Diving tips and advice
We can all benefit from a little help at times
Browse through this collection of helpful advice and see if there's anything there for you. And, if you have some favourite tips of your own, don't forget to let us know so we can pass them on.
Choosing a Mask:
They come in all shapes and sizes – and colours too, but the most important things to remember are that your mask should be comfortable and that it should fit you. Try on as many as you can and test for an air-tight seal. Do this by positioning the mask on your face without using the strap. Breathe in through your nose to create a vacuum and the mask should stick to your face unaided – even when you are looking downwards. If it doesn't stay on, you don't have an air-tight seal.
If you normally wear glasses, make sure you buy a mask which can take prescription lenses, which are best to be ordered at the same time, as they need to be specially fitted.
Using a Mask:
If your mask is leaking, it could be because of stubble - particularly the guys :-) if so, try smearing some silicon grease at that point for a better seal.
Choosing a BCD:
Be prepared to spend a reasonable amount of time trying-on and comparing different ones. If possible, try them on whilst you've also got a drysuit on. You want to choose the best one for your size, shape and weight. Those that have an integrated weight system may be convenient, but add to the weight when you're assembling your kit on land. If you're likely to be adjusting your weight from dive to dive to compensate for any kit you'll be carrying, those BCD's with pockets for trim weights are worth considering. Ensure that there will be adequate D-rings (in the right places) for the accessories you want to carry.
Using a BCD:
When you're fastening your BCD, allow enough room for you to move (and breathe) comfortably when it's fully-inflated.
If you have a BCD with integrated weight pouches (e.g. some Scuba Pro models) make sure you tighten the retaining straps before every dive (include this in your buddy check), otherwise your weight pouches could slide right out. Inconvenient at best - hazardous at worst.
Choosing a Regulator:
If you're likely to be diving in cold conditions, choose a regulator that's designed for the purpose; you don't want to be wishing you had at the point that it freezes and stops working.
Using a Regulator:
Remember to replace the dust cap on the first stage when it is not being used.
Look after it. Your life depends upon it working properly, so don't drag it around, or drop your cylinder on it.
Consider replacing your regulator's mouthpiece, for a more comfortable one. Mouldable custom-fit ones are available.
Choosing a Drysuit:
Seek qualified impartial advice (not necessarily the salesperson) and try on several to compare them for comfort and fit. Also consider the advantages/disadvantages of different types.
Neoprene wrist and neck seals are warmer than latex and should last longer too.
Integrated pockets can be useful for carrying stuff, without cluttering-up your BCD.
You will likely spend some time in contact with abrasive surfaces, particularly on shore dives, so make sure the suit's knee protection will be good enough.
Check that your fins will fit the boot size of the suit.
Using a Drysuit:
If you are on a boat, or near to a distinct water hazard, keep your suit zipped-up. If you were to accidentally fall in the water unzipped, you may quickly regret it. Getting wet is not the problem – drowning is.
Don't forget to attach and check your suit inflator hose.
Keep your drysuit zip lubricated with whatever the manufacturer recommends.
If your neck seal (particularly latex ones) leaves a mark, or irritates your skin, try using a drop of Seal Saver (or similar lubricant) where it makes contact. Note: Jelly lubricants, like KY, aren't as good because, being water-soluble, they dissolve when you're on a dive leaving the seal to rub against your skin again.
Putting your fins on:
When you are diving from the shore, you may find it easier to put your fins on when you are actually floating in the water. When you first try this, make sure your instructor is supervising, that your BCD is inflated (buddy check) and don't forget to have your regulator in your mouth. Once you get used to doing it this way, you won't want to change; it's quick and easy – particularly if you fitted them with spring straps.
When you're a new diver, everything feels awkward and cumbersome – don't worry about it, that feeling disappears when your confidence grows. At that point, you will also develop your own preferences for how you like your kit to be. Talk to other divers and you'll pick-up lots of good advice. Run everything past your instructors though, just to make sure that you're not overlooking any safety factors.
When you're likely to be diving in the same area as others, make a mental note of how you can easily identify your buddy. Underwater, you'll soon discover that many divers tend to look identical, particularly in poor visibility, and you could find yourself swimming off with the wrong person – and it only takes a moment to lose contact with your buddy. So, what colour of fins do they have; is their tank distinctive, or maybe their hood, gloves or torch is easily identifiable. Get into the habit of doing this – and sooner, rather than later, you'll be glad you did.
...and get them to do likewise with you.
Diving with a Pony Cylinder:
At some point, you will want to buy a pony cylinder and regulator, to provide back-up as an alternative air source to your main tank. It is advisable to check your buoyancy/weighting, as you will likely need to remove a kilo or two. Obviously, it's better to check this on a safe shore dive – not when you're about to step off a boat into 40 metres of oblivion! Remember, it's not just YOUR safety that's on the line.
If you do buy a pony and separate regulator, consider having its second-stage instantly accessible in preference to your main tank's octopus. If your main regulator fails, or you run out of air, this will affect your octopus too, so relying upon the pony as a completely independent back-up makes sense. But don't get complacent, be aware of your air consumption and your main tank's contents. Remember that if you are running low, it may be adviseable to switch to your pony before your main tank actually empties. Firstly, it enables you to check that your pony is still working; and secondly, with a standard regulator set-up, since your drysuit and BCD inflation are fed from your main tank, if it empties, you will also have lost your primary source of buoyancy. Discuss any kit reconfiguration with your instructors and other experienced divers.
Buying and using a DSMB (Delayed Submersible Marker Buoy):
These useful, and essential, devices can be a bit of a double-edged sword for the unwary. They contribute to making diving (particularly boat diving) much safer in a number of respects; yet used carelessly can be hazardous. Before you buy one, discuss it with experienced club members for advice on the best kind – and on a reel to go with it. Also, on the best methods for rigging it up and deploying it in different scenarios.
Consider using a permanent marker to place indicator marks at various distances along the line from the DSMB, for example, at 3 metres, 6 metres, 10 metres etc., or whatever would be convenient for you to use as physical reference points to help with your ascent rate and decompression/safety stops. If your dive computer malfunctions, or visibility is poor, these indicator marks may be easier to see and help to keep your ascent controlled and safe.
As your diving experience grows, you should find that your air consumption steadily decreases – enabling you to dive for longer. The more practice you get, the more relaxed you should feel. And as you become more proficient, you can think about fine-tuning other aspects of your diving to improve your air consumption further still. For example: are you really neutrally buoyant, or do you need to keep finning to maintain your depth? Are you streamlined and horizontal in the water for minimum resistance? Can you slow your movements right down and fin almost effortlessly? Check also that you are correctly weighted and not having to use more air than necessary in your drysuit or BCD. If you are in a current, can you use the reef or wreck to provide shelter? If your buddy's consumption is better than yours, you could also consider swimming a little higher than them, where even a slightly lower ambient pressure could make a difference.
This can affect even the strongest of sailors, so don't be embarrassed if you start to feel queezy on the dive boat. It's not a nice feeling, but rather than suffering increasingly until you get to the point-of-no-return, you may find that you recover almost instantly if you accept the inevitable and help it on its way. Pick a convenient spot on the leeward side (the other divers will be grateful) and ensure that you are holding on to something secure, so that it's only the contents of your stomach that go overboard. If you are on a hard boat and you are out of sight of the others, be sure to let someone know. And if it's your buddy who's under the weather, keep an eye on them – and a secure grip too. Afterwards, drink water to restore your fluid level; there's no point in inviting DCI too.
If you think you may succumb to seasickness, pack some pills from the chemist beforehand, and take them well in advance of your departure, according to the instructions. Ginger, in its various forms, is also suggested as helping to avoid seasickness. See what works best for you.
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Read your camera's instruction manual! In general, think about getting fairly close to your subject, but allow your camera time to focus properly. To help avoid blurring, remember to squeeze the shutter button gently. Note: pictures of people taken really close don't tend to look as good as you'd like, because wider angle lenses usually exaggerate facial features, which are already distorded by masks and regulators.
At shallower depths, make use of the available light and compare shots with and without using flash/strobe. Try to compose your shot to make it as interesting as you can and don't try to cram in as much as possible. You may find that many of your most effective shots are when you are level with what you are photographing, rather than looking down upon it. So keep that in mind the next time you are out.
There are many other things to think about in order to capture the best shots, but the more you practice ("proper" practice that is, not just point-and-shoot) the better you will become; and before long you will find that looking for (and getting) the best shot just becomes second nature.
Look at professional dive photographers' work and think about how you could do the same. It's not simply about having the best gear, it's more about having the right approach and being in the right place at the right time.