So you want to get into water diving and aren’t satisfied with just snorkeling anymore. That’s great! Scuba diving is an experience like no other and can let you explore the most interesting and breathtaking parts of our planet. Scuba divers are a special family, and once you start, it’s exceptionally hard to stop diving.
But where to begin? With all the equipment and certifications required, it can seem like a huge ordeal just to get started. While it’s true that a significant amount of equipment is required to scuba dive and you need some specialized training, you can learn what to do and how to do it in only a few short days. From then on, you’ll be exploring coral reefs and seeing sea life up close and personal! Let’s take a look at the basics and everything you need to know to get started on your way to being a certified diver.
Scuba, the Basics
If you’re starting from zero knowledge, that’s ok, everyone has to start somewhere, and diving can appear at times to be esoteric. Let’s take a look at how scuba diving works, and equipment involved.
What Does Scuba Stand For?
Scuba is actually an acronym that has become its own word over time. SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Self-contained meaning that it requires only a single person to operate and the breathing apparatus is the breathing gas tank on the back. However, much more equipment besides just the air tank on the back is needed.
What Equipment Is Needed?
Water diving for extended periods of time requires equipment not only to keep you breathing down there but also to keep you down there, period. There’s also the matters of keeping you moving and keeping you safe. Here is a list of some of the most important basic equipment needed for scuba diving. There’s more optional and alternative gear out there, but these are the bare essentials.
- Air Tank: Perhaps the most important part of the rig. The air tank is filled with compressed gas fo the diver to breathe while underwater. These can be filled with different types of gas for different dives and are usually kept and maintained by dive shops.
- Buoyancy Control Device (BCD): Your BCD is a vest that is attached to the air tank. Not only does this keep the tank on you, but it also is connected to the air tank and can be inflated or deflated with the push of a button or pull of a toggle. This lets you control your buoyancy and depth.
- Weight Belt: As you probably know, you float. The weight belt keeps you underwater while the BCD can adjust exactly what depth you stay at.
- Regulator: This is the hose with a mouthpiece that you breathe out of. It is much more complex than that, of course, as it stops you from breathing water. It also has an air pressure gauge and a secondary breather for emergencies.
- Snorkel: For when you are just swimming on the surface either from or to your boat, the snorkel keeps you breathing as “normal” swimming isn’t possible with scuba gear on.
- Mask: In scuba, you use a mask instead of simple goggles to see underwater. Your nose must be contained in the mask as well for reasons you will learn when you get certified.
- Fins: Swimming while scuba diving does not require the use of your hands, so you need fins to get enough propulsion underwater without tiring yourself out.
- Wetsuit: Wetsuits are actually optional when scuba diving. They are great for keeping you warm or protecting you from coral or other hazards but depending on your dive location or level of skill you can forego wearing one.
This may seem like a lot of gear, and it is. But the good news is that most divers do not buy and keep all of this gear. Most divers rent all the needed gear from the dive shop that they dive with. More experienced divers may purchase their own masks, snorkels, and fins for a more comfortable fit, but even then, many divers opt for used scuba gear.
How Do I Go on a Dive?
Scuba diving can be a scary proposition, but you’re never really alone unless you want to be. Diving is usually done through a dive shop that employs expert instructors and guides and maintains scuba gear and watercraft for diving expeditions. Only the most experienced divers go without a guide, and almost never go alone. Dive shops are also the primary places where prospective divers get their scuba diver certification.
How Do I Learn How to Dive?
So now that you know all about that scuba gear, you’ll need someone to teach you how to use it. No dive shop or dive guide company will allow you to rent their equipment or services if you do not have a scuba certification.
This certification proves that you have been instructed on at least the basics of scuba diving and have demonstrated ability and knowledge enough to perform it safely. Think of it like a driver’s license, but for under the sea.
There is no one ruling body that gives out diver certification just like there isn’t one DMV for the whole world. However, some of the largest and most accepted certifications come from ISO, PADI, CMAS, SSI, and NAUI. Getting a certification from one of these organizations should let you dive just about anywhere, even dive shops that offer different certifications.
Open Water Certification
The first level of certification will certify you as an Open Water Diver. This is the most basic level of diver and allows you to dive down to a certain depth, depending on the organization that certifies you. Open water diving just means water diving out in nature in a lake or the ocean and not a pool.
When you sign up for scuba lessons, your dive instructor will schedule out your course which typically takes two to three days. There are three main phases of the open water certification process. There are other names for them, but they consist of the classroom phase, the watercourse or confined water dives phase, and the open water dives.
The Classroom Phase
Also known as the academic phase, this is the preliminary education portion of the certification. Here you learn the basics of scuba diving, how to operate the gear and inspect it for safety, how perform the hand signals necessary for communication underwater, the basics of buoyancy and much, much more.
Usually, you will learn all this from your instructor in a classroom, but some organizations offer online learning, so you can absorb the information on your own time. Regardless of how you get the knowledge, you will be tested on it to ensure that you know what you are doing.
The Confined Dives Phase
In this phase, you will be learning how to don and operate scuba gear in a hands-on fashion. You will also be instructed on how to maintain buoyancy, how to help yourself in case of an emergency, how to help others, how to swim with the gear on and much more.
All of this takes place in the safety of a controlled diving environment, usually a swimming pool or shallow area near a beach. There is virtually no chance of a dangerous mishap as you are never much deeper than chest or neck-high water. Here you will safely get the hang of scuba diving so that when you get out into the open water, you have the skills needed to dive deeper.
The Open Water Dive Phase
Finally, it is time to do what you came to do: dive in the open ocean or a lake. Your dive instructor will get you ready with all of your gear, then probably take you in a watercraft out to the dive site. There, once you have demonstrated that you can safely equip yourself and inspect another diver to ensure that they have done everything right, it is time to dive right in.
Once in the water, the dive instructor will go over all of the safety and operation procedures again to make sure you are ready to be let loose. From there, your instructor will likely lead you on a guided dive where you will demonstrate your ability to perform basic dive ability, and emergency procedures like clearing your mask of water or sharing a regulator.
After all of the testing and trials, it’s time to have fun! Certification courses usually end with a guided dive to let you use everything you have learned. You’ll likely travel in a group throughout a dive site to see all the cool wildlife around. Now you’re a diver!
Where Can I Find a Dive Shop Near Me?
Most major cities near a coast have dive centers and shops. They might bus you out to the coast from the city, or they might be located right there on the beach. Alternatively, you can choose which organization you want to get certified through and use their website to find a dive shop that runs that program.
If you are looking to get certified and are going on vacation soon, hit two birds with one stone and get certified abroad. Your certification is likely still accepted back home if it is from a widely recognized body, and it will probably be a lot cheaper too!