. They also require washing in fresh water after diving in salt water to help avoid problems. For those that have noticed that it appears to have a mouthpiece to breath from, you are half right. Some divers trying to get the absolute maximum bottom time from their tank will use the spent air in their lungs to inflate their BCD rather than fresh air directly from the tank. They put the mouthpiece into their mouth and exhale back into the BCD by pressing down on the dump valve.
Another way to get below the surface is SNUBA, which is fairly new, and uses a similar breathing system but the tank of compressed air floats on the surface (using a raft type of device) and the air comes to the diver by a hose that is approximately 20 feet long. This does allow you to swim down, but as you are tethered you are like a pendelum, and can only only get deepest directly under the raft, and as you get further from the raft the hose will force you to a shallower depth. Most divers frown on SNUBA, as it has many of the safety issues diving has, but you may not receive much instruction before being allowed to dive, and I don't think it is regulated like dive instruction. If you are interested in trying SNUBA or SCUBA diving please read the next section carefully enough to fully understand the message I am trying to get across.
Both SCUBA and SNUBA use the same basic components to supply compressed air to the diver. The tank starts with a pressure around 3,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure, which allows the tank to hold many lungs full of air, but at an unusable pressure. To drop that pressure two regulators are used, the primary one goes on the tank, (it lowers the pressure to around 175 PSI) and a secondary one goes into your mouth, and is what is known as a "demand regulator". Both regulators are of high quality and require regular tear downs & servicing by people fully trained to do it. The demand regulator delivers low pressure air into your mouth when you inhale, but shuts it off when you stop. It must be carefully adjusted not to leak air at all times, and uses a diaphragm with water pressure to assist the opening of the air valve as you go deeper, and the water pressure increases. When you exhale a simple one way valve opens and your air is released into the water creating bubbles. Because you are also being compressed by the water pressure it takes more air to fill your lungs (volume) than it did on the surface. As part of diver training we are taught that at a depth of 33 feet it takes double the volume of air to fill your lungs that it did on the surface, and at 66 feet three times the volume. This is directly related to the water pressure compressing you, and the big safety risk is that you might try to surface without exhaling that air. I think it is fairly easy to understand that if you have 2 volumes of air in your lungs at 33 feet down and suddenly head for the surface your lungs will explode, or at least start to before you suddenly scream which emptys them, but only after causing an injury. Diving and the breathing of compressed air requires that you always breath normally, inhale, then exhale, and continue in a normal manner, just as you do on land, but unfortunately many beginners hold their breath, as if snorkeling or just swimming underwater. It is training and practice that avoids that situation, and constantly being aware that you must keep breathing normally. The deeper you dive, the faster you will use up the air in your tank, so by learning your skills in shallow areas you get both the benefit of diving for a longer period of time, plus the safety factor of being close enough to the surface to be able to ascend without having to do a safety stop should you need to surface suddenly.
Because diving is considered a sport, it can put a strain on your body, and even a bigger strain on your respiratory & circulatory systems. If you are thinking of trying diving out on your next vacation, or for that matter at any time, you should first make sure that your health is up to par, and that you won't run out of energy from a lack of having recently done some physical activities. If you have not participated in any cardio type activities recently you should consider getting back into shape before signing up for diving. You should also get a medical check up if you haven't had one lately, especially if you have any known medical conditions that require medication, or you are over 40. When you sign up to take a "resort course" you will be required to fill out a medical waiver form & sign it, and it is not advisable to lie when filling it out, your life could be at risk. Thankfully PADI has a free download of their medical form, and explinations of some of the important issues, available at this site.http://www.padi.com/english/common/co...
Well here we go, time to go back to school more or less. This is the most important part of using the "Discover Scuba Diving" or as it is called at vacation destinations, "the Resort Course". You need to receive enough instruction that you understand how the equipment works, why you need it, and what to do if something unexpected happens. Like everything in life, training is the key to sucess, even if it is a condensed version. The key to sucess here is that because it is condensed, teaching you only the necessities, is that you really need to learn them to have a great experience. Amazingly enough, it is very possible to have a great first dive if you learn and exercise your basic teachings.
Here is a look at a fully rigged BCD using more conventional looking second stage regulator, which I al so took a close up of. I happened to be at the dive shop that has helped get the information that I needed for the article, noticed this floor model, and had my cameras in the car so I thought it would be a good example of what it all looks like when hooked up together.
PADI specific information taken from the course guidlines. Supervision & Ratios In a pool, up to 8 students per instructor, or assistant instructor, OR 4 students per Divemaster (instructing divemasters must take an internship to qualify to teach this course). For the Confined Open Water part of the coursethe ratios are 4 students per instructor or assistant instructor, or 6 students to an instructor with an assistant instructor helping, but only 2 students to a teaching divemaster. The instructor will teach you the names of the equipment, how to use it, the need for a weight system to counter your natural buoyancy, the use of your mask & fins, breathing rules, mask & regulator clearing and some basic hand signals so that you can communicate underwater. I will try to expand on most of these to help you get a better understanding of the course.
Your instructor will show you the equipment needed to dive, and teach you the common names we all know them by, (usually abbriviated names rather than the formal name) and explain their purpose, and how they work. Once the instructor thinks you have a good understanding of the equipment, or possible before that part of the instruction, they will try to teach you the safety rules, and the basic principals of diving. (remember, it is a condensed course, and there is much more to it than just this). When the instructor thinks you understand enough that it is time for "hands on" practice they will get you geared up and into the water to try it all out for yourself. IMPORTANT INFORMATION. The instructor is supposed to get into the water with you, not stay on the pool deck, or dock etc, and be there to make certain that everything follows your teachings, and that you are comfortable using the equipment while underwater. There is absolutely no way that that can happen if the instructor is not in the water with you, and yet many instructors (not good ones) stay dry by telling you that they will watch from above. You have paid for and need to receive proper instruction, and if the instructor does not get into the water with you you are being cheated, and put at risk. If you run into a situation similar to this demand to see the shop manager, or owner, and explain your concern, this is not the right way to be taught. How can an instructor that can't talk to you, can't see your facial expression, and can't instantly evaluate the situation, know you are in trouble? Get your money back and find another shop to do the job properly; your safety is at a very serious risk under there circumstances. I highly recommend that before signing up at any shop you take the time to ask questions regarding the teaching methods used, especially whether the instructor is expected to be in the water with you. If you don't take the time to check out the operator, you have opened up a loophole for them to use if they don't teach according to the guidelines, but refuse to refund your money. If you haven't specifically asked about having the instructor get into the water with you they can invent a "house policy" to suit their needs.
You do need to know how to swim, although not extremely well, as well as tread water a bit. Having a tank of air to breathe still requires some swimming skills to get around down there, and help you control your buoyancy (consistent depth control). You will be taught and tested for being able to clear the water from a flooded mask, you may even be asked to fully remove & re install it onto your face plus clear the water from it. You will be taught (and also tested) how to remove your breathing regulator from your mouth, purge the water that will enter it, and re insert & breath from it. This is an important skill, as it could be knocked or pulled from your mouth, and you must not panic, just follow your training & re insert it, or use the back up one that is also part of your equipment, (regularily refered to as your octopus). The instructor also has an octopus just in case, and you need to be aware of where it is mounted in the event you need air from it (not a common problem, but it is a safety back up). You will be taught about the pressure gauge that tells you how much air is in your tank, and the instructor will regularily ask you to re check it, as this is a regular part of diving, and needs to become second nature for you to check every few minutes. We don't dive until our tanks are empty, we normally begin a slow & controlled acsent when the gauge reaches 700 PSI (about 45 bar). You will be taught how to read your depth gauge, the importance of it, and be instructed as to what the maximum depth you will be diving to, so that you stay within your limits. One of the more important things you will be taught (and definately need to know) is how to equalize the pressure in your ears to match the water pressure as you descend, or change depths. If you don't learn this you will notice major pain in your ears while trying to go down, and if you can't equalize you will have to abandon the dive. Sinus problems can really cause problems related to equalizing, so if you have a cold or allergy problems you may not be able to go diving until those conditions cure themselves.. You may be taught some other things relating to additional equipment such as a wet suit etc, but the things I have mentioned are the biggies. It may sound a bit intimidating but in actual fact thanks to the entire process being hands on you can quickly get a handle on it all, and once the instructor gets you into some shallow water to try all the gear & principals out things can get exciting rather than scary.
At the very beginning the term shallow water will mean exactly that if at all possible, such as very close to shore or a pool that you can stand up in right where you start the experience. Once the instructor thinks you are OK with everything and seem to be breathing normally they will get you to swim around a bit, relying on the regulator to keep you breathing, not surface air. As you get comfortable with that task they will take you deeper, if possible, to a maximum depth of about 20 feet. You will all the time be breathing normally, checking your gauges regularily, and trying to control your buoyancy, which at first is the hardest thing likely for you to master. Don't worry, we all had that problem, and in real world terms practice over many dives masters it. Diving is just like driving, at first it is a bit intimidating, but the more we actually drive the better we get at it. Similarily when we started to drive we drove slowly, not trying to set land speed records, and in the same way you learn to dive to shallow depths, well within your training, yet close enough to the surface to get there safely should a problem occur. As you do this very first dive the instructor will carefully observe you, and may bring things to your attention that you need to work on improving, and may even retest your skills by asking you to perform one or more of them, all in the idea that the more you practice them the more likely they will just become an automatic reaction to a situation. Diving is fun, otherwise we all would not spend so much money travelling to vacation destinations primarily to go diving, at further expense than the holiday cost.
This photo shows a dive computer, one of several styles that depending on which one it is, can keep track of just about every variable that takes place during your dive. They can show your depth, the maximum depth you dove to, how long the dive has lasted, how much air is in your tank, and how long the remaining air will last you at your current depth. Much more importantly they also keep a running total of how much nitrogen your blood will have absorbed as a result of breathing compressed air. You won't likely get to use one but may notice that your instructor or divemaster uses one. Because they may do several dives per day, their blood may contain several times the normal amount of nitrogen it normally would, and that is a risk, especially if they were to get on a plane to fly somewhere, like you would to end your vacation. I have added this information to allert you to the fact that just because you finished your diving without any problems, there are safety concern that could still be a problem long after the boat docks and you go back to the resort. This will not be a concern if you stay within the recommended guidelines that the "resort course" sets out, but could be a problem if you violate them. Excess nitrogen can form bubbles in your blood vessels when the pressure on your body is reduced (either the water pressure or air pressure) and that is commonly known as the "bends" and in some cases can be fatal. Follow the rules, don't try to convince yourself that because the last dive went well that you know your limits, because you don't have all the needed information to fully understand all the risks. It was research back in the early days of diving, and still continues today, that created the need for divers to be trained by organizations that follow and obey the guidlines that keep you safe.
If the instructor feels that you passed the course by demonstrating that you have enough basic knowledge of the skill set they taught you, and seemed comfortable underwater during that very first dive you then will be allowed to make a dive under controlled and carefully supervised conditions with the same dive operation the instructor works with. You may do it with that specific instructor, or another one that is aware that you are new to the sport, and have only done the resort course. According to the PADI training manual I was able to get the section on Depth, Supervision and Ratios it specifically states that the maximum depth is no more than 40 feet, (12 meters) and that ONLY Teaching status PADI instructors may conduct the PADI Discover Scuba Diving program (The proper name for the Resort Course as used by PADI), in an open water environment. It also states "The instructor must also maintain direct supervision during the dive and not engage in any other activities, such as video or photography. PADI also allows up to 4 participants (resort course grads) to one instructor, or assistant instructor; or 6 participants to an instructor with a certified assistant. Participant to divemaster ratio is 2 to 1. All of this relates to adults, there are different rules for children.
Until I have the course outlines from NAUI and SSI I can't fully explore any differences between the teachings or limitations they use once you have completed the basic course, so there will be more added as I get & read their manuals. Also if this subject interests you and you are strongly considering using the resort course to go diving next vacation you might want to contact a local dive shop and take it in advance of your vacation. It won't count once you get there, but you will have a much better understanding of the entire process, plus the benefit of seeing how different instructors teach it. Another thing that you might want to consider is that PADI (and likely the others) sell the diving certification course materials in a "learn at home" form where you can do most of what we used to do in a classroom using a DVD or CD at home, with much less time needed for classes. It doesn't do the pool time, but can better prepare you for either a vacation dive, or getting properly certified. Diving can be a great addition to your vacation, and offers you another way to meet people with a similar interest quickly while away from home. My wife is always amazed at how many resort guests I know after only a day or two of our vacation. When you go diving, you make friends every boat trip to & from the dive sites, and in turn meet their friends once back at the resort or hotel, adding yet another way to increase your vacation pleasure