10 More New Scuba Diver Mistakes
When you’re new to scuba diving it can be easy to make mistakes because you’ve never done it before. But, I’ve seen my fair share of new divers and mistakes they can make through the students that I’ve taught and if I bring light to the mistakes it can help you get a head start and some mistakes to avoid when you’re first starting your scuba diving career.
A lot of new scuba divers are so keen to either just get into the water as soon as possible or not want to look that they’re struggling that they rush into getting ready far too early and end up standing around, fully kitted up, waiting for everybody else to get ready or the boat to be in the right position. When you’re getting ready for a dive look around and see when and how quickly other divers are getting ready. Exposure suits like wetsuits and drysuits are made to keep you warm and comfortable in the water. Outside of the water you’re going to cook inside waiting to get into the water.
Set up your BCD and regulators and organize all of the kit that you’re going to need for the dive first and then get into your wetsuit. If you get into your wetsuit first, you’ll get hot and sweaty waiting for everybody else to get ready. That being said, on colder dives, it usually better to get in your drysuit early to warm it up so that you’re not wasting body heat just before the dive and start the dive cold. But, always pay attention to what state of dress or readiness the experienced divers or dive guides are and don’t rush to put your wetsuit on too early.
Renting dive gear is a good choice when you’re very first starting out so you can build knowledge and don’t have to invest in absolutely everything. However, rental and school equipment is not built for comfort, it’s built to be cheap and tough so it will last the dive centre for a long time. People don’t tend to buy gear that’s designed for school use. Now, yes you can dive perfectly well in rental gear but, trust me, it’s so much better in your own gear.
Masks will have better silicone, so your mask fits you better and you get a choice of mask style and features. Regulators will have better performance, you also know when they were last serviced and you can feel is something is off with your own regulator. BCDs and wetsuits will fit you better and will be made from softer, more ergonomic materials. Now, don’t go crazy and buy absolutely everything all at the start because you might buy something that you later don’t get on with but, invest in your own equipment over time starting with a nice mask.
Delegation is the key to success, especially when complicated tasks need to be done and when you’re first learning to dive, everything is a complicated task. Most scuba diving accidents are the result of multiple little things adding up until the diver is too flustered or distracted and something terrible happens. When you’re new to diving everything is taxing so don’t expect to be able to do this and that and something else all at the same time or even on the same dive, try to make your dive as easy as possible by either delegating tasks and asking somebody else to help, or skip it all together if it’s not essential.
I used to use a bubble analogy with students. When you first start diving, your bubble is very small and only you are inside that bubble. As you gain experience your bubble expands and includes your dive gear and a little of your surroundings. And eventually, with experience, your bubble includes your buddy, the dive site and things that might happen. When you’re new, don’t rush into doing everything all at once, add one new skill at a time, perfect it, and build those strong foundations.
Scuba diving equipment can barely be described as nimble in the water but, outside of the water it’s downright clunky and you should spend as little time as possible fully kitted up outside of the water. If you can, assemble your equipment as close to the water as possible and put it on as close to the water as possible also so you’re not wearing the weight of your tank and weightbelt on your body because that can do a number on your back over time.
Your fins as well, most people struggle to walk around on a boat without stumbling at the best of times but, while wearing fins, you’re just begging to fall over. If you need to walk in fins, hold onto a rail, take your time and walk sideways or backwards while paying particular attention to where your fins are going so you don’t stub your fins into something and trip. Be very grounded and don’t shift your weight until you’re absolutely certain you can maintain your balance.
Regulators are designed to give you air at moment’s notice, and they work best when submerged. But, on the surface they can get a little confused and think that you’re breathing, even when out of your mouth. When you’re in the water and you take your regulator out of your mouth, point the mouthpiece downwards. If you point it upwards the regulator will spit, and it can lead to a freeflow, it’s just how regulators work.
When you’re getting ready to jump into the water, you don’t have to worry about the regulator in your mouth but, your alternate, turn the pre-dive lever on and increase the breathing resistance if you can and try to point the mouthpiece downwards so that when you jump in, the purge button isn’t the first thing that hits the water. And at the end of the dive, when you take that regulator out, point the mouthpiece down and then pop it in the water.
Keep it on
So many divers as soon as they reach the surface, off with their mask, regulator comes out and they just focus on life on the surface again. But, if you still have gas in your tank it can be really useful to keep it in place, the same with your mask. I’ve watched so many divers struggle on the surface as waves slap them in the face, they choke it down trying to get back on the boat and see where they’re going.
If it’s nice and calm you can take your reg out to chat and get some fresh air and take your mask off to rub your face. But, on your exit or if the waves are jumping up it’s nice to keep your eyes covered and be able to breathe if you’re suddenly dunked underwater, like when you’re holding onto the ladder of a boat. It’s also handy so you don’t fumble your mask or a rogue wave snatches it from you
There is no dive equipment that is worth more than your life. If I feel like I can’t stay on the surface and something I’m wearing is weighing me down, I will not hesitate to drop it. If you’re lucky, your insurance will pay for it anyway and it’s a good excuse to go shopping for some new dive equipment. Ideally, you should only wear enough lead so that you can submerge but be able to stay on the surface even with an empty BCD with minimal effort.
Ditching your weightbelt is the first option, that’s a no brainer but, you’ll still see divers from time to time, struggle on the surface and literally risk their lives instead of dropping their weights. The last things that I’ll ditch would be my fins, my mask and my dive knife. Everything else is dead to me if I can’t float on the surface. And it can make for an interesting search and recovery dive to find your lost gear if it’s shallow enough so you can fid it again.
While we’re on the subject of weightbelts, your toes will thank you if you always carry them by the strap end and never by the buckle. Coated lead blocks are better for the environment but the smooth surface can be slippery and when you hold a basic weightbelt upright, they can slip right off, onto whatever is underneath.
Weight retainers are handy to prevent this but they’re a bit of a pain if it’s not your lead and you have to unthread it all the time. If you’re in a rush a single twist in the webbing mid-way through can help to hold the lead block in place. But, I’d still always hold the weightbelt by the loose strap end because even if the lead does slip it won’t slip over the buckle.
Bringing a camera
This one is a little heart breaking because when you’re new, you’re experiencing all of this amazing new underwater world and, especially in today’s social media life, all you want to do is share it with others. But, when you’re first learning to dive you need to practice your buoyancy and a camera can ruin it in a few different ways and it goes back to task loading.
The first thing a camera does is narrow your vision. Without your peripheral vision to see if you’re floating or sinking as the background moves, you can easily end up in a runaway ascent. The other way a camera can ruin your buoyancy is a lot of people naturally hold their breath to hold the camera steady and now they’re floating. Try to leave your camera behind until you’re at something like 20 or 30 dives and more confident with your buoyancy and maybe ask your buddy to keep an eye on you when you’re taking a picture to alert you if you’re drifting off.
I don’t think I know anybody who enjoys removing their mask underwater or other fundamental skills. But it’s important that you actually do them from time to time so that should the time come where you actually need to disconnect a pressurized low pressure inflator hose and reconnect it underwater. To drop and find a regulator or clear a flooded mask.
The best time is somewhere nice and shallow where you can ascend to the surface should you need to. The safety stop seems to be the perfect time as you’re just hanging there with little else to do sometimes but, it’s best to actually practice the skill at the end of the 3 minutes and tell your buddy that you’re going to practice skills, so they know what you’re doing. The more you do it, the less of a problem it will be should something happen during the next dive.