Unlike regular recreational hobbies, scuba diving is rife with dangers at every turn and demands strict adherence to discipline.
No matter how prepared you think you are you cannot eliminate all of the risks that come with the diving package, however; you can minimize them. The best way to survive an emergency is to avoid one!
Let’s look at some of the safe practices you can employ as a beginner diver. Developing these seemingly trivial safety practices right from the beginning of your diving career will go a long way in keeping you safe. I’ve saved the most overlooked yet spiciest tip for the last so stick around till the end.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Don’t Go Overboard Your Current Capacity
- 2 2. Monitor the Depth
- 3 3. Check Whether Your Dive Gear Is Serviced Properly
- 4 4. Don’t Sway/Get Swayed by Your Dive Buddy
- 5 5. Practicing Over and Over Is the Key
- 6 6. Let’s Talk About Buoyancy and Trimming!
- 7 7. Pay Heed To The Pre-Dive Briefings
- 8 8. Respect the Marine Environment
- 9 9. Master the Art of Stealth and Stillness
- 10 10. Sip Smart, Dive Safe
- 11 11. Blazing Hot Sun and Bare Skin: A Recipe for Suffering
- 12 Final Thoughts for Beginner Divers
1. Don’t Go Overboard Your Current Capacity
Before every dive reflect on these questions: “Am I ready for diving in this environment? How much have I improved from my previous dive? Am I ready to push beyond my previous capacity?” These silly questions will give you a reality check on your abilities before you plunge in.
Plan Ahead of Every Dive
Once you’re sure of your pre-dive self-assessment, plan your dive depth and gas consumption and stick to the plan. This alone will help prevent some situations underwater. When divers ignore their plan and go willy-nilly on the dive, things that you cannot control can and sometimes will happen. If you go deeper than your plans, is your gas supply sufficient? Knowing your gas consumption rates is a must so you can calculate your dive time along with nitrogen absorption.
When you plan your dive and dive your plan, don’t venture outside your training and knowledge of the environment.
Your Dive Computer Is Not for Decoration
As I’ve said in another post before, dive computers aren’t necessary for recreational diving, but having one will only make your dive safer. So, pay attention to your dive computer if you’re carrying one! It’s not on your wrist as a showpiece. Learn to read what all those numbers on the screen mean.
Achieve proficiency in using your dive computer and, if not, have your PADI Instructor who is familiar with the unit you are using give you a briefing on using it and what the numbers mean. Again, read the instructions and play with it before using it on a dive.
2. Monitor the Depth
This is one of the most abused of all. Take Deep Diving for instance. Have you planned your dive with nitrogen absorption and gas usage for this depth? Do you know your active and passive gas usage? Have you had any formal training in depths past 70 feet?
Some, if not most new divers feel that once you take an Advanced Diver Course and have done one 70-100 foot dive; you have obtained all of the knowledge to allow you to go this deep and deeper.
There are physiological and psychological factors in deep diving that can reach up and bite you in the butt. If you haven’t taken a true PADI Deep Diver Specialty, you just might not and most likely not know how to do deeper diving. Same with UW Navigation as one time trying UW Navigation is not enough to make you proficient. Taking a PADI UW Navigation Specialty gives you an in-depth 4 training dives on how to do it efficiently. Training is the best way to prepare yourself for the type of diving you wish to engage in.
3. Check Whether Your Dive Gear Is Serviced Properly
If you have a problem on the surface and fail to gain a solution to it, you are asking for a world of hurt underwater. Problems tend to grow and escalate with depth.
A yearly service routine of your gear is generally sufficient; however, if you are a monster diver and dive more than most, you might look at a couple of service cycles during the year. At the very least, bring your equipment into the dive shop and let a trained service technician look it over and check it.
- Take great care while wearing or taking off your wetsuit. Don’t forget to tend to your suit after every salty dive to ensure its longevity.
- Get your tanks properly inspected and hydro-tested by following our intensive scuba tank inspection and care guide.
- Are you sure the weighted belt is working and won’t come off loose mid-dive? Checking it out might be a good idea.
- Don’t forget to apply the de-fogging agent on your dive mask or you’ll be in for a hazed dive.
- Just rinsing your regulator off doesn’t remove all of the salt, especially if it’s dry. You need to soak your regulator for at least a couple of hours in clean water to put the salt back in solution then rinse heavily to make sure you have all of the salt deposits off. Be sure to put your dust plug on the inlet area. If, by chance, you forgot to put the dust plug on, take it to a technician to clear any fluid in the regulator.
- Your BCD needs to have water put in the bladder and let soak, just like your regulator, as this will avoid any salt crystals forming. All crystals have sharp edges and can eventually cut your bladder.
A little care of your equipment and proper servicing will go a long way in avoiding incidents and it will protect your investment in equipment.
4. Don’t Sway/Get Swayed by Your Dive Buddy
Do not let peer pressure talk you into a dive that you are not sure about or have not been trained for. There’s always a daredevil in the dive group that ends up pursuing the others to push the limits of their current diving capabilities. And these are the very divers that end up being on the news (THE TRAGIC KIND!).
Don’t be on either of the giving or receiving ends of such persuasion. Stand your ground and don’t give in to the daring demands of your dive buddy no matter how tempting the offer might seem.
Another point to note is if you are diving with a less experienced buddy, plan your dive around their experience, not yours.
Remember: There are a lot of old, bold divers, but few bold old divers. Various levels of dive certifications exist for a reason. Gradually make your way through to greater depths only after you’ve gotten a seal of approval, aka your certification from a reputed agency.
5. Practicing Over and Over Is the Key
I know what you’re thinking right now. “But, I don’t want to dedicate so much time to a leisure activity!” Then pursue something else that demands less dedication. Scuba diving is not just any leisure activity, it involves life-and-death situations. Lowering the chance of accidents in such cases comes through practice.
Train in such a way that all the usual skills associated with scuba diving become second nature to you. Having trouble with Skip-breathing? Practice enough and you can do it without conscious effort. Not good at conserving air during your dives? Practice enough and you’ll surface with 1000 psi air still left in your tank. Can’t maintain a horizontal position? Give it a go in the pool of your dive center a few times and you’ll glide through the waters like a submarine in no time. You’re not a poor learner, you just didn’t practice enough.
Apart from these don’t forget to practice your air-sharing skills, your controlled emergency swimming ascent, and navigational skills. It is better to practice your diving skills in a controlled environment instead of needing them in rough seas with current or bad visibility.
6. Let’s Talk About Buoyancy and Trimming!
Yes, we are going there, and for good reasons. Improper buoyancy is a true sign of a diver who is not comfortable, doesn’t have his diving skills honed, and has no regard for the environment. Proper buoyancy is a must to become comfortable in the water.
You were introduced to trim in your Open Water Class, now extend your knowledge and make your buoyancy correct with the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty. Proper buoyancy can reduce gas consumption, CO2 issues, and on and off-gassing of nitrogen. Most new divers see a diver who has perfected his buoyancy and is envious. You too can be that diver. Education and practice with lots of time underwater under the guidance of your PADI Instructor can make your diving more pleasurable.
7. Pay Heed To The Pre-Dive Briefings
Most operations have a good PADI Divemaster giving information on what to see, where to see it, the places you don’t want to go, depths, and loads of good data to help you mentally prepare for the dive. A good briefing is worth its weight in gold as you will see highlights pointed out and enjoy the dive so much more.
De-brief yourself after the dive. What did you do right and what could you do better? With increased experience and constantly learning from your experiences, you will become a better and safer diver. Over time you’ll find yourself having fewer and fewer mistakes to reflect on after each passing dive. That’s a sign of progress right there baby!
8. Respect the Marine Environment
The proverb “respect goes a long way” applies to the marine environment too. Always keep in mind you’re the one encroaching on the marine habitat, so try to be mindful of the creatures residing there and keep a safe distance.
Brushing against fire coral will feel like you are being stung by a herd of bees. Keeping your hands to yourself and not touching things will keep you from a sting by the venomous spine of a fish. Not stalking an idling stingray will save you from its infamous stinger. In short, respect the sovereignty of the marine environment.
Your equipment too can suffer from the marine environment if you’re not careful! If you prize your fins, don’t let them touch the coral, wrecks, or anything else underwater. If you like your BCD, a sharp edge on an impact can slice the bladder. A stingray’s barbed stinger can pierce right through your neoprene boots.
9. Master the Art of Stealth and Stillness
Being calm underwater can help you solve any little hiccup that comes your way. Stop, Assess, Adapt, and Overcome. Over-training is one great way to remain calm when something arises that you are not expecting. There is only one true emergency underwater, no gas to breathe. Everything else can be handled.
If you are a good buddy and you see your partner struggling with entanglement, go help. Keep them calm as well as yourself. If you are entangled, signal your buddy and get them to help you. A good buddy system is worth the effort when a situation arises. Clear heads will create solutions.
The PADI Advanced Diver and Rescue Diver Courses plus Specialties will help put you on the way to a better understanding of calmness underwater. Of course, all of the courses and skills taught within them are useless unless you practice and become proficient with your diving skills.
10. Sip Smart, Dive Safe
Hydration starts before you hit the water. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages at least 2 hours before your dive, as they can dehydrate you. Opt for water, electrolyte drinks, or herbal teas instead.
Don’t wait till the last moment. By the time you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated. Keep a collapsible water pouch handy and take small sips regularly before and during your dive.
Take a mental note of the climate and temperature of your dive destination. Hot environments and warm water can make you sweat more, increasing the need for hydration. Stay ahead of the game by drinking more fluids in these conditions. Check out our hydration guide and ways to drink underwater for an in-depth guide.
11. Blazing Hot Sun and Bare Skin: A Recipe for Suffering
Last, but not least, let’s use some common sense when on the surface. Protect yourself with sunscreen and a wide-brim hat. Skin cancer is common enough that you need to be aware of your sun exposure. A little protection will go a long way.
Wear sunscreen, a wide-brim hat, Hawaiian shirts, and sunglasses. The other thing 30 years of this has taught me is that my cohorts are getting cataracts removed in their 40s and 50s and dealing with skin cancer… that sucks to survive a few thousand dives and die early in a miserable fashion because sunscreen and a hat were too much work.
Final Thoughts for Beginner Divers
At the end of the day, you and only you are responsible for your dive safety and enough training solves more than 90 percent of the hurdles associated with scuba diving. It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous and out of place during your first few dives.
Incorporate the above-mentioned safe and smart diving practices right from the start and you’ll notice your confidence swelling as you gain more authority over your diving abilities. So what are you waiting for? Book that liveaboard trip to Belize right now!