Getting Started With Scuba Diving
Scuba Diving – All You Need To Know To Get Started
Scuba diving is an activity like no other. The sport allows us to explore the mysterious and unreachable undersea world. With millions of people going scuba diving every year, the sport is one of the fastest growing sports around today.
This article aims to educate you on what scuba diving is about, how to get into scuba diving, essential gear needed for the sport, dangers and safety precautions.
What Is Scuba Diving?
Scuba diving is a form of underwater diving where the diver uses a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA), which is completely independent of surface supply, to breathe underwater. Since the breathing apparatus used to breathe underwater is ‘scuba’ and the activity also involves exploring underwater (diving), the sport is called Scuba Diving.
The tanks carried by scuba divers contain air which the diver will breathe underwater. Contrary to popular belief, the air isn’t pure oxygen. This misconception is easy to understand since it’s a well-known fact that we need oxygen to survive. However, there’s a limit to the amount of oxygen we can handle and diving deeper than 20 feet can make a diver absorb more oxygen than his/her body can handle leading to oxygen toxicity.
This is why scuba diving gas is usually compressed and purified air containing oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases. The nitrogen component of the gas can cause nitrogen narcosis at greater depths which has similar effects as taking excessive alcohol. However, a diver can easily combat by going back up to shallower waters.
The Attraction of Scuba Diving
The main attraction behind scuba diving is the opportunity to explore what would have otherwise been the unattainable and unreachable undersea world. The underwater world is also beautiful with the abundant wildlife and mesmerizing colors there. The Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef are one of the best scuba diving locations due to the beauty of their underwater world and people find themselves not being able to get enough of it.
Can Non-Swimmers Do Scuba Diving?
The answer is YES. Non-swimmers can do scuba diving however, there is a limit to what they can do. For one, non-swimmers are allowed to only make simple intro dives and an instructor will always be by their side.
Thanks to scuba gear, non-swimmers are able to be buoyant, swim with fins, and float at the surface with a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) jacket.
You can scuba dive if you can’t swim but you aren’t going to get the full experience. Also, you can get a full scuba license as a non-swimmer. So if you are okay with this, good. If not, you might consider learning to swim.
How To Get Certified For Scuba Diving?
The scuba diving industry is mostly self-regulating. While there is no government mandated training procedures, you need to register with an internationally recognized agency to get certified for scuba diving.
It’s easy to find an accredited agency since there are hundreds of them around the world. And most of them have cross acceptance agreements that make their training internationally accepted.
The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is a recreational diving membership and diver training organization that offers several technical diving courses. And below are some diving courses you can take with PADI:
Open Water Diver Course: This is where you start from as a beginner and you get a full scuba certification at the end of the course. This course takes 3-4 days and requires that you are able to swim. If you don’t know how to swim, get some swimming lessons before signing up for this course.
Advanced Open Water Diver: This course can only be taken after you’ve completed the Open Water Diver Course and have earned your scuba diving certificate. As the name implies, you learn more advanced diving skills in this course.
Rescue Diver: This course further improves your diving knowledge by teaching you how to manage and prevent problems in the water. Your overall confidence as a diver will massively increase after taking this course. It’s challenging but fun and rewarding.
Enriched Air Diver: A specialty course, Enriched Air Divers teaches you how to use enriched air, also known as nitrox, to improve your bottom time.
Reactivate Scuba Refresher Program: This is a refresher course that updates the diving skills and knowledge you learned from the Open Water Diver Course.
Dive Theory: A specialty course that teaches you about diving skills, equipment, physics, physiology, decompression theory, and more. It’s all about broadening your scuba diving knowledge.
Scuba Schools International (SSI) is another agency you can sign up with to learn scuba diving and get certified.
Open Water Diver: The full diving certification course for beginners. It’s the same with PADI open water diver certification.
Try Scuba, Basic Diver, Referral Diver, Scuba Diver, Indoor Diver: You can start with the Try Scuba course to get a feel of diving and decide if you like the course and proceed to Basic Diver, then Referral Diver course until you get to Indoor Diver.
You’ll have to take the Open Water Diver course eventually to get the full scuba diving certification. You can skip all these courses and take the Open Water Diver test straightaway or work your way up to Open Water Diver with these courses. Whichever works for you.
SSI Advanced Open Water: This course covers the central core courses that every diver needs to be efficient enough to dive just about anywhere in the world. Not equivalent with PADI Advanced Open Water Course.
SSI Master Diver: The equivalent of the PADI Advanced Open Water, the SSI Master Dive teaches you more advanced diving skills.
Scuba Diving Essential Gear
Scuba diving is a gear-intensive activity. Below are essential gear needed for the sport.
Scuba diving allows you to focus your eyes underwater (see clearly underwater) thanks to the air pocket they create in front of your eyes. While it’s possible to use modern snorkeling masks for scuba diving, you have to check that such masks meet the requirements of diving.
One of the most important features of a diving mark is about the volume which is the amount of space in front of the mask. The volume must not be too large as a mask with a large volume will be difficult to clear. A large volume isn’t a concern during snorkeling as you are close to the surface and can always go up to clear the mask. But this is not possible in scuba diving since you are far away from the surface.
Diving masks are usually made of tempered glass to make them strong enough to withstand impacts and high pressure.
Your legs do most of the work in scuba diving as they provide all the power you need for propulsion. Using fins offer you more surface area with the water and makes your propulsion easier.
There are two parts of a fin namely the pocket and the blade. The pocket could be designed as an open heel, which is adjustable and requires you wear a boot, or full foot which is similar to putting on a slipper. The full foot design does not allow you to wear boots and is not suitable for use in cold waters where you need protection from the cold.
The value of a snorkel varies depending on where you dive. You should ideally go for a snorkel that has a soft silicone mouthpiece and a simple, straight, or curvy bore.
You are not going to use a snorkel underwater but when you resurface, it can provide a good supply of oxygen. Snorkels also come in handy if you have to swim some distance to reach your diving site.
Also referred to as the diving cylinder, the scuba tank contains the compressed air that will help you breathe underwater. Unless a cylinder is painted white or green, it’s not an oxygen tank i.e 100% oxygen.
As I said earlier, pure oxygen isn’t used for diving as your body absorbs more oxygen than you need when you are deep underwater. And in such situations, oxygen becomes a toxin. Instead, air from the atmosphere, which we breathe, is purified and compressed into a tank. Most divers don’t buy scuba tanks and instead rent filled tanks.
Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
Usually designed as a vest, the BCD helps you maintain neutral buoyancy and also attaches your dive gear to you.
Talking of gear that the BCD attaches to you, your scuba tank is one such gear as it’s supported by the backboard and straps of the BCD. The first stage regulator is also attached to your BCD.
Yep, weights are used for scuba diving to help you maintain neutral balance during and at the end of your dive. Without weights, you’d float even with all your dive gear on you. Remember that the air in your tank will be used when underwater and you’ll need to compensate for it later.
You will remember that gases are compressed into cylinders at high pressures if you paid attention in your physics or chemistry classes. The pressure of the compressed air in your gas is too high for you to breathe and that’s you need a regulator. A scuba regulator will reduce the high-pressure air in a scuba tank to a breathable pressure on demand.
Wetsuit / drysuit
Since diving water is usually at body temperature, your body will eventually cool. This is where exposure suits come in as they slow the loss of heat from the body. Wet suits are designed to be used in tropical waters while dry suits are designed for cold waters.
There is also a dive skin that is designed to protect your body from stings and coral scrapes. It doesn’t have any thermal protection properties.
What Are The Dangers Of Scuba Diving?
Not to scare you but scuba diving isn’t without risks. Below are some of the dangers associated with scuba diving:
Drowning usually occurs due to the diver panicking or becoming unconscious due to non-dive-related health problems. This is why it’s important that you in good health before going scuba diving. Go for a medical examination and talk to your doctor about whether you can go diving if you have any cardiac or respiratory conditions.
The increased pressure underwater causes the body to absorb more nitrogen than it usually does. Rapid reduction in the pressure underwater by quickly ascending can cause the excess nitrogen in the body to form potentially harmful bubbles which can cause aching joints, skin rashes, or death.
To avoid this, it’s important that scuba divers make their ascent in carefully monitored stages depending on the speed of their air bubbles to control the rate of release of the excess nitrogen in their bodies.
Nitrogen narcosis is similar to the effect of excessive alcohol intake and usually occurs around 80-100 feet in saltwater. While this in itself isn’t directly managing, the diver may make poor decisions that may be potentially life-threatening.
It’s important you don’t go beyond 60ft after your first scuba certification until you gain more experience or receive more lessons.
Another problem related to rapid ascent. Rapidly ascending can cause the air in your arteries or lungs to solidify.
It’s also important you don’t hold your breath when ascending as the air in your lungs may expand and this can seriously damage your lungs. Pulmonary/arterial embolism can be prevented with careful ascent and by not holding your breath when ascending.
Since many scuba divers rent the equipment they use, it’s important they thoroughly inspect the equipment they use and ensure they are in good condition. If you think that a piece of equipment is faulty, request for a new one.
Defective equipment can cause decompression sickness (if your depth gauge isn’t working properly) or drowning in the case of a bad regulator.
Be wary of sea life when underwater. Remember you are in no man’s land. Don’t touch any sea animal. It’s for your safety.
How To Stay Safe?
Below are safety tips you should observe for your safety during scuba diving:
- Don’t go diving unless you are certified to dive.
- Make sure you are fit to dive.
- Sign up with a certified training agency and listen to your instructor.
- Double-check your equipment and ensure they are in good condition.
- Never dive without a buddy.
- Breathe normally during diving. Don’t hold your breath.
- Always plan your dive, and always dive your plan.
- If you are feeling unwell or are in pain after a dive, visit the nearest emergency room ASAP.
- It’s important you don’t fly for 12 hours after a no-decompression dive, even in a pressurized airplane. If your dive required decompression stops, don’t fly for at least 24 hours.
- Try not to panic underwater regardless of the situation you are in. Try to calm down and think through the problem.