Over the last two weeks, I’ve been working towards my PADI open water scuba diving certificate. When I was speaking to my dad about it, who was certified when he was about my age, he said he would be interested in hearing about how the processes has differed since, so I thought I would speak on my experience!
I actually have been scuba diving before in Hawai’i. I can best describe my experience as a “crash course” because we were given a short lecture on scuba diving basics, a brief pool lesson and then went out with the instructor the next day on a shore dive (walking into the water from shore rather than going out on a boat). It was magnificent and I felt confident with the instructor accompanying us on our dive.
The main reason for getting certified is for a marine field trip I will be taking in South Africa in April. There is another field trip in early March for coral reef ecology in Egypt for which some of my other classmates (Peter and Samirah) had to get certified for as well, so the course convener, Bill, thought it would be best if we did it all together.
Bill has a relationship with Ocean View Diving in Lancing (about a 20 minute train ride from Brighton), so he got us a discount on the course, saving us about £80! The class cost us £395 ($520) and includes a free mask and snorkel. Other transport costs were an additional £30.
Prior to our first class, we were required to complete an online training course about dive safety and health risks that took about two hours.
This dive center also offered a sample dive called Discover Scuba, where divers can get a taste of what scuba diving is like before committing to the class. Because I have been diving before, I knew I wanted to move forward, but my classmate Samirah who took the course said it was fun and comfortable!
Confined water dives
For the first “week” (two days, 9AM to 5PM) of classes, we were based at the scuba center in Lancing. The heated pool at the diving center was about 50 square meters (165 square feet) long with two different depths: 1 meter (3 feet) for surface skills and 4 meters (13 feet) for deeper diving. There, we developed our underwater and surface skills and familiarized ourselves with the equipment.
Over the next two days, we learned basic skills such as setting up the scuba kit, buoyancy control, entering and exiting the water, ascending and descending techniques and how to handle all sorts of situations that can arise on a dive. Although our instructor told us most of these will never happen, it’s best to be as prepared as possible. Such situations include swimming without your mask, putting it back on and clearing it underwater, running out of air (yes, we actually simulated turning off our air, it was terrifying), simulating a free flowing regulator, controlled emergency swimming ascents and various surface skills.
Finally, we “planned” our own dive in the pool, considering our air supply, (imaginary) hazards and (again, imaginary) goals. We all stayed in a buddy group while the instructor gave us a sort of test of how to solve problems underwater. I was given regulator recovery and cramp relief.
Those days were tiring, but went by really quickly. Angela was a great instructor!
Open water dives
The following week, we did open water dives at Wraysbury Diving Center in Wraysbury, just west of Heathrow Airport. It would have been quite the journey from Brighton by train but luckily, Bill was willing to give us a ride from Burgess Hill, ten miles north of Brighton.
I woke up at 5:30AM in order to arrive at Burgess Hill but 7:30AM. Bill picked myself and Peter up and drove us to the dive center. Predictably, it was a miserable little lake with poor visibility (about 2 meters at the most) and the weather was cold and rainy. The five of us (myself, Peter, Samirah, the students, and Bill and Angela, the dive masters) suited up for our first two open water dives.
On all of our open water dives, we did a thorough dive pre-check and practiced slow and safe descents and ascents as well as buoyancy control. The first dive practiced snorkel to regulator exchange and taking the B.C.D. on and off in the water. After taking a break to warm up, use the bathroom (I swear, I always need to pee so bad after a dive) and grab a snack, we headed back in the water for our second dive where we practiced cramp relief, tired diver tow and surface skills. Angela was hopeful for a third dive, but I was shivering so bad we had to call it a day. With that, Bill drove Peter and myself back to campus before meeting him again bright and early the next morning.
Once we were suited up once again, the third dive included navigation skills on the surface and underwater using a simple compass and controlled emergency swimming ascent. Our final dive was a planned dive with no skills: we just swam around in buddy pairs. There were some sunken speedboats, but with the already poor visibility and silt on the bottom kicked up by our fins, it wasn’t much to see. Once we completed that final 20 minute dive, we were certified!
The days were long and tiring, but I’d rather do it in a few longer days than several shorter days. I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned to see the beautiful underwater world this December in Egypt and this April in South Africa!