What I Wish Someone Told Me (And Repeated!) When I Started to Dive
We all want to have fun while diving, it’s important to feel confident and know what to do to avoid accidents. Too many times, it is a little chain of incidents that lead to a dive accident. So we looked back on our dive experience and gathered these tips you might find useful.
For new divers, this article will hopefully give you a hint on situations you might encounter in the future… We identified four principles you can follow to enjoy diving and face most situations.
The four principles are:
- Have a dive plan…and follow it
- Be assertive from the start of your diving career
- Care about your buddy, and they’ll care about you
- Have the proper safety equipment and now know how to use it
1. HAVE A DIVE PLAN AND FOLLOW IT
Did you have a proper Dive briefing?
Let’s start with the ‘basics’. Sometimes the dive briefing gets overlooked. And people can not be bothered to ask. A safe dive starts with a good dive briefing and an appropriate dive plan. So let’s see what it should include.
- The conditions: water temperature, currents, visibility
- The time planned underwater
- The maximum depth
- The signs you use to communicate
- The marine life you might see
- What to do in case of an emergency
- The buddy pairs and buddy checks
If some of these are missing in the Dive Briefing, don’t be shy and ask.
Are you certified for what is being planned?
Many accidents happen when people are not certified for what was planned. Sometimes, because the guide tells us it’s ok, we forget the standards and just go for it…
As a relatively new diver, in a trip in Philippines, my divemaster told me I was good enough to go into a wreck, down at 40 meters. I remembered that day telling him I did not want to dive too deep as I was still tired from my flight coming out from France.
It was just him and me on the dive. I thought ‘woow that could be cool!’ That was deeper than what I was certified for. And I was neither certified for wreck penetration. I also felt slightly tired.*
But I remember thinking: ‘Oh well, he knows all this but thinks I can do it. He is the Professional - I can trust his judgement, let’s do it…’
Although everything went well, this was entirely wrong.
Very recently again I read about the same thing happening. Apparently it’s a common practice there. Divers who were not certified for it penetrated the exact same wreck in the Philippines, resulting in multiple death.
This could have been me.
Too many accidents happen because of breaking standards, by the dive professional and/or the divers.
Please remember that you should say No if you are not qualified.
You are as qualified as your divemaster or instructor to take the decision to do a dive or not. If you are not certified, say No.
Do not let peer pressure or anything else impact your judgement.
Are the conditions radically different underwater vs. what was planned?
If this is the case, and you think it is potentially dangerous, or you do not have the experience to handle it, ask the guide to abort the dive.
Again, experience taught me not doing it could lead to a disaster.
During my advanced level, this time in Malaysia, our instructor brought on a dive site where there was a wreck. We had to descend with the boat line in our hands, the current was so strong that I remember our hands were ripped off. I precise this was not a drift adventure dive.
Again, such current had not been evoked in the dive briefing. My reason was telling me to go up and not do the dive, but our instructor appeared to think it was ok (was it because he was wearing gloves?!).
After a few minutes on the wreck, we started to drift to what seemed an eternity. Strong currents were pushing us far, and we did that for what, 30 minutes at least? With my buddy, we were looking at each other thinking: ‘what the hell are we doiiiing?’
But we thought our instructor knew better… When we went up, we were so far away from the boat that he could not see us.
After almost an hour, we were still drifting away from the island, starting to wonder how it would end. Luckily, a boat passing by saw us from far and came to rescue us, screaming from fer: ‘what the fuck are you guy doing here?!’
That was very fortunate.
We would still be there otherwise. In this case, the conditions were totally different from what was planned. But our lack of experience made us feel we had to trust the professional.
Not long after that, I decided I wanted to go Pro. So that I would know how to react, what to do in these cases and not rely on unprofessional people.
Also, that taught us that we needed to be more assertive, my next point.
2. BE ASSERTIVE, FROM THE START OF YOUR DIVING CAREER
Ask questions, about anything that comes to your mind.
There is not bad question, if you have something in your mind, ask. Do not wait. Get used to ask since you are getting your first certification.
Listen to how you feel
It is ok to miss a dive if you feel not well. Recognize signs of tiredness, stress, lack of condidence, in yourself and others.
On the boat it can be someone talking too much or staying very quiet before a dive.
Underwater, big bubbles means heavy breathing/stress or tiredness, look in the eyes and see if the person is responsive to your questions, look at how the person fins etc…
Say NO if the dive plan goes against standards of your level.
A wreck penetration without the specialy? This is a No. A deep dive when you are not certified? No again. And so on…
3. CARE ABOUT YOUR BUDDY, AND THEY WILL CARE ABOUT YOU
Get to know your buddy before the dive
The boat ride is a perfect time to do so, ask them about their experience, when they last dived, try to assess their level of confidence before the dive, talk about how you like to dive etc. And build your respective levels of confidence.
Do your BWRAF, even if experienced
Remember, the buddy check can prevent many incidents. BRAWF stands for: BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, Fins on and Feels good.
How many divers realise underwater their tank is not fully open.. it happens more than you think! So much stress could have been avoided by doing a simple buddy check.
Regular ok? How much air do you have? How far are you from each other? Is your buddy equipment ok - eg a strap could get loose, some hair stuck in the mask etc
If there is an issue - cold, ears, current, fatigue… - do not wait thinking it will go away. Everyone has had issues underwater and that’s ok. Communicate it fast, that’s easier if you feel well connected to the person you dive with.
Know what to do if you get lost
Do not wait for other people to come find you or pursue your dive. The standard procedure is to look around for 1 minute then start to ascend. This is valid for the whole dive group.
4. HAVE THE PROPER SAFETY EQUIPMENT AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT!
‘What does this number mean on my dive computer? How to open the DSMB?'
There are good questions and some equipment require practice so do not be shy about it. Ask - all divers had to learn how to use these.
Look at your dive computer regularly during your dive
Be conservative, avoid going into deco levels to not overload your body with nitrogen and increase your safety.
Have something that you can bang underwater to call someone’s attention
Imagine you are caught in some strong current feeling difficulties and everyone is focused on his own person. Having a a metal pointer stick that could can bang on your tank can be handy to call someone attention - for an emergency (not just to show a clown fish!).
Always dive with a visible and an audible surface devices
You need to own a DSMB (delayed surface marker buoy - this red infating thing you use at the end of the dive). That way you can surface safely (boats will see you), and to be visible above the water (the dive boat will be able to come pick you up)
This all in one of Mares is partucularly handy to keep on your BCD.
You can buy it at: www.divingdirect.co.uk
An audible device, a whistle for instance, is usually attached to your BCD. This can be handy to attract the boat attention if you are far.
It is also recommended to have a line cutter or a knife in case you are entangled underwater. Place it in an area easy to access.
Finally adapt your safety equipment to the conditions you dive in
For people diving in currents, a good-to-have equipment that can save your life is the Nautilus Lifeline.
It is a Radio-GPS you can attach to your BCD and activate once on the surface in case of emergency.
All the boats around will receive your emergency signal and will be able to locate you.
This device costs around 240 USD and it can be a life saving equipment.
Because as an advanced diver, you want to see big marine life, you will dive more and more in dive spots with strong currents. Komodo, Raja Ampat, the Galapagos, the Cocos Islands… all these have strong currents.
You can buy it on: nautiluslifeline.com
LAST FEW WORDS…
We all started to dive being unexperienced and learning from our/others mistakes, dive after dive. A good habit to have as a diver is to look at your dives, one at a time. Did anything went wrong? For you and/or others? What could have been the cause? Did we react approriately? What would you do in the future?
We may have forgotten some good advice, feel free to share with us your experience!
Hope you enjoyed the reading and more than anything, have amazing dives coming!