Training during vacation


You are planning a vacation by the sea. You are thinking about experiencing scuba diving. The following questions and answers may help you take a better decision. Please take note that I am not a scuba diving instructor nor affiliate to a scuba diving school. Scuba diving as a sport needs to follow an adequate training. On land, risky behaviors may sometimes be tried despite theirs major consequences. Underwater parameters differ, your own fears may bring you to use an inadequate behavior which may put your life in danger. Your physical condition, the environment in which the dive occurs and your level of knowledge have to be taken into account before the dive.

Take the time to read the following. Think about it. You have your own free will. At the end, you will decide.

A course of 45 minutes is it enough for diving?

No! It’s not a course, it is an introduction to scuba diving!

A distinction has to be made between a 15, 30 or 45 minutes initiation to scuba diving and a complete course. While on vacation, you may receive a free introduction (most of the time), in the pool for a period of about 15 up to 45 minutes in order to show you the basics. Normally, this activity is held in the swallow part of the pool in about 6 feet deep. You will be introduced to how to decompress your ears, how to empty you mask while underwater, how to use your buoyancy compensator (also known as BC), how to breath underwater with a regulator in your mouth, how to read a depth and a pressure gage and how to dump your lead belt for an emergency situation. All this will be shown to you according to the availability and the seriousness of the demonstrator. If there is a lot of people present at that time, chances are high that he did not have enough time to cover it all with the appropriate practice time.

Can I do a scuba diving excursion after such an initiation?

No, it is not recommended. So much conditions may vary and you don’t have enough knowledge of the basic technical skills to take such a risk. If you do it, you are doing it without knowing the risk factors. The examples which are given here are all fictious. The examples are given to make you aware of the real benefit to follow a course. They are based upon cases reported from lectures done of scuba diving magazines or review, even cases reported by certified or experienced divers.

Take the following example, you went to a 15, 30 of 45 minutes initiation period to scuba diving. You are getting aboard the boat for an excursion. The operator fixes your gear. Normally, the master diver (usually not alone) will lead the group while diving. You follow the group and suddenly you feel a huge pain from your ears. What can you do? Normally, if you followed a course, you would raise up a little for a couple of feet or more. Then you would apply an ear decompression technique and continue your descent. But what could happen in your case? One of the following possibilities may occur: you may raise to the surface too rapidly risking a decompression sickness accident or you may decide to pursue your descent risking a barotrauma like a tympanum perforation.

Take another example. Same excursion. Everything goes fine. You follow the group. You take your depth gage and realize that you are at a depth of 85 feet. What can you do? It is possible that you may get destabilized. Your reflex could be to start your ascent and surface rapidly. You must know that a certified beginner diver may descent at a maximum depth of 60 feet. In order to go deeper he has to follow another training course. So are you ready to go at a depth over 60 feet deep? All training agencies impose a limit based upon technical historical reasons while today it is imposed for statistical reasons. You may ask why the master diver brought you at such depth? Most master divers are serious people but some other few are not.

Take another example. Everything is fine. You are following the group and suddendly you cannot catch your breath. You feel that a panic sensation is getting upon you. You are getting more nervous because the descent continues and you cannot fully control it. It is mostly likely that you will have a tendency to surface...may be too rapidly. Are you going to keep breathing with full inspiration and expiration? At that time are you going to put air in your buoyancy compensator to stop your descent and even start your ascent? Are you going to signal your buddy about your problem? Are you going to be able to dump your lead belt correctly? Are you going to retain your breath during the ascent? If so, you may risk a barotrauma or even worst, a pulmonary embolism. As a rule you must always remember that while doing an ascent, you should never hold your breath.

Take a last example. You are following the group while suddendly your regulator malfunctions, a fin’s strap broke or a diver, buddy or not, displaces your mask with an unvolontary fin’s stroke. What are you going to do? Are you going to keep your calm? signal the situation to your buddy? use the second emergency regulator (octopus)? use the respiratory buddy system during the ascent while your regulator is defective?

All these situations can occur, the idea is to minimize the risks and to know how to react if they occur. This is the main goal of training.

Why then such activities occur with beginners with so little training?

Because as in most cases, the gain of money is a greater force than security. Why some car manufacturers sold cars while not secure enough? The judgement is left to you.

Should I forget the initation to scuba diving?

No. If your idea is to use your vacation period to experience an initiation to scuba diving, the occasion is ideal. Then limit you activity to the swimming pool and disregard the sea dive.

May I still dive if the trainer insists to do it in 20-30 feet (7 to 10m) deep?

No. If after the initiation you want to pursue, it is highly recommended to follow a course. A course will give you all the basic notions needed: physic laws, physiological effects, fins technique, respiration, survival technique, gear manipulation, ear decompression technique, etc. A course is given over a couple of days and has several training sessions. Each session is composed of two parts: theory and pratice. Practice is usually done in a swimming pool of about 15 feet deep or in a non deep natural environment. At the first dive, the instructor may carry you one at the time or two at the time (this depends upon agency training pratices). After a while pratices are done in nature. At the end of the course, you will have a theoritical and a pratical exam. Normally, you have to complete your first dive without the instructor supervision.

You will be more confident with the benefit of a good training which may put away the risk of a drowning (you should not minimize the risk linked to a lack of knowledge, training and panic).

How to choose a vacation destination with a scuba diving school?

You have to choose a destination where one of the certification agencies can offer you a course during your stay. Bring the list with you to your travel agency.

In general, you should choose an international training agency like for examples CMAS, NAUI, PADI or PDIC to name a few. Ask for the duration in order to complete the course during your stay. Make a reservation upon arrival (1st or 2nd day). The certification obtained will allow you to dive anywhere else in the world. Don’t forget the fact that you will be able to practive diving right here in Canada with a wet suit for thermal protection. You might get surprised not to get cold. You will need your certification card in order to dive in Canada as in most country where diving is ruled.

Do I should care about security measures?

Yes. About security, as possible choose a destination where the school is known for an indisputable attitude torward scuba diving security practice. If it is member of an organization or an international security program like the one from DAN (Divers Alert Network). This is an excellent sign. Another sign are the indications regarding the presence of an hyperbaric chamber aboard or in the vinicity of the dives or an emergency kit with an oxygen tank, all with trained personnel. Otherwise while on the premises ask questions: is there an emergency kit with oxygen aboard. Etc.

Should I worry about scuba diving gear conditions while on the location?

Yes. On the location, before taking the course, ask people who did some dives about their comments regarding the diving centre in general. Otherwise do some verifications: is the material in good condition and well maintained? Be carefull not to be confused about scratches over air tanks and maintenance. Check for cracks on air tubes, check for leaks of air. Are the fins or mask straps look solid? Ask questions, don’t hesitate. Is the air from the tank has an oil smell or a bad smell ? Why would you take the risk of a pulmonary problem even temporary while you are on vacation. The compressor might be in bad condition or the air filters may have not been changed for a while. Again looking ridicule will not kill you, a badly maintained equipment may have negatives consequences.

Someone told me that I could dive right after my arrival by plane.

Yes, if you are not exhausted. Although, it is not indicated to dive 24 hours before your departure by plane. Taking the plane has some effects of the physical composition of blood. If you follow a course you will appreciate this advice. Ask your dive instructor.

Someone said that I have to buy my equipment.

FALSE! It is not necessary to buy even the smallest piece of equipment. Despite, you must distinguish between certain facts and what you are ready to accept. You should try to answer to some questions about yourself. Take the basic equipment for example: mask, tuba and fins. In most diving school the equipment is well maintained. But the mask and fins straps are highly used. The face part of a mask may be deformed. The mouth piece has the appearence of an equipment used by many mouths! If you are thinking to practice scuba diving or do some apnea then buying the basic gear might be a good idea. In that case, it is preferrable to buy fins with a pair of booties that you can insert into the fins. This will allow you to walk on a beach covered with rocks of sea shells without cutting your feet. In the South, it sometimes happens that a dive is not done two by two but in a group formation. While making surface, it is possible of being alone, it would be adviced to buy a whistle that could work even wet in order to signal your presence to the boat vigil.

Otherwise, you may simply buy nothing at all and everything should go fine.

It is not necessary to buy any piece of equipment to start the practice of scuba diving. This should allow you to try many other brands of equipment instead of making a blind choice.

Can I get some health problem with the mouth piece of the tuba or regulator?

Everything is related to equipment maintenance. You should ask the question to a microbilogist or a physician. For most bacteria and virus a good maintenance and good cleaning practices may suffice but no one could neglect the risk of HIV propagation or other health hazard. About this, Alert Diver magazine (February 2001, p.16-18) establish a list of products (SaniZide, Advance TBE, Bi-Arrest 2, Confidence Plus) which can be bought and applied on the mouth piece in order to desinfect them before putting them into your mouth. Some products are even used or recommended by the US Navy. Some products needs application time more or less long with sometimes a high price.

A very cheap solution which necessitate a little amount of time is to carry with you a diluted solution of javel water. It only needs a few minutes to clean and soak the tuba, the regulator and the octopus into diluted javel water. This should do a great job about desinfection of mouth pieces.

Another easy solution, if you don’t have time, and a cheap way is to buy replacing nylon mouth pieces for a few dollars. Try to buy at least 2 and a couple of nylon tie wraps before going on vacation. When you are attending the course, ask the instructor to replace the mouth piece. Don’t forget to recuperate it (give to your instructor a replacement tie wrap...he will appreciate your attitude). This will give him a little bit of work but it is a matter of few minutes. Explain to him that for hygiene raison you prefer it that way. Give him a tip if needed...it is up to your judgement.

But what exactly is the situation? Really I cannot say because as I said before I am not a doctor nor a microbiologist. But in doubt the best advice, is not to panic, but at least to be carefull. Personnaly, I prefer to use my own pieces of equipment specially what I have to put in my mouth or on my skin.

In conclusion, it is you who has the final answer.

Do I should buy a wet suit?

No. Having said that, you may have to wear one or not depending of your vacation destination. If you are in the tropical area, it is most likely that you will not need to wear a wet suit. Elsewhere the dive instructor will tell you. The school may rent that piece of equipment (it is possible that it might be included in the fare of the course).

Some precisions must be given. If you dive in an aquatic zone known for the presence of medusa or other organisms leading to skin problems, you may dive with a soft nylon pant in order to avoid skin contact. You may wear a coton sweather with long sleeves. Dont’be afraid: ridicule don’t kill. The itches due to rash product are more annoying and time demanding than a brief ridicule look. You just have to wear them just right before the dive. Who knows some of your fellows may say to you the day after "...I should have done like you...look I have to put this cream on my skin for all the rest of my vacation..."

At the very minimum, it is preferrable to wear a T-shirt while over it you will carry the buoyancy compensator on which the air tank is fixed. This will avoid you skin irritations due to movements of the equipement over the shoulder and back area.

If you think about it, try to carry a pair of white soft coton gloves (like the ones for gardening). You must know that certain dive sites are protected and access will be forbidden if you wear gloves. But it is not the kind of situation in which you will be in. It is about avoiding cuts to hands and fingers. The sea water burns very hardly over an open wound. It is more likely that you will touch the bottom ground...sometimes rocks or sea shells can cut you badly.

Avoid touching the animals and plants of the aquatic fauna. Don’t do it unless you know the species or the instructor invites you to touch it. That way, you will not have the bad surprise to get a skin irritation problems, cuts or spines.

Should I care about other details?

Bring and apply a water resistent solar protection.

Bring and wear a head cap.

Bring and wear sun glasses.

Bring a whistle to signal your presence while on surface, if needed.

Bring and drink water at the end of a dive. Diving and sun have more or less important dehydratation impact. You will also be able to rince your eyes with drinkable water.

Hydrate yourself enough before any dive. Drinking non alcoolic beverages will help you greatly and avoid fatigue due to dehydratation.

Do not dive if you have sinus congestion or if you have a problem affecting you respiratory track.

Don’t dive if you are exhausted (for example after an exhausting day of walking at the montain). Keep your energy. Be fresh and rested.

Avoid alcool before diving. The body need a large amount of water in order to eliminate it. The net effect is to reduce the blood fluidity. This is not indicated in the case of diving while the blood must vehiculate large quantities of nitrogen during the ascent. Ask to your instructor to explain this to you!

Avoid any drugs before diving. The body needs all the ressources during a dive. You should not take such a risk underwater. In any case, diving may not be for you in that case.

Should I have a medical exam?

Yes. It is important to have a medical exam. First all scuba diving agencies will ask for it before accepting you in a course. Be carefull some instructors may not ask for it. This should be a surprise but possible due to unethical practive for money gain reasons.

Why a physical exam is needed?

Because the physician, with preferrably an hyperbaric medicine specialty (this is not an absolute must), will be able to detect a potential problem at the ears, sinus and throat level. It may be indicated to have an X-Ray. The doctor will decide.

Genetics must be taken into account and you should not be afraid to mention the operations or sinus problems encountered etc...within your family father, mother, brother and sister and your owns. Everything should work well without any problem underwater. It is recommended to consult a physician and to obtain a non counter indication to scuba diving. If you follow a course during your vacation, get inform to your local training agency in order to obtain a medical form to be filled by the doctor. This is the one which will be given to your instructor before the course. Make one or 2 copies...in case you lose the original. Take note of the exact name, professional member number and office phone number of your physician in case the instructor would like to verify your papers.

Should I have a great physical fitness?

All depends of your understanding. It is not necessary to have an athlete fitness. But having a good physical fitness can help on the contrary. If you are not in shape, don’t think to do diving to get fit. Do a physical activity to get fit before diving. Do a physical activity to be in shape before starting to dive and not the reverse. Running, swimming, bicycling a little and keeping doing it, is a good start.

One thing is sure, if you cannot catch your breath after crossing the pool. It should be adviced to train yourself a little. This cannot be harmfull. To have a good idea, scuba diving in the fifties, you had to swim a lot while buoyancy compensator did not exist at that time and you had litteraly to pull your air from the regulator in order to breath. Today a diver can adjust its flottability with the help of a buoyancy compensator. Divers are ask to make full respiration instead of having a rapid and superficial breathing habit. And about regulators, they allow you to breath nearly naturally like you breath at surface level because of their fine adjustments.

All of this seems complicated, is there another solution?

A simple thing is to have a course right here many weeks before leaving for vacation. The course will probably cost you the same amount as the one on vacation but normally less but in local currency. The course will be given in your language and not in a foreign language with or without a local accent which you may have difficulties to catch. This is important due to technical explinations you may lost. The local ambiance will be less exautic that the one in a South place but really much simpler at the level of exchange and understanding. And also, you will be able to pratice your sport immediately before leaving. You make some dives and accustomize yourself to diving equipment without stress. For example, you will know while wearing a wet suit that you may surprisingly dive in cold water. You will appreciate greatly the dives in the South without a wet suit. You would also know that interesting places where fishes and underwater structures may be found right here also. You would then appreciate the difference between North and South diving.

It is probably much simpler to proceed this way and dive in the South with less constraints and stress.

But if you can have a course during your vacation in a foreign language without having any problem then the question is irrelevant. At least you could choose another destination where you could have a course in your own language.

It is up to you to decide! Have a nice dive!

© Copyright 1999-2016, Michel Robitaille. All rights reserved.