Open Water Diver Course Wrap up and Review

I am now a certified diver after four days in the classroom, pool and open water. The class was held at a terrific dive shop with a great instructor. You learn and practice to the point that you can be comfortable under three stories of water.

Picking a dive shop
I was lucky and picked the nearest shop I found. Sea Sports Scuba in Houston has multiple locations, each with a dive pool, lots of gear to buy, and great people. I would recommend them to anyone.

Taking a class
Most folks interested in Scuba are interested because of an upcoming trip that presents the opportunity to go diving. For those I would recommend the open water course that I took. Upon completion, you will be certified to dive in up to 60 feet of water.

For those with no plans to go on a trip and are just curious about diving, then take an intro to scuba class. You will not have to buy equipment and do not have to invest a lot of time studying. However, you will get great exposure to the diving community and more than likely decide to sign up for the open water course.

There are lots of certifying bodies for diving. The class I took was certified by PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. Most divers that are PADI certified are recreational divers.

Picking out gear
Diving provides a great opportunity to spend lots of money on really cool gear. Wetsuits, snorkels, weights, BCDs, computers, the list goes on and on. The good news is that for your open water course you only have to have a few things.

Mask and snorkel – skip the Walmart brand and pick something out with someone at the shop. They know what to look for and how important fit is.

Weights and weight belt – That’s right, you could stand to gain a few pounds. And if you want to dive, then it is best not to wait until Thanksgiving. Depending on your height, weight and build, the shop can recommend a weight belt and the amount of weight you need to purchase.

Fins – Our feet are designed for running on the savannas in Africa, not swimming through the Pacific Ocean.

Books and Video
There is also a basic course book and DVD. I thought it was easiest to watch the DVD, then spend an afternoon working on read and reviewing the quizzes in the coursebook. If you are able to spend the extra time reviewing the coursework, you will find class much more helpful.

Class Structure and Schedule
The structure and schedule of classes varies from instructor to instructor. In our small class we did one three hour classroom session, next day was a three hour pool session, another three hour class session, a three hour pool session, and then two mornings that included two dives each. In total it was about 18 hours.

The classroom time is easy and helpful if you review the material before you attend. You’ll review each chapter and the reviews in the book with the instructor using a PADI supplied powerpoint presentation. Then take a 10 or 15 question quiz. On the last day in the classroom there is a 50 question multiple choice exam.

The quizzes and exam is not terribly difficult, as long as you spend some time outside of class reviewing the material.

Pool Time
Before you get in the water, you will send time with the instructor putting together your scuba gear. The mask, fins, snorkel, and weight belt are all pretty easy to figure out. But what about the regulator, and BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), and purge valves, and computers, and all other sorts of equipment? These are easy to get the hang of as well, you’ll practice attaching the houses, checking the air, drying the dust cap, and all other sorts of little steps that become second nature after a few practice assemblies.

After assembling all the gear you need to breath underwater, then you get to breath underwater. The first time can be overwhelming for your brain because there is a lot going on that it isn’t used too. You have a mask on, you are floating using the BCD, you have a weight belt on, the fins are attached to your feet, and you have a hose leading to your mouth that you are supposed to breath through. The key is to relax.

Some of the techniques learned are actually fun. Learning to clear the mask is really cool. The technique comes in handy if your mask becomes full of water. So multiple times you will take your mask all the way off underwater, put it back on, and exhale out of your nose to force the water out.

Backups are important underwater too. Switching from your primary regulator to your secondary regulator, to your buddies regulator is also practiced.

Ear pressurization
For some people pressurizing their ears is not problem, they have the genetic control or experience that let’s them easily clear their ears. I am unfortunately not one of those people. However anyone without significant physical defects can learn to properly monitor the pressure in their ears so their dive is comfortable. Talk to your instructor about techniques, make sure to pressurize early and often before and while diving. There are some good videos on YouTube with doctors talking about how the ear works and the best techniques to use. Also talk to your doctor about what you can do to safely and comfortably dive.

The important point is to not be discouraged if some in your class drop to the bottom immediately with no ear problems. Take your time and practice. Ear pressurization is a technique that anyway can master.

Open Water
Getting out of the classroom and out of the pool into a real open water environment is amazing. For the first time there are fishes around and an environment that is bigger than a small pool at a dive shop.

In the open water you will go over the same techniques that you went over in the pool, but also have time to swim around and learn more about buoyancy control as you move through the water. Just remember to relax and when you get tired, signal and take a break.

One of the highlights of our four dives was seeing the fish swim around us. If you have never experienced it before, then the only way to describe it is as out of this world.

Communicating before the dive and making a plan is very critical because it is difficult to talk underwater. So for your dives in the pool and in the open water the instructor will reviewing the few techniques to do, demonstrate the hand signals signifying the start of each technique, and then once your underwater the instructor will demonstrate what to do. It isn’t difficult if you pay attention.

Diving can be as an expensive a sport as you want it to be. There is cheap gear and expensive gear. If you’ve taken your open water class, you’ve probably already spent $300 or more dollars for the class, mask, snorkel, fins, and weights. Your next step is probably a wetsuit, BCD, regulator and computer. Together those can add up to $750 dollars at a minimum. Of course you can browse Craigslist for deals, but make sure you are confident about the gear you buy. If it fails and you aren’t prepared, then the consequences can be very high.

After you have your gear, you still have to have oxygen to breath. Filling a cylinder with air usually costs about $10. How long a cylinder lasts depends on a divers experience and depth. For our class I used about 1300 ccs of air per 25 minute dive at a max of 30 feet. We weren’t swimming around a lot, but did do some fun underwater exploration from platform to platform.

The other big cost is travel. As a recreational diver you are going to want to go to different dive sites, whether in your state or out of the country. These trips can cost as much as a tank of gas, or $6,500 per person for an all inclusive Galapagos cruise.

The End
I am enthusiastic about my dive class experience. Diving to me has always seemed boring, like going to an aquarium with the added bonus of getting wet. That changed after taking the class. I recognize and am proud of learning how to dive safely and knowing proper techniques. When you complete the last of your four open water dives, you really feel a sense of accomplishment.

Most importantly, I’m excited about the community of divers. These folks really enjoy going out on the weekends and practicing their sport. It is a good time trading tips about gear and learning about new sites to go to.