Being a scuba diver and learning to consume less air on your dives, means regulating your breaths. I often practice slow breaths; breathe in to the count of 4, and a slow, controlled exhale to the count of 5. I definitely notice I consume less air, but I also notice that getting into that rhythm is very relaxing. Because I am underwater, AND breathing through a regulator, inhaling breaths are a little louder. And exhaling bubbles is just fun!
My husband is a scuba instructor, so he has logged countless dives in his scuba career. He is a very patient buddy as I take pictures of the many critters we encounter, and I often turn around after taking my shots, and he literally appears to be napping, hands clasped, suspended perfectly by my side. The first time I noticed that, I thought he was "narced", staring senselessly at the rock in front of him, but no. He was just resting his eyes while I took pictures. THAT is taking relaxation to a whole other level!
On our last dive in the Cayman Islands, we settled on the sandy bottom of the ocean, and patiently waited for the little yellow-headed jawfish to cautiously stick their heads out of their holes. They are curious, and it was our hope that they would come all the way out. I have a little photo-series of those relaxing moments (see below, and sorry, I didn't have macro capability, so I couldn't get any closer), but my point is, that is was such a calming practice (plus, these little guys are so darned amusing!). It is a place of ZEN. :)
Cute and curious Yellow-headed Jawfish - The "dance" we had the privilege of watching as we meditated on the bottom of the ocean:
2. Escape Technology
Don't get me wrong, technology is great, but enough already! I use technology a lot for my job, and for the business; social media is a big part of being involved in the scuba industry. That makes sense, because it is a very unique sort of business - a very social business. But it has some tremendous downsides. I began to feel like I couldn't do it all. I had mountains of work to do, but somehow the social media vortex would suck me in, and spit me out hours later. It was creating stress.
Disentangling ourselves from social media while we go on our diving excursions is such a relaxing pleasure! No phones underwater! We naturally find ourselves unwinding and enjoying the company of other divers, while the "pull" of technology lessens minute by minute. I LOVE our little dive trips! Whew!!!! What a relief to escape!
Silence is golden. It really is. Noise is a pollution, and we are so inured to it, that we often don't realize the strain and stress we are putting on ourselves emotionally and physically, until we finally free ourselves from it.
To descend below the surface of the water, is to truly shut out the rest of the world. No work, no bosses, no technology, no traffic (except for schools of fish), and, for a little while anyway, I can pretend there are no bills. It is an escape like no other. Bliss.
Wreck diving is a favourite for many divers. People love them for many different reasons. For some, it is the magical timelessness of a structure preserved in its time (although it is ever changing from year to year).
For others, it is the historical significance that demands their fascination. A wreck may lie on the bottom of an ocean as a memorial to battles, conflict, or tragedy, and historians have learned a great deal about our past from the archaeological artifacts recovered and preserved from its depths.
Every wreck has a story. We love to learn the history of each one before we explore her secrets. And wrecks are everywhere! We enjoy them on weekend outings from home here in Ontario often throughout the summer, and in the winter, we explore historical wrecks in more exotic and far away locations. Each is unique, and although people usually think of ships as wrecks, we also dive the wrecks of planes, military craft, and even railroad cars!
Wrecks draw underwater photographers, not only for its structural beauty, but for the life that is sheltered there. In the ocean, wrecks become artificial reefs over time - a kind of coral nursery - and with each passing year of thriving growth, more and more marine life takes residence there. It is beautiful to see and appreciate the contrast of a dilapidated wreck that is falling apart, with the colourful coral growing on it, attracting fishes, shrimps, eels, rays, and more. What's not to love?
5. Marine Life
Do we all carry an obsession with the water and the creatures living in it, or is it just me? I can't walk by a body of water, without at least visually searching its depths for a glimpse of life.
In fresh water - frogs, tadpoles, crayfish, and, of course bigger fish like bass, or maybe sturgeon? In salt water - jellyfish, sea-turtles, lobster, or maybe even a shark? I want to see them, I want to see them all!
My marine life point BEGS to be told through a few pictures (which will naturally lead to point number 6...
6. Underwater Photography
I know, it's not every scuba diver's passion to capture the beauty of the world below the waves with a digital camera, but it IS mine! It's really one of the motivating factors that got me into the sport in the first place! Many divers choose not to take a camera with them, because they just want to enjoy the experience first hand, not through the eye of the camera. They will tap their heads and proclaim, "It's all up here."
And they are right. But not for me. I am DRIVEN to improve my underwater photography skills. If I can't take my camera with me, I am devastated, because then I KNOW that is when I will see something cool, and miss the chance to photograph it through MY eyes, MY way with MY tool - the camera. And generally speaking, you just can't plan what you are going to see and photograph on a dive. It's like Forest Gump says, "Scuba diving is like a box of chocolate - you never know what you are going to get." (close enough). So with camera in hand, I must be ready. For anything.
Every dive and photo-shoot experience is a learning opportunity, and I leave every excursion with a list of things in my head that I could improve on next time. Things I would do differently, and things I would like to try. It may be an obsession.
My scuba trips are fraught with running to my room to check O-rings, download images (with back-up) and charge lights and camera so they are ready for the next dive.
And I just wouldn't have it any other way.
7. Divers are Fun and Cool
But it's just so simply true. Divers love life. They are fun loving. They love nature. They care about the ocean and the environment.
We take care of each other and help one another to improve their scuba skills, and dive safer.
We enjoy BBQ's and refreshments after many dives, and they are just a pretty cool bunch of people. You really have to join this community and see for yourself! What are you waiting for?
Learn to dive, or join the scuba club!
What a great week of diving we are enjoying!
The best part about the Sunset House, and diving with Sunset Divers here in Grand Cayman, is that while a two-tank boat dive is included every morning, there is unlimited shore diving just a few feet from our rooms, and the reef just offshore here is alive and beautiful! Steve jumped in from dive deck the other night, and came face to face with an octopus and two cuttlefish, and he hadn't even started his dive yet!
We are seeing plenty of awesome marine life, and the mermaid statue and the Nicholson (a carrier wreck), are close to shore from our resort, so we may visit them often. If we wish. And IF we can find them...Jim...
Be careful with the mermaid, Jody put his arm around her for a picture and got stung by some fire coral.
It may be ok now, as some young male divers were heading out to clean off her nipples. Maybe they will clean off more...
Last night, Jim found two lionfish mating (he has good eyes), and while they sort of separated by the time I glided in with my camera, you can see from the picture that they change colour when they are...um...mating. It was so interesting, we had never seen that before.
Can you spot them?
(Why did the diver need a macro lens? - To get these guys sharp!
But our favourite dive has been on the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13). It was a United States Navy Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel in commission from 1946 to 1994. In 1986, the Kittiwake recovered the black box from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
We get to do the Kittiwake tonight for a night dive, so we are off with our cameras...
Here we are in the head of the Kittiwake, where the mirrors still hang on the wall, albeit cracked and distorted. After that, just a little bit down the hallway, there is a recompression chamber where the rescue ship was able to treat divers on-site. There is a little pocket of stale air in the chamber, but keep your regulator in your mouth, and don't breathe it!
Intruder (nurse shark) in moray eel's home:
Aaargh, A Scurvy Pirate!
It was pirate week in Grand Cayman when we were there - such fun! The pirates sailed in on Saturday at 3:00 pm, and fought sword to sword with the British redcoats, only to overcome them and kidnap the Governor, whose daughter is in love with a pirate. The pirate parade ensued. The town was over-run with pirates, and Captain Sparrow himself joined in the raid! This Friday, "My Bar" at Sunset House Scuba Resort, will be raided by the pirates mooring just off-shore, and the bar staff and guests will have to fight to defend it! But they will lose, and the pirates will shove off, only after enjoying a good, stiff drink! A great time!
Thank-you to the Sunset Divers Staff!
We would like to thank the crew responsible for giving us a wonderful scuba experience while we were in Grand Cayman! Lee and Steve were excellent Captains, and we tried to be a good group for them too. The dive briefings were excellent, with Aaron's "towel art" featuring the beautiful geographical topography of our dive sites. Aaron was also an excellent scurvy pirate, and we enjoyed his soothing "radio-voice"! Andrew, and Solamay (spelling?) were so helpful and accommodating, making each experience a very special pleasure. Many thanks to a great team at Sunset Divers!
So you have jumped on the scuba diving band wagon and have fallen in love. Congratulations, and welcome to the beautiful world of scuba diving! You have had your first breaths underwater and you’re hooked! Every instructor and Divemaster have started where you are now. We all have to start somewhere, right? An initial spark of interest in scuba diving can lead to a lifetime passion. We have compiled some tips and advice for you to use as a reference as you embark on your new journey into the scuba diving world.
1. Go Slow
Relax and enjoy the experience. It’s not a race to be faster then everyone else, move slowly and take in your surroundings. You will notice that your air consumption will decrease if you relax and take it easy. Add air to your BCD in small increments, wait a few seconds, and see how the air you have added changes your buoyancy. Add a few more puffs, take a few breaths and reassess. Remember, you don’t need to add air to your BCD to ascend, use your fins instead and slowly release expanding air.
2. Air Hog? Want Better Air Consumption?
The answer to your questions - log more dives. It is as simple as that. It’s natural to breathe more and consume more air when you are a new diver; the more excited and nervous a diver is, the more air they will inhale. This is normal and happens to most people new to the sport. The good news is, your air consumption will improve and it’s important not to get to discouraged. As you gain more experience, you will become more comfortable with your gear, and develop better buoyancy control. And it will become second nature after a while! Think about when you first started driving as a teenager -- you may have had a similar experience.
3. Don’t be peer pressured.
Taking up scuba diving should be exciting and stimulating, and it is a great way to push your personal boundaries. While you’ll want to embrace new experiences in diving, don’t allow others to pressure you into doing something that doesn’t feel right. Any diver can call off any dive for any reason, no questions asked. Respect the fact that sometimes it is not safe to dive, and there will be times when you need to call a dive. Also remember that if something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Trust your gut.
4. Get a well- fitted mask.
You might not think it’s a big deal, but I can assure you that the biggest diver complaint is a leaky and uncomfortable mask. The whole point of diving is to see underwater, right? If you are always having trouble with a leaking and/or foggy mask, it will distract you and impair your vision. Sometimes finding a well-fitting mask can be a hit or miss. Take the time to try on different kinds of masks, until you find the perfect one. Try on different masks in the pool and figure out which style is the right fit for you.
5. Control your weight.
Now I’m not telling you to go on a diet here, we are talking about the weight in (or on) your weight system. It is commonplace for new divers to overweight themselves, which will in turn make your diving experience a lot more difficult. Take the time to experiment and fine tune your weighting. The payoff is neutral buoyancy throughout your dive. Neutral buoyancy is the sweet spot, the holy grail of being a good diver. Once you find that sweet spot, everything seems to come together. Come to a Monday night pool session and experiment with different weights. When you find that perfect weighting and have achieved neutral buoyancy, it will keep you from bumping into reefs, help with controlled descents, reduce the risk of ear injuries, and also improve your air consumption dramatically.
6. Equalize Early & Often.
Another common complaint in new divers is ear discomfort when descending. If you descend faster than your ability to equalize, you will put yourself at risk for an ear injury. Use a descent line to help gauge your speed. The moment you feel any discomfort, stop and go back up a little bit, until you can equalize and you no longer feel discomfort. Do not keep going and hope the pain will go away – IT WON’T. If you really can’t equalize, it is time to signal your buddy and call the dive. Only continue when you can equalize the pressure in your ears. Pushing your ears past their limit can cause serious injury and it is not worth the risk.
7. Keep Diving – Continue Your Education
Practice, practice, practice, and log more dives. Just like any new hobby, practice is the key to mastering a skill. Every minute you spend underwater, you are becoming a more experienced diver. With every dive you will learn something new, see something different and experience new environments. A great way to improve your skills is to enroll in the PADI Advanced Open Water Course, which is the next step up from PADI Open Water Diver. The PADI Advanced Course involves theory and 5 dives, each dive introducing you to different specialties. Some options include: deep, navigation, wreck, night, boat, and peak performance buoyancy dives, and there are many more that might spark your interest. The PADI Advance Open Water also lets you go deeper (to 100ft/30m), which lets you experience deeper wrecks and environments.
And there you have it newbies! You are well on your way to becoming experienced divers! We all start from the bottom, we all get nervous sometimes, and we are not all perfect divers. Every diver has strengths and weaknesses, like most things in life. The best advice I can give you is to practice your little heart out, find your perfect weight balance, and move up in the diving world. Diving should be fun and exhilarating, not stressful. Unlike most activities, diving brings a whole different level of benefits. Which form of exercise lets you swim with sharks? What other hobby lets you explore a 100 year old ship wreck? None that I can think of!
Safe & Happy Diving!
So you have fallen in love with scuba diving. You experienced your first breaths underwater, and you worked up the courage to take your mask off in the water and that still didn’t turn you away. You have officially caught the scuba bug and you’re hooked! For a new diver, buying gear is the final step and the act that says “I’m committed to diving my brains out”. However if you are a new diver, it is hard to know what to buy, where to buy it, and what’s good in terms of product and brand.
Most new divers buy in stages. First come the basic necessities (mask, fins, snorkel) , and then when you know you want to be a keen diver, it’s time to put on the big pants and move into the exciting major pieces of life support. This includes a regulator, BCD and dive computer, and if you’re really keen, you can even get yourself a tank. Let’s start with the basics first and move our way down accordingly.
Stage One – The Basics
The Good Old Scuba Mask.
Picking the right scuba mask can sometimes be a hit and miss, so it is important that when you are buying a new mask, make sure you pick the right one for you. Nothing is more annoying than having a leaky mask, and it is probably the number one complaint in terms of scuba pet peeves.
What to look for? The most important factor when picking a mask is to find a watertight seal that fits your individual face. To distinguish if it will be watertight, I recommend doing the sniff and seal test. Grab a mask you like, and without the strap around your head, using only the mask part itself, place it on your face and suck in gently through your nose. Ask yourself, is this mask comfortable? Telltale signs of an ill-fitting mask include a lack of comfort, and the sound of a small amount of air leaking into the mask on your face.
Masks that pass the sniff and seal test are usually a potential keeper. Pay attention to how the mask fits on your forehead and your top lip. In today’s diving world, masks range in volume, shape, colour, polarization, the softness of the silicone, all the way to side windows that add peripheral vision. Take the time to pick the perfect mask for you!
Cost – From $60 to $160
You know “the breathing thing”, “the tube thingo”. These are some funny names that I have heard customers call the snorkel. Snorkels are a growing debate in the diving world, and we get questions all the time, like “Do I really need to wear a silly snorkel if I am scuba diving?” Well, the answer is yes. We use snorkels when diving to conserve air in our tank at the surface. However, I will give you some advice -- when scuba diving, you probably don’t need the fancy dry snorkel.
What to look for? – look for an easy-to-operate attachment between your mask and snorkel, a comfortable mouth piece, a purge value, and something that is light weight. Having a heavier snorkel attached to your mask can be an annoyance, as it can add more drag when moving through the water.
Advice – if you don’t plan on doing a lot of snorkeling, then this is the piece of gear you don’t need to go overboard on. Get something light, simple, and basic that does the job.
Cost - $15 - $75
Unfortunately we were not born with the right anatomy to move through the water like an elegant shark does (bummer). So if we want to play with the fishes, we need a good set of fins to help us keep up.
Just like finding a good mask, fins can be a hit and miss. You really have to pay attention to the comfort, fit and style. A bad or ill-fitting fin can literally make or break your dive experience. Nothing is worse than having a fin fall off at the surface or while diving, or having a fin strap break without a spare.
What to look for? – When trying on fins, look for a snug fit that doesn’t pinch your toes. A simple rule is that if you can’t wiggles your toes, the fins are probably too small. Efficiency of fins is largely determines by their size, stiffness and design. In terms of sizing, a rule of thumb is that the heel should come out of the back of the fin about an inch (open heel fins), or your toes should come out of the front just slightly (full foot fins).
Full Foot or Open Heel? - Full foot fins do not require booties and are recommend for warm water diving. They are essentially a slip on design with the shoe part build it. However, the open heel fin is commonly used in colder weather diving, and booties are necessary to wear them comfortably. The dive bootie also has the added benefit of foot protection and warmth, and provides comfort while walking on uneven ground.
Advice –A good pair of fins can last a long time. Take the time to do your research and try on different types to figure out which one suits you best.
Cost - $65 - $300
Exposure Suit – Wetsuit
Just like the fin situation, we were also not built to withstand long periods of time in the water. Exposure suits insulate against the cooling effect of water, which can rob you of heat 25 times faster than air.
What to look for? – Fit and comfort are the main factors. Wetsuits should fit snugly and you should feel comfortable while wearing them. Pay attention to uncomfortable fitting neck lines or gaps in the armpit, leg and crotch area. If the wetsuit is too big and gaps form, as a result the water will pool in these areas and defeat the suits ability to prevent heat loss. You may have to try on a lot of different sizes or types in order to find the perfect wetsuit that fits your body.
85 Degrees and Above – Swimsuit, 2mm – 1mm Shorty.
80-85 Degrees – 2mm-1mm Shorty or Full.
73-79 Degrees – 3mm -5mm Full.
66- 72 Degrees – 5mm – 7mm Full
50 – 65 Degrees – 7mm Full, Semidry, Dry Suit.
Of course, this is dependent on your personal tolerance level of the cold.
Cost - $70 - $650
The BCD, also called the “BC”, stands for Buoyancy Control Device. It is a vital, complex, and multipurpose piece of equipment, and it is glue that holds everything together.
What does it do? – Everything. It keeps gear in place, lets you carry a tank with minimal effort, helps you float at the surface, and allows you to achieve neutral buoyancy at depth. Imagine diving without one, where would everything go?
What to Look for? – Correct size and fit are important. Look for a BCD that fits you snugly, but doesn’t squeeze you too much when it’s inflated, as it should not restrict your breathing. It also helps when trying on new BCDs to also try them on while wearing your wetsuit. Pay attention to the inflator hose and ask yourself, “Can I operate this easily with one hand?” Also, it is important to test out all the valves, adjustments and straps for accessibility and ease of use. If you take care of you BCD, it will take care of you!
Cost - $300- $800
Now we’re talking, right? These bad boys are the number one most important piece of equipment that you will own. Your regulator is your life line, it’s as simple as that. It allows you to breathe in a foreign environment, and is a complex, high performance piece of equipment.
What does it do? – The regulator converts the high pressure air in your tank to ambient pressure so you can breathe it. A regulator must also deliver air to other places, such as your BCD inflator and alternate second stage.
What to look for? – When buying a regulator, one should look for high performance and comfort. The best regulators can deliver a high volume of air at depth, under heavy exertion, and even at low tank pressures. Some regulators breathe easy, and some don’t. There are regulators more suited for cold water, while some are limited to warm water. Make sure you find out this information before purchasing a regulator, as many people make this mistake. Most of the time when you buy a regulator, you buy the first stage (the part that hooks up to the tank) and second stage (the regulator part/mouthpiece) together. The gauges and octopus (alternate air source) are usually bought separately, but if you’re lucky, all parts of your regulator can come together as a package.
Advice – Do your homework. Researching will help you find the most suitable regulator for your diving needs and budget. Don’t be afraid to take the time you need to read reviews, ask questions and see the equipment in person before you buy it.
Cost - $225 - $1600.
Who likes figuring out the dive tables? Not me! Dive computers are a godsend to us divers who are still confused by all the pressure groups, residual nitrogen times and all those other calculations.
What do they do? – Dive computers constantly monitor your depth and bottom time, and automatically recalculate your no-decompression status to keep you within safe recreational limits. Computers can also monitor your ascent rate and tank pressure, tell you when it’s safe to fly, log your dives, and much more.
What to look for? – You want something that is user friendly. Some computers are easy to use and some are extremely complex. The fancy computer that you spend your rainy day fund on may look nice, but it won’t do any good if you can’t quickly and easily access the basic information you need during a dive at depth. The big question: when it comes to computers, do you want one on your wrist or do you want one on your gauge console?
Advice – Before you buy a fancy new computer, begin with an honest evaluation of your diving needs – do you plan on using mixed gases or decompression diving? Study the features online and compare other computers, then choose the one that fits your diving needs and your budget.
Price - $300 - $1300
Yup, owning your own scuba gear requires a considerable investment, and can be expensive to say the least. However, when properly cared for and maintained, your gear should last as long as you want it.
So there you have it newbies! You are now on your way to buying your first scuba diving equipment from head to toe! It’s important to do your research, ask questions and take the time to figure out which type of gear is right for you. Buying your first set of equipment is very exciting and should be looked at as a great milestone in your diving life! Always remember to support your local dive shops, as we are here to help and answer any questions about any type of gear!