As a new PADI OWSI or dive master are you continuing your relationship with your scuba mentor or shop? Or are you going out solo? That is always the question that a new PADI OWSI will struggle with as they await the paper work to be completed and arrive with their brand new shinny black card.
It has been an interesting month for me, watching a new PADI OWSI working with their first class solo, that is without me leading them in conducting the class as well as working with some students that were given a referral from an independent OWSI to go do their open water check out dives that didn’t feel ready to go to open water and wanted a little more practice. Yes, you can say it has definitely been more than interesting.
The other night as I was with our 3 new dive master candidates we were discussing the role of the dive master and the role of the shop/instructor. We talked about how our roles have grown from that of student and teacher to that of a new professional and their scuba mentor. The new dive master and even the new OWSI are qualified to lead and teach from the moment they graduate; much like a newly minted MBA is ready to take on the business world. And they will probably do very well and be successful.
But, there is so much more to teaching any scuba class and while true that experience is the best way to gain the experience and confidence in any profession having a scuba mentor or 2 can help the new OWSI and dive master grow. Having a scuba mentor to talk over things that happen in a class can be instrumental in your growth as an OWSI or dive master. In our programs we try and have you work with as many real students as we can, because while role playing scenarios with other candidates is fun and a learn tool, working with real students and real problems and yes real fears will ramp up the learning curve as you progress and learn and grow.
Talk with your instructor/ scuba mentor about the opportunities for you to co-teach or the possibility of you going the staff at the dive shop. Check out the PADI pro site for teaching opportunities in the island where you can gain experience and work closely with experienced instructors. The world awaits you as does your mentor.
By now you are all familiar with the basic scuba signals and some of you have probably even invented your own scuba signals for a special creature like that very big shark that is behind you. And I know you know the signals for out of air, but how about low on air and how do we tell the dive master how much air we have left in our tanks?
Flashing fingers to signal our air supply just confuses me and most dive masters, because I can’t count that fast. There is an independent instructor that likes to have his students signal with fingers on their chest with how much air they have left. The problem with that is that the scuba signal for low on air is a fist/hand on the chest. So if you are touching your chest to me that is the scuba signal for you are low on air and I will be taking you to the surface at that point.
The best and easiest scuba signals for telling your dive master and dive buddy how your air management is going is the simple ok sign. This tells your buddy that you have been watching your air and you are ok and have plenty of air remaining. The other preferred way, especially for a new diver is to signal with your fingers on your arm for your remaining air in thousands and with your fingers for hundreds. So for say 2400 psi in your tank the scuba signals would look like this; 2 fingers tapping your arm and then hold up 4 fingers. A simple and non-confusing scuba signal for letting your dive buddy and the dive master know how much air you have and that you have been watching your air supply.
What are some of you favorite scuba signals?
The other night I did a pool refresher for a family that had just finished their pool class with an independent instructor. I asked to see their log books and was told that they didn’t get one in their class. Your log book is one of your most important tools as a diver. Not only is it a required item in your PADI Open Water class (page 39 of the PADI instructor manual), but it is a place where you can record all of your training and all of the fun adventures that you share with your dive buddies.
Your dive log as I tell all of my new open water divers is your personal journal. You can write as little or as much as you want. There are all sorts of dive logs out there and yes there are many apps that will log your dive. You can download your computer and just print it off or you can take a note book and make you own personal version of a dive log. The choice is yours.
Let us take a look at the basic dive log page. The most common of dive log pages has a place for the name of the site, the day you dove and what number is this dive for you. The other common features of a dive log page is a place to record the air and water temp, what exposure suit if any and a very important bit of information, how much weight did you use. Along with depth and time and air consumption, how much weight we use is very important so the next time we go diving we can be weighted correctly to start with instead of guessing.
But Scuba Joe, I don’t want to write a novel in my log book. As I said, you can write what you want, but I do like to note the new creatures I saw and maybe anything interesting that happened on the dive such as someone reaching a milestone dive of 50 or 200.
In preparing for our upcoming adventure to the Turks, I was curious what the water temp might be and the Explorer people are reporting 80 degrees. Nice 3 mil wetsuit, but then I thought since I dove there in 2007 and I remember it was chillier than that we pulled our log book since we are going about the same time of the year ( actually 2 weeks later) and sure enough water temp was recorded from 73 to 78. Sounds like my 5 mil semi-dry.
One of the most often asked questions from our new divers is do we have any dive tips for them as they head off on their first tropical dive vacation. Of course we always have dive tips for the new diver and we also have dive tips for the experienced diver. Let’s look at our top 5 dive tips for new divers.
- Let the dive master that you will be diving with know that you are a new diver. This may sound like an obvious thing, but by letting the dive master know they will watch out for you a little more and show you the cool critters that you might otherwise miss. The dive master may even offer some other tips on weighting and buoyancy after watching you for a dive or two.
- Always do your pre-dive buddy/safety check. Especially since you are probably renting gear for the first few trips. The gear may be a different configuration that what you were trained in. And talk to your buddy about your experience and his.
- Stay in your comfort and training levels. If the dive plan calls for you to go through a tunnel at 90 feet and you are not ready for that, tell your buddy and dive master. Most of the time you can just go over the tunnel and follow the bubbles to the other side.
- Ascend slowly and always to your safety stop. Check your and your buddy’s air usage every 5 minutes or more. Stay within a few fin kicks of your buddy.
- Have a save a dive kit. Most dive boats will have extra o-rings and things like that, but you should have a back up mask strap and fin strap. You would hate to miss out on your first ocean dives due to a broken mask strap or fin strap.
- Log your dive. Note your weighting and what fun creatures you saw. Your log book will become a great and treasured resource for you in the future.
These dive tips are true for all divers and in time will become part of your diving routine, but by following this dive tips you will develop good scuba habits and they will be with you for your entire diving career.
Have a dive tip for new divers? Feel free to add them in the comments
Honest, I never intended to ever be a PADI OWSI (Open Water Scuba Instructor). I was happy and content to be making loans and playing golf and not really into the thought of basically changing my career and life to be Scuba Joe. So how did I get here?
Well, it started with when I met Donna. See we made this deal, I would get certified to dive and she would learn to play golf. Sounded like an easy plan and would give us to different hobbies to enjoy. Then sometime in 2004 she decided that she was ready to become an instructor. Me? I was happy taking two trips a year and doing 20 or so dives and then playing some golf. Then in early 2005 after she passed her instructor exam the thought popped into her head that I should at least become a dive con/assistant instructor so I could help her with her classes and maybe it could be something we could do as part time work at retirement. I firmly dug in my fins and said I wasn’t really interested in that. Then in 2007, my fins came out of the sand and I began my training. After all, I was tagging along and going to the crater and helping out any way.
Back in 2003 on a Windjammer after a day of diving in Bonaire, we were sitting with some new friends and munching on a bag of fries from Whataburger, laughing and joking about being retired and “working” at a dive shop on some island. My friends it wasn’t anything other than people sitting around and having a little fun. But 4 years later, here I am starting my training on the way to OWSI. Then later that year (2007) the owner of the shop was in a horrible accident, Donna became the lead instructor and I her trusty second. Donna even mentioned to the owner’s wife that if they decided to ever sell the shop she would be interested in purchasing the business.
Sometime in the summer of 2008, the phone rang. That phone call changed everything. The shop was officially for sale and would we like to buy it? To make a long story as short as I can and to keep this post under 10,000 words, we officially took over on December 1, 2008. We had 2 instructors and 1 assistant (me). Shortly, after that Anthony finished his assistant instructor rating. But, Donna was doing all the classes and with her job at the state requiring her to travel and teach almost constantly, we need to add a few more instructors to the team.
About a year or so later, PADI walked in the door and well made an offer that we could not turn down. If we would switch from our current training agency to become a 5 Star PADI dive center, they would bring me and 2 others to OWSI. Again, I really had no desire to take on OWSI, but in order to help grow the shop and help Donna with the teaching load we walked through the door that PADI had opened for us.
What started out as a fun conversation in 2003 off the Island of Bonaire has become a self fulfilling dream of sorts. Maybe someday I will find myself updating this post from some tropical island and wonder how I got there.
Living in landlocked Colorado at almost 5000 feet we are experts in altitude diving, since if we dive locally at all we are definitely diving at altitude.
Student: But Scuba Joe isn’t diving well just diving?
Scuba Joe: Sure diving is diving, but the dive tables and all decompression theory is all based on being at sea level. Do you remember from the first chapter in your PADI open water class the discussion about pressure, volume and density? Let us start with pressure, at sea level we are under 1 full atmosphere of pressure, that is from space to sea level equals 1 atmosphere. Now, in altitude diving we are under less pressure. Think about it this way, as we drive (ascend) to our destination (surface) we are off gassing, because at sea level we are consider to be balanced in our nitrogen levels. So as we “ascend” nitrogen is coming out of solution, much like on a dive in the Caribbean.
Student: But isn’t water in altitude diving affected also?
Scuba Joe: Not really, water is water and is about 800 times denser than air. Think about it this way, that slab on concrete you fell on the other day is just as dense at altitude as it is at sea level.
Scuba Joe: (laughs) yes Ouch! So we understand that our body is under less pressure in altitude diving and that water isn’t affected at all. What this means to us in planning our altitude diving day is that we must plan our dives as they are deeper than our actually depth, because our body will be absorbing nitrogen at a faster pace than at sea level, for example on our advanced open water deep dive this weekend at the crater our dive to 66 feet is the equal to over 90 feet. Add to this that as we ascend from our dive that we well are off gassing faster also, so we will need to ascend at a slower rate.
Student: How do we plan for altitude diving?
Scuba Joe: We can follow special dive tables or even better set our computers for our altitude.
How many times have you come back from a dive and ran right for the fish id book and excitedly starting flipping through the pages desperately trying to figure out what that strange and wonderful new fish was that you saw? It happens at least 2 or 3 times on just about every dive trip. We become familiar with so many of the creatures that we see and after a short time frame are able to group them into families to make our fish id book easier to use.
There are over 21000 species of fish and over 4000 of them can be found on the coral reefs of the world. The most common of which can be broken down into 30 to 50 different families, we can break them down into 12 common groups
- Butterfly fish, angelfish and surgeonfish
- Jacks, barracuda, porgy and chubs
- Snappers and grunts
- Damselfish, chromis and hamlets
- Groupers, sea bass and basslets
- Parrotfish and wrasse
- Squirrelfish, bige yes and cardinal fish
- Blennies, gobies and jaw fish
- Flounders, scorpion fish, lizardfish and frogfish
- File fish, trigger fish, puffers, trunkfish, cowfish, goatfish, trumpet fish and drums
- Sharks and rays
Let’s break down the first group to help you in your fish id adventure. The Butterfly, angel and surgeon (tang) are all generally thin in the body with an oval or disc shape with very bright and interesting colors and patterns which allows us to group them easily into one family. But to be better at fish id, we need to note some differences that set these 3 apart within the family. The Butterfly fish are generally smaller with a concaved forehead and many have a longer mouth that allows them to pick out food in small crevices and cracks. Whereas the Angelfish are darker in color with a rounded forehead and have long dorsal fins and are multi-colored and our surgeon or tangs are one solid color with maybe a small accent color and if you can see them, there are little spikes by the tail.
As you practice your fish id skills on your next dive pick one family and see how many of the families with in the family you can identify. To add a challenge to your fish id adventure next see how many different of the smaller families you can spot.
Take a sandy bottom on the ocean floor; add in a ship wreck or concrete rubble or anything that will make a nice artificial reef structure, mix in some time and we have a new dive site or a new community development.
Sure it takes time for the marine life to form on an artificial reef, just as it takes times for a builder to build homes and the roads and sewer lines and all that goes into a new community. As we know from our discussion on coral reefs, they only occupy about the size of the state of Nevada on the ocean floor. And a lot of them are in trouble. But by adding artificial reefs such as decommission ships or concrete statues or other items that are cleaned and prepared for that purpose we can add to and aid the marine environment.
When we place an artificial reef at first it is just barren on the sandy bottom. But after a short period of time the first schools of fish start to come by and move in. They find protection in the artificial reef. Soon, the algae start to attach to the artificial reef and slowly coral starts to grow. As the corals grow more marine life stop by the new neighborhood as there is now something to eat as well as protection. As the fish start to hang out on the artificial reef, the little cleaner shrimp and crabs arrive and hang out an open for business sign. This attracts even more marine life. Before we know it a whole new ecosystem has developed around and on our artificial reef.
Take for example the Vandenberg that was sunk in May of 2009. The artificial reef is already home to shallow and deep-water fish, such as barracuda, Goliath grouper, dorado and the occasional sailfish, attracted by the clouds of bait schooling around the wreck. Over the course of time the ship will be covered in sea fans and other coral species. Another example is the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Some have been in place for 30 years and are covered in many different coral species and are home to a wide variety of fish and other marine life.
So the next time you are on a dive boat and looking at a barren sandy bottom just picture an artificial reef placed there and we have a new dive site.
What does being a great dive buddy mean? Well, I can tell you it isn’t the old joke of same day and same ocean so you are my dive buddy. As you may know PADI has revised and updated the open water diver class and one of the new things is a strong emphasis on being a good dive buddy, both on the surface and underwater. The changes are minor, but important. Being within 2 seconds of your buddy and being ready to help with anything from a loose tank to sharing air.
But there is a new tool that is being introduced to help all of us, not just new divers, to be a great dive buddy. The new PADI Dive Planning Slate is coming to an open water class soon. This little slate is going to be a must have for all new divers and some that haven’t been diving in a while. On it are places for you to log the dive and a planning section for depth, time, air pressure planning and such, but the big addition is the dive team check list.
- Dive objective dive buddy agrees
- Evaluate conditions are they within your experience, training and equipment, any current or waves
- Points of interest and any hazards
- How to enter and exit and location
- How to descent and ascend
- Dive Buddy contact, signals, and what to do if separated
- Emergency Procedures
- Pre-Dive safety check
This new slate will be in the shop in the next few months. I recommend that all dive buddy teams pick on up before your next adventure. Even if you are following a dive master on a boat dive it is still an excellent tool to use and review with your dive buddy as you are making your final checks after the briefing and before you enter the water.
A C card or diver scuba certification card is standard equipment in today’s scuba world, but every once in a while someone doesn’t think they need a card to go diving. After all, dad or a friend is a diver and they will be watching out for me, right? Besides I am an all star swimmer, what could go wrong? Or, they did a few resort courses or even better, they were in the Navy and did a lot of diving. Heck they may have even been a Navy diver.
We can look at an accident like the one in Florida on Christmas day, when a father and son died while testing out the new scuba gear they got for Christmas on a dive in a cave to at least understand a little why we want a scuba certification card. Dad was a certified diver, but the son was not. Even, if they had made the dive with no issues it was way beyond the 15 year old son’s experience and training to be even diving in a cave let alone diving without a professional.
Your basic open water diver card is validation and proof that you have the training and skills to go scuba diving. But, there are limits to this certification level. If you recall from your open water class the entry level scuba certification is for up to 60 feet and in conditions that you were trained in. This means for most of us warm and rather clear water. Makes sense, since most of us did our training dives in the warm waters of the tropics or the crater. We are comfortable and confident in our abilities in such water.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t go deeper or at night or in colder or even murky water. But, we should probably get some training for those conditions or at least go with a certified dive professional. I recall our friend Rock and his first night dive. He was anxious and nervous as he had never done a night dive. After the briefing on the boat, the dive master asked if this was anyone’s first night dive (he knew as we had told him it was Rock’s first) and Rock, like the good sport he is, raised his hand. It was decided that Rock would lead us into the water. Well, since he was at the bow of the boat he walked past all of us to the back and as he was about to make his stride into the water, as he placed his hand over his mask, opps he had forgotten his mask. We all had a great laugh as he walked back to get his mask and we had a wonderful dive. The point is, he was nervous and anxious, but his instructor was on that boat with him for his first night experience.