I am writing this from my experiences SCUBA diving throughout Miami, the Florida Keys, and in 6 foreign countries. I have logged over 300 dives in the last 9 years. These are 6 SCUBA tips new divers need to know!
Nothing thrills me more than going SCUBA diving. It is the closest experience that I have to feel like I’m a kid on Christmas morning again! I am a passionate educator, wildlife conservationist, and SCUBA diver. I am currently working on my divemaster (and eventual instructor) certification.
1. Getting Off the Boat
Here is the first SCUBA diving tip you need to know. Be aware of your surroundings when getting off the scuba boat. The boat crew and other divers can be in a rush to get you into the water, do not let them unnerve you. Don’t jump into the water until the person who entered before has swum out of your way in the water. Problems sometimes happen when a diver first jumps in (like losing a weight pocket or a fin) so you don’t want to be in a rush to jump in.
There are two ways to get off the boat
- The Giant stride – you walk to the back of the boat with your gear on (usually holding on to the boat benches or rails) and take a wide step off the back of the boat.
2. Backwards roll-off a side of the boat. This is my favorite, most fun, and the easiest to do since you don’t have to try to balance and walk in all your gear on a rocking boat. If you have never done type of entry before there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s not like a bellyflopping kid in a pool. Your gear “breaks” your fall. It’s an easy and convenient way to get into the water quickly.
When getting off the boat is find out how strong the water current is
Listen to your divemaster – if they have a rope out and tell you to grab it, that means there is a strong surface current. They will leave the same rope for you to grab on to when you return. If you are rolling backward off the boat and there is a strong current do not do this on side of the boat the current moving towards. When you drop into the water the current could push you under the boat and you could hit your head.
Currents change every day and all day long and they are different for each dive site. It is normal that the boat crew will not know what the current is like until they are at the site you are diving on then they will inform you of the exact conditions. If the current is unsafe they will inform everyone on the boat and move to another dive site.
I quickly back rolled off the boat excited to get in the water and didn’t consider the current. The current pushed me under the boat, and I hit my head on the boat when I surfaced. This could have been dangerous, especially if it knocked me unconscious.
Getting off the boat recap:
- Be aware of other divers exiting the boat before you
- Know how you are getting off the boat (giant stride or backward roll)
- Ask what the current is like and adjust your entry, usually the boat crew won’t know the current until the get to the dive site
2. Getting Back on The Boat
How hard can it be to get back on a boat, right? Well, all boat ladders are not created equal. That’s why this is the second SCUBA diving tip you need to know. Every boat deck and every boat ladder are different. Personally, I am a little larger and use a weight belt (or weight pockets) that I take off first, then I take off my fins (handing them all up to the boat crew). I don’t have to worry about getting that extra weight up a ladder, especially in rougher seas.
Three things to consider before getting back on the dive boat
- Always make sure you let the diver on the ladder get back on the boat before you swim to ladder. This diver could easily lose their balance due and fall backward. This is why you want to keep your regulator in your mouth exiting the water. If you are the one that falls back into the water, you will be more comfortable and less panicked having your regulator in your mouth.
2. Watch the wave patterns before you try to climb up the latter. Waves come in patterns with 3 or 4 rougher ones and then will often settle down until the next set of rougher waves comes through. That “pause” between wave sets is the time you want to try to get up the ladder. Or try to climb up the ladder when the boat is rocking toward you rather than away from you – use gravity to your advantage.
3. If there is a line in the water, next to the ladder, you can take your fins off while holding on to the line and then swim to the latter and climb up. The boat crew will assess the situation and instruct you on the safest way to get back on the boat.
We had 2-4 foot waves after my dive and I took off my gear and clipped it to the side of the boat because the boat had a very small ladder. My dive buddy was going up the ladder and lost her balance because of a rough wave and fell sideways on me. Another dive buddy tried to climb the ladder in a rough current and got a deep cut in her hand, she couldn’t dive the rest of the day.
Getting back on the boat recap:
- Wait until the person in front of you gets back on the boat before swimming towards and grabbing hold of the ladder
- Keep your mask on and regulator in your mouth until you get back on the boat.
- Waves usually come in patterns of 3 or 4. Don’t try to climb up a boat ladder until the roughest waves pass.
3. Don’t Miss “the Small Stuff”!
The third SCUBA diving tip is some of the best advice I have gotten from divemasters. “Don’t miss the small stuff” and that advice is 100% true. Yes, we all want to see the “big stuff” – give me sea turtles, sharks, & rays galore!! I’m still bitter about the pilot whales I missed out on a dive trip in Costa Rica. However, there is a lot of exciting “small stuff” on the reef too. Take your time to really look at all the little things going on. Also, that “crackle” sound you hear underwater is all the action going on in the reef! It’s an amazing living organism and I love hearing that sound!
Second, get a fish ID card for the area you are diving in. They can be purchased at pretty much every dive shop and online. It’s more fun diving when you know what fish you are looking at. I have a contest with myself to try to ID a new fish on every dive.
There is a whole community, full of exciting little actions going on down there – one of my favorites is to see a fish cleaning station. I love spotting a larger reef fish that has 10 little goby’s around it cleaning it off – just like an underwater car wash. It’s a scene straight out of a SpongeBob cartoon episode.
Don’t miss “the small stuff” recap:
- Yes, we all want to see sea turtles, sharks and rays but don’t miss out on all the “small stuff” on the reef
- Take your time to look around at all the different parts of the reef community
- Get a fish ID card to learn about the species you are diving with
- Make it a challenge to learn at least one new fish, coral, or invertebrate on each dive
4. Underwater Photo and Video Etiquette
SCUBA diving tip number four is a regular topic of conservation between divers. Don’t be “that diver” everyone is talking about because of poor SCUBA diving etiquette. There are SCUBA divers (from beginning to advanced) that swim ahead and cut off (or push) other divers out of the way to see something the divemaster or another diver has pointed out. Or “that diver” is taking a hundred photos or a long GoPro video of the same animal, not giving the others in the group a chance to photo, video, or view the animal.
I have witnessed one or both scenarios so many times while SCUBA diving, I’ve lost count. I have been a victim of many accidental fin kicks because “that diver” made an initial rush to see a new animal that has been pointed out on the reef that they don’t look around for any divers above or below them.
Proper etiquette is to wait in line, take 1-5 pictures or a short video and move out of the way for the next person.
A night dive in Mexico was an extreme example of poor diving etiquette. My dive buddy spotted an octopus and started to photograph it, which attracted the rest of the group. There was a strong current that night and I got kicked and bumped by several divers pushing their way into the area wanting to get the octopus’s photo.
At one point the octopus was trapped in a circle spotlighted by 10 bright underwater camera lights, the poor thing looked scared to death. This situation went on for entirely too long, I still get upset thinking about it.
Underwater photo and video etiquette recap:
- Don’t be “that diver” everyone is talking about after the dive because of poor etiquette.
- Wait your turn to view/photograph/video the animal
- Take a few photos or a short video and move out of the way for the next diver
5. Tipping Your Divemaster
SCUBA diving tip number five is a controversial topic. I am including it because I still have questions on how much to tip. It varies depending on location, total dives, and how much the boat crew helps you out. There is a lot of discussion about this topic in the dive world and everyone has their own opinion. However, it’s important to point out that even though you paid a fee to the dive shop the crew works for tips. No one gets into diving for the money. Always plan a tip into the cost of the dive.
I have asked divemaster’s in the USA about tipping, they all recommend $10.00 a tank. So, a two-tank dive would be $20.00. Now a tip is for some or all of the following: polite service, someone taking care of you underwater, a divemaster that is guiding the group around, snacks, water to drink, help on and off the boat with your gear. Sometimes setting up your gear for you, especially if you are a beginner or renting your gear. Larger tips are expected if the divemaster fixes any problems you have like broken gear, helping you because of nerves, recovering a lost item, or an exceptional dive experience.
Tipping when SCUBA diving internationally is different. Especially on a dive vacation that involves a great deal of repeat diving. I ask the trip coordinator or ask a couple of other people on the trip what they plan to tip. If I have built up a relationship with someone at the dive shop I will ask them what an average tipping range is. Overall I plan $20.00-$40.00 a day on international trips – but I always ask around to make sure I am tipping in the average or a little above.
In general, I always bring $100 to $200 hundred dollars cash in $1and $5 dollar bills when on a SCUBA diving trip in countries where the US dollar is worth more (such as Mexico, Honduras, or Costa Rica). Usually, the locals prefer the US dollar, and it makes bargaining, tipping, and paying much easier.
I had my equipment serviced right before my trip to Costa Rica. I had three (yes three!) equipment failures due to poor equipment servicing during the first two days of my SCUBA diving trip. The divemaster totally “saved the day”- she let me use her extra equipment on the boat and even found equipment on a nearby dive boat! I didn’t miss a single dive thanks to her. I tipped her an extra $100.00 at the end of the week. To this day it is one of my favorite dive vacations, despite my equipment problems.
Tipping your divemaster recap:
- Boat crew typically work only for tips
- Diving in the USA $10 a tank is recommended ($20.00 for a two-tank dive)
- Diving internationally, tipping is different depending on location and length of diving. Ask around for a “tipping range”.
- Tip extra for exceptional service and/or diving experience.
- If staying at an all-inclusive dive resort (or usually any all-inclusive resort) plan tips for housekeeping, wait staff, drivers, etc.
- When traveling in second and third world countries bring an amount of US money in $1- and $5-dollar bills.
6. The Fastest Way to Build SCUBA Diving Confidence
Just DIVE, DIVE, DIVE is SCUBA diving tip number six. Dive as much as you can afford, in as many different places and water conditions as possible. The best thing I ever did for my diving was going to Anthony’s Key Dive Resort in Roatan. For a week I dove, 4-5 times a day, and my skills grew enormously. The resort also offered two evening education classes. This was the first time I heard “don’t miss the small stuff!” from a divemaster (see tip #3) in my first class about fish identification.
Additional certifications can help build experience. I did not get additional certifications (except Nitrox) for a long time because of a limited budget.
My two certification recommendations
1. Get Nitrox certified. It’s worth the money. Especially if you are going on a dive vacation or plan on diving regularly. I got Nitrox certified a year after I moved to Florida, did a SCUBA refresher course, and got seriously back into diving. In general, Nitrox has several advantages; you will be less be tired at the end of the day, you can spend more time at deeper depths, and you can do more repeat dives with shorter rest intervals in-between your dives.
2. I wish I got my advanced SCUBA certification sooner. Not because it makes you an “advanced diver” but because it gives you more dive experience and teaches you skills that the beginning, open water course does not. Just because you have an “advanced diver” certification does not make you “advanced”. Only time, the number of dives, and experiences diving in different water conditions can truly make you an “advanced diver”.
The fastest way to build SCUBA diving confidence recap:
- Dive as often as you can, in as many different water conditions as possible.
- Consider taking a dive vacation – gain experience through repetitive diving for a week
- Get your Nitrox, advanced or any additional certifications you feel will truly benefit you
- Only time, number of dives, and experiences diving in different conditions can make you an “advanced diver”
These 6 things I wish I knew when I started SCUBA diving. They are a result of 9 years of dive experiences in different locations throughout the world. I hope at least one thing on this list improves your SCUBA diving experience.