beginning scuba diving
SCUBA Diving,  Scuba Diving Tips

SCUBA Diving Beginner Tips! 6 Things You Need to Know!

These are 6 scuba diving beginner tips you need to know! They will increase your confidence and safety in the water.

I am writing from experience! I volunteer with a teen scuba diving group. Personally completed over 300 dives in 4 states and 7 foreign countries. Currently in the process of obtaining my divemaster and instructor certification.

Nothing thrills me more than going SCUBA diving. It is the closest experience I have to feeling like a kid on Christmas morning! 

I am a passionate educator and SCUBA diver. Supporting novice divers and witnessing their discovery of the transformative power of scuba diving is incredibly fulfilling.

Article Summary

  1. Getting Off the Boat
  2. Getting On the Boat
  3. Don’t Miss The “Small Stuff”
  4. Underwater Photo and Video Etiquette
  5. How Much to Tip
  6. A Fast Way to Build Beginner SCUBA Confidence
beginner scuba diving tips getting off the boat
Teenage Divers Getting off the SCUBA boat in the FL Keys

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 is out of your way. Problems can happen when a diver jumps in (like losing a weight pocket or a fin), so don’t be in a hurry to enter the water.

Additionally, don’t be in a hurry to get to the bottom. New divers can be nervous and often want to descend quickly.

Sometimes a fast drop to the bottom can lead to “ear squeeze”, especially if a diver has allergies or sinus issues. Ear squeeze is pretty common in the diving world, and typically worked out by going slower and actively clearing ears on the scuba decent.

There are two ways to get off the boat.

1. 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 and the easiest to do. It’s nice not having to walk in full gear on a rocking boat. If you have never tried this 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.

Find out how strong the water current is.

Currents change every day, all day long and are different at each dive site.

It is normal that the boat crew will not know what the current is like until at the dive site. If the current is unsafe, they will inform everyone on the boat and move to another dive site.

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.

Personal Experience

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.
  • Ask about the current and adjust your entry accordingly.
scuba diving Ambergris Key Belize
Ambergris Divers, Ambergris Key Belize

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.

Every boat deck and ladder are different. I take out my weight pockets and hand them to the crew before my fins. That way I don’t have to worry about getting that extra weight up a ladder.

Three beginner scuba diving tips to know before getting back on the boat

1. Always let the diver on the ladder get back on the boat before you swim to the ladder.

The diver could easily lose their balance and fall backward.

Also, this is why you want to keep your regulator in your mouth until you exit 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. If the water current or wave strength increases on your dive watch for the pattern. Waves come in patterns with 3 or 4 rougher ones and then will often settle down until the next set of rougher waves.

That “pause” between wave sets is when you want to go up the ladder. Wait for the pause! Another tip, climb up the ladder when the boat is rocking toward you rather than away. Use gravity to your advantage.

3. If there is a line in the water (next to the boat ladder) take your fins off while holding on to the line. Put your fin straps over each wrist 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.

Personal Experience

We had 2–4-foot waves increase in frequency as we finished our dive. My dive buddy was going up the ladder and lost her balance because of a rough wave and fell sideways off the ladder onto me.

Another diver tried climbing the ladder too fast (in a rough current), got a deep cut in her hand and couldn’t dive the rest of the day.

Beginner scuba divers getting back on the boat
Getting Back on the boat after a night dive in Islamorada FL

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 beginner tip is some of the best advice I have gotten from two different divemasters. “Don’t miss the small stuff” and that advice is 100% true.

Yes, we all want to see the “big stuff” – sea turtles, sharks, & rays!!  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.

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.

Moreover, the “crackling” sound you hear underwater is the vibrant activity within the reef! It’s truly incredible that scuba diving gives you a chance to be a part of it.

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.

Don’t miss “the small stuff” recap:

  • Yes, we all want to see sea turtles and sharks but the “small stuff” is interesting too.
  • Get a fish ID card to learn about the species you are diving with.
  • Make it a challenge to find one new fish, coral, or invertebrate on each dive.
Spotted Eel hiding in the reef – Curacao, Dutch Antilles Islands

4. Underwater Photo and Video Etiquette

Don’t be “that diver” everyone is talking about because of poor SCUBA diving etiquette.

There are advanced and beginner scuba divers that swim ahead and cut off (or push) other divers out of the way to get a photo of something the divemaster is pointing out.

Even worse is the diver that takes a hundred photos or a long video of the same animal, not allowing others in the group to view or photo 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 a rush to go see something and didn’t look around for 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 scuba diver.

Personal Experience

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 octopus looked scared to death.  This situation went on for entirely too long. It’s still frustrating to think 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.
Octopus sighting on a night dive with Dive Paradise, Cozumel Mexico

5. How Much to Tip

When I was a beginner scuba diver no one told me how much to tip. Tipping can vary depending on location, total dives, and how much the boat crew helps you out.

There is plenty of discussion about this topic in the dive community and everyone has their own opinion.

Even though the dive was purchased though the dive shop, the crew mostly or completely works for tips. No one gets into diving for the money. Always plan the cost of a tip into your dive.

I asked several different divemasters about tipping. They 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. 

Larger tips are expected if the divemaster fixes issues such as broken or missing gear, recovering a lost item, or an exceptional dive experience.

Tipping internationally is a little different. Especially on a dive vacation that involves a great deal of repeat diving. Ask the trip coordinator or a few other people on the dive trip what they plan to tip.

Overall, I plan $20.00-$40.00 a day to the divemaster on international trips– but I always ask around to make sure I am tipping in the average or a little above.

There are a few additional areas where tipping is expected on international trips. This can include the boat crew, servers, and housekeeping.

I bring $100 to $200 hundred dollars in $1and $5 dollar bills. Especially when taking a SCUBA diving trip to 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.

Personal Experience

I had my equipment serviced before my trip to Costa Rica. I had three (yes three!) equipment failures due to poor servicing on the first two days of my SCUBA diving trip.

The divemaster “saved the day- she let me use her extra equipment and found equipment I could use 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. Costa Rica is one of my favorite dive vacations, despite my equipment problems.

Tipping your divemaster recap:

  • Boat crew work largely (or only) for tips.
  • In the USA $10 a tank is recommended ($20.00 for a two-tank dive).
  • Tipping is different internationally. It depends on location, value of the dollar, and length of diving. Ask around for a “tipping range”.
  • When traveling in second and third world countries bring $100-$200 dollars in $1 and $5 dollar bills for general tips and small expenses.
beginning scuba diving, divemaster in Curacao
Lionfish Spear Fishing Dive with Ocean Encounters, Curacao

6. A Fast Way to Build Beginner SCUBA Confidence

Dive as much as you can afford, in as many different places and water conditions as possible.

The best thing I did as a beginner diver was spending a week at Anthony’s Key Dive Resort in Roatan. The price included scuba diving 4-5 times a day and my skills grew enormously.

Additional scuba certifications help you to gain experience and knowledge.

Useful certifications for new divers

1. Get Nitrox certified. It’s worth the money.

Especially if you are going on a dive vacation or plan on diving regularly.

Nitrox has several advantages. You will be less 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. Advanced SCUBA certification.

The advanced diver certification teaches new skills and expands on skills learned during open water certification, things the beginning open water course does not.

This course will not automatically make someone an “advanced” diver but will add to your dive experience and confidence in the water.

A fast way to build beginner SCUBA diving confidence recap:

  • Dive as often as you can, in as many different water conditions as possible.
  • Consider taking a dive vacation – experienced gained through repeat diving.
  • Consider additional scuba certifications, such as nitrox or advanced.
beginning scuba diving
Maria Sage-Umana Accomplished Underwater Photographer in Costa Rica with Rocket Frog Divers

Final Thoughts

These scuba diving tips for beginners are the 6 things I wish I knew when I started SCUBA diving.

These tips are from years of volunteering with teenage divers, worldwide dive experiences, and continuing education in the sport of scuba diving.

I hope that at least one of these scuba diving tips enhances your beginner SCUBA diving experience.

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