I can clearly recall 'learning to scuba dive' making an appearance time and time again on my list of 'New Years Resolutions' and multiple bucket lists.
I also recall arriving in Cairns Australia and deciding that I was finally going to make it happen. The decision was equal parts exciting and overwhelming. I didn't know where to begin, what I would have to do and if I could actually do it!
Fast forward to two months later and I had completed the PADI Open Water Diver qualification AND the PADI Advanced Diver qualification. Veronica 1 - Irrational Fears 0!
Something which encouraged me to go ahead with pursuing my dream, was a casual conversation at a hostel with two dive instructors. Their exciting stories and clear passion for the sport proved to be infectious and gave me the boost of confidence I needed.
I thought it may be helpful to interview one of the instructors in order to provide you with information about a typical PADI Open Water Course (The first step to becoming a qualified diver). I hope this information will be insightful and helpful in appeasing any doubts and fears you may have.
Instructor name: Denis
Credentials: Master Scubadiver Trainer, Denis is qualified to instruct on courses such as Open Water, Advanced Diver & Rescue Diver as well as specialities such as nitrox & self reliant diver to name a few.
Disclaimer: At the time of this interview Denis works for a company called Cairns Dive Centre (CDC). His answers are therefore based on the processes adopted by this particular company. Although all dive centres are obliged to meet PADI standards and regulations, please note that procedures may vary between companies.
How long is the open water course?
At CDC there are a number of options available, ranging from 4 days to 6 day courses. Prices for the courses vary from the cheapest and shortest 4 day course valued at $520 AUD to a 6 day 'Live Aboard' option valued at $880 AUD.
What happens during each of the course days?
Regardless of the course option you choose, the first two days will be spent in the classroom/swimming pool. This allows the students to learn the theory behind diving, the impact diving has on the human body, as well as becoming familiar and comfortable with breathing underwater in a safe environment.
Starts at the Dive Shop at 8am. Students are required to complete a student record form (medical questionnaire included) and have a head shot taken for the PADI membership card (you will need to provide an address for your membership card to be mailed to you). Included in the price of the course is a study pack which will be given to the students.
By 9am the students will be taken to the pool and classroom complex where they will watch some educational videos. There are 5 sections to the theory and pool practice. On day 1 the students will spend the morning watching 3 videos, completing the written knowledge reviews as well as discussing any questions they may have with the instructor.
After lunch the students will work on the practical skills in the pool. They will be asked to perform swim tests such as a 10 minute float without swimming aids and a 200m surface swim (the students will not be allowed to complete the course unless they can perform these two tasks). The swim tests are followed by equipment set up and a number of skills to be performed in the pool such as partial mask clearing, regulator clearing amongst others.
The day will usually finish at around 5 pm, when each of the students will be driven back to their respective accommodation.
Similarly to day 1 the day starts at 8am and is also spent in the classroom and the pool. The students will spend the morning practicing further skills in the pool such as equalising, buoyancy and deep water exercises. Following the lunch break the students will spend the afternoon watching further educational videos, completing the knowledge reviews and taking the Open Water written exam.
The exam consists of 50 multiple choice questions, most of which are easy (just use common sense). The students must receive a 75% score or higher in order to continue with the course. After completing the exam the students will have the opportunity to get back in the pool to conduct a mini dive and practice any skills they wish to improve. The day is usually over around 4:30-5pm when the students will be driven back to their respective accommodation.
The students are picked up at 6.45am and taken to the Dive Shop where they will check in and will subsequently be driven to the Marina to board the transfer boat. The boat departs at 7:30-7:45am and arrives alongside the Live Aboard boat around 11:00am. It is at this stage that the students will be transferred over to the live aboard boat, given a tour of the boat & be shown to their rooms.
Lunch is at 11:30am, after which they will receive a briefing for their first open water dive at 1pm. At 3pm the students will be briefed for their second dive which will take place at 4pm. After the two dives have been completed the students will be able to relax until after dinner (6pm) when they will have to complete their dive logbooks, have a de-briefing for the day and a briefing for the next morning dive.
The dives will be conducted as a group and the instructor (along with a dive master if necessary) will be with you at ALL times.
At 6:00am the students will jump in the water to complete their third dive (in the summer, in the winter the dive time is changed to 8am due to the sun rising later). The fourth dive will take place soon after (either at 8am or 10:30am). During the last two dives, the students will be joined by the underwater photographer/videographer who will make a video of the course. The 4th and final compulsory dive is a bit more relaxed as most of the skill tests should have been performed in the earlier dives, allowing the students more time to get familiar and comfortable with the underwater environment as well as enjoy their surroundings.
The student's time on the live aboard boat will come to an end at around 2:30pm when they will board the transfer boat to return home. Students who opt to stay on the boat for an extra day after the course completion will get the chance to do another 5 fun dives including a night dive. It is also possible to stay aboard and continue with the course to reach Advanced Diver level.
The transfer boat will arrive back in Cairns at around 4:30pm where a bus will be waiting to drive the students back to their accommodation.
What should I bring?
You will not be allowed on the boat with anything more than hand-sized luggage, but you will not need much anyway:
- A couple of changes of clothes (including something warm for the evenings), Swim suit Towel, Toiletries and a GoPro or underwater camera (if you have one; fun dives only)
If you have any private equipment such as a mask/snorkel, fins ect. bring them along. Any serious diver will have their own equipment, so I would highly recommend buying at least your own mask & snorkel that fit you well.
There are no shoes allowed on the boat due to safety reasons. Sunscreen is provided and so are all your meals. The items mentioned above are enough...just remember to also bring your smile :)
What challenges may I have to overcome?
At first the biggest challenge that most people face is the feeling of breathing under water, but this is easily overcome through practice in the pool.
Another common issue students face is breathing underwater without a mask (one of the course skills which have to be completed). This is because bubbles may go up the nostrils and create a feeling of discomfort. Once again, this can easily be overcome by listening to your instructor and adopting the correct technique. Something that may help is tilting your head slightly to one side or using a cycle of breathing in through the mouth (with the regulator) and out through the nose.
Once out in the ocean, some students may be faced with the fear of the unknown, but once you are underwater and can see the magic it holds, you won't want to return to the surface.
Wind and choppy water can also make people uncomfortable at the surface but remember that under the surface it is perfectly calm.
What can I do with this qualification?
You will be able to dive all over the world for the rest of your life without professional supervision, but instead with your friends. You will find your dives will be longer without having to waste time practicing skills at the beginning of your dives, you will be more relaxed and comfortable so will enjoy the dives more. You will be allowed to dive to a depth of 18 metres. The cost of your dives will be cheaper too!
What can I do to prepare for the course?
The things you could do if you would like to be ahead are
Buy the encyclopaedia of recreational diving
You can choose to do do the theory part of the course online, thus reducing your number of days to a minimum of 3. This is a good option if you are short on time, however, I would reccomend going for the full 2 days in the classroom & pool as it creates a better atmosphere between students.
Read up on the environment you will be diving in.
Go to Reef Teach - excellent to learn about the Great Barrier Reef and it's marine life.
What if I am not good or don't enjoy it?
Good is but a matter of perspective and practice. It is only practice that makes you a good diver and you will have plenty of practice during your course. Keep a positive attitude and before you know it, you may be an instructor :)
What is the number one tip you would give to your students?
Always keep breathing! Breathing is very important underwater, and always smile!