Locally we call it ‘Sunday Funday.’ Sundays are typically the first day of the diving week. Most people fly down to the Caribbean on a Saturday, and start their diving the following day. What this means is that Sunday can be a bit of a nightmare!
For many, it’s perhaps their first time back in the water after a year or more on land. Skills can be rusty. Safety rules forgotten. Moldy dive gear that has lived in the back of the closet has been dusted off and maybe is not in the best shape. People have the ‘first dive jitters’ – a long break away from the ocean creating nervousness and trepidation ahead of their first dives back. And, for a lot of divers, their heads are still in ‘work mode’ – thinking about emails, meetings, colleagues, deadlines, commuting, offices, and generally everything except diving!
All of the above creates a ‘perfect storm’ for a bad day on the water. When you consider that a ‘weeks’ worth of diving is really only five days of actual in-water time discounting travel days etc., wasting a day in this manner actually results in one fifth of your dive trip being spent not actually enjoying the diving!
In this article, I have attempted to explain five tried and tested methods to avoid the most-common pitfalls of that dreaded first day! Have a read!
One: Do a practice session (or three) BEFORE going away. (Even if you live somewhere cold and far from the Ocean!)
Most decent-sized towns and cities have a dive club. Join up! Aside from giving you a great opportunity to meet other local dive addicts, often the club/shop will have access to a pool in which you can keep your skills sharp and fresh. So many dive incidents and accidents could be avoided by simply having a good level of comfort with basic skills, and fluency with your own gear.
Practicing your buoyancy skills in a pool is arguably more productive than in the ocean due to the shallow depths involved. If you can master buoyancy skills in 6 feet (2 metres) of water, then you will find it a breeze at 60 feet! (18 metres) You may not notice minor variations in depth as a result of poor buoyancy control in the big ocean, but these minor changes are much more apparent in a shallow pool.
Two: Do a checkout dive either before heading on vacation, or on arrival. (Even it’s just in the pool)
If I had a penny every time a stressful and dangerous diving situation could have been avoided by the diver conducting a simple gear and skills check in calm, shallow conditions first, I would be a rich man! I cannot even count the amount of failed regulators, leaking BCD’s, broken masks, and flat computer batteries that have occurred on day one of someone’s dive vacation, at least one person each week, often more. Do a quick dip in the resort’s pool to make sure everything is working properly. (Including yourself!)
Three: Do a little research into anticipated diving conditions, water temperature, weather, etc. at your planned destination – don’t come un-prepared!
You would be surprised just how often people arrive to begin their dive trip, only to be surprised by the weather or water conditions. For example, in the late summer in the Caribbean, when rain can be expected most days, people are disappointed they cannot lie on the beach all day. “Nobody told us it rains a lot in September!” they say. Or perhaps in the winter when it blows a constant wind from the east from November through April, guests will say; “I had no idea the eastern side of the island was the windward side – nobody told us!” Just as you wouldn’t turn up in Canada in January without your hat, scarf, and gloves, make sure to do a little bit of research into your destination before heading there!
I actually turned up in the Canary Islands of Spain back in 2010 with only a shorty wetsuit. In my mind, I simply believed that; “It’s Spain, it’s gotta be warm right?” Wrong! The water temperature was a chilly 19° Celsius! (66 Fahrenheit) I was forced to buy a brand new full length 5mm wetsuit when I arrived in order not to freeze on my dives! It is important to do your research and plan accordingly. If in doubt – email the dive centre and ask any questions – they are happy to help!
Also worth being aware of is a destination’s suitability to your level of diving skill, and whether it suits what you want to get from your trip. For example; Cozumel in Mexico is known for strong currents and drift diving, if you don’t want to tackle this – then choose somewhere else! Likewise, many places in Indonesia are known for ‘muck diving’. This is essentially slowly digging around in potentially murky water looking for tiny critters, if you had hoped for shark dives in pristine visibility – choose a different itinerary!
Four: Adopt a diver’s mindset.
This is an important point. Vacations are a time to relax and get out of the stresses and strains of everyday life, but not at the expense of your diving safety. While the dive professionals on the boat are there to assist, guide, and take care of you, – we rely on each and every diver also taking a degree of personal responsibility for their own safety and that of their buddy’s too.
Once on the boat, forget about your email and think and act as a diver. Not only will you get more out of the dives as you will be more focused and present in the moment, but you will also be safer in that you will be able to respond appropriately to any given scenario. Have an awareness of yourself and those around you in the water, this may be challenging early on in your diving career, but the more you dive, the more ‘in tune’ with the dive environment you will become.
The ‘Diver’s Mindset’ is a huge area of interest to me, and I will look at creating a post dedicated to this fascinating aspect of adventure sports in a future article. The new dive manuals even now have an entire chapter devoted to this. ‘Thinking like a Diver.’
Five: Don’t overdo it the first night at the beach bar!
Boring! But again, if I had a penny for every time that a diver had to stay on board the boat for the second dive because they are too incapacitated ejecting all the two-for-one margheritas that they drank last night at the resort’s bar over the side of the boat, I would be rich!
Go easy that first night, especially after a long day of travel, airport food, lack of sleep and water, and general poor health. Once you have your sea-legs, feel comfortable in the water again, and settled into your vacation, then have some fun at the bar – but stay hydrated!
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