We all need to start somewhere...
This is the first of a two part blog in which we will be discussing how certified scuba divers can begin to enjoy the freedoms of diving independently... (Part 2)
Scuba diving is a very social activity and most of us learn to dive as part of a group, either with friends and family or with people who are part of the same learning class.
Once certified it’s then normal to continue diving as part of a group structure, joining the various planned excursions that dive centres run on a regular basis.
This gives newly certified scuba divers the comfort to continue to develop their skills as they gain experience. There will usually be a qualified dive leader in the water, and the dive centre takes care of all the planning and logistics.
On the basis that one of the most important aspects in improving as a diver is to keep diving, doing so in the most comfortable and ‘easy’ way makes complete sense.
As we covered in our blog, No - the dive guide is NOT responsible for your dive! it’s important that you take responsibility for your scuba dive regardless of the circumstances, but joining a planned trip has many, many benefits.
But what about diving independently?
When we certify as scuba divers we’re told that (depending on the initial certification) we can now take ourselves off to dive with a dive buddy. No instructor necessary.
We may still look to hire certain equipment from a dive centre, but we’re now free to enjoy our diving independently.
So is it a good idea? What exactly is involved in diving independently and how do you ensure you’re ready?
Diving independently - the pros and cons
Scuba diving independently is not for everyone but it is something that all divers are capable of enjoying.
Before we look at how you can take the first steps in this direction, there are a few things that you need to think about.
The most obvious advantage of scuba diving without a dive guide is that you can set your own agenda. The meeting point and time is of your own choosing, not driven by the commercial requirements of the dive centre.
You also get to choose the dive site and the dive profile - so if you want to visit the same place every day for a week then feel free. We were recently diving in Malta and revisited the same site on countless occasions because, frankly, it was simply beautiful.
You also set the pace of the day. Extended lunch? No problem. Stop off to admire the view on the way home? Deal. Stick around for some impromptu snorkelling? Why not?
Diving independently is not a panacea though and there are some drawbacks.
The major one that we would flag is that a local scuba diving centre will know exactly when to dive any particular dive site. They will be able to switch their plan before they even set off based on wind direction or earlier rainfall.
They also know how to get there - so they proceed directly to GO! Yes, we have to admit we have abandoned trying to find a dive site before we even arrived as our above water navigation let us down!
Whilst you will need to research dive sites extremely well in advance if you are diving independently, there is no escaping the fact that you will, on occasions, arrive at a site that you simply cannot dive due to the conditions.
The locals don’t tend to make that mistake.
They will also know some of the hidden gems that may not make the guide books and websites.
So what do you need to consider?
What to consider
Scuba diving independently involves a lot more research and planning before you get anywhere near the water. You most certainly cannot simply roll up, kit up and listen to the briefing before dropping in.
But that is not the only key consideration.
Legislation - are you allowed to scuba dive without a local guide?
Quite simply, there are certain areas of the world where you are not allowed to dive independently, or where there may be restrictions.
Look at the islands of Malta and Gozo for example. You must be certified to dive to a depth of 30m (PADI Advanced or SSI Adventurer) before you are allowed to dive independently. If you are an open water diver you must have a local divemaster or instructor accompany you.
Bonaire is another example where you will encounter local restrictions. If you wish to hunt for the invasive lion fish, you will need to have a locally registered guide accompany you.
Many marine reserves will also not allow unsupervised divers to enter their waters.
This can’t be underestimated if you are visiting an area. It not only covers areas related to dive safety, such as understanding tides and currents, but also often overlooked comfort factors such as entry/exit, parking and local amenities.
Local dive guides and dive centres will also know which sites to avoid during peak seasons/times or because of the likely wind direction.
Tides and currents can be researched, but we can point to a wonderful site in Europe that is pretty much undiveable up to 48 hours after a north-easterly wind…regardless of how benign it looks from the surface.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
Plan the dive, dive the plan, becomes paramount
This is the part that you will either love or hate, so you have to decide if it is a pro or a con when it comes to scuba diving independently.
You’ll need to arm yourself with a top notch weather app that will show wind strength, direction and wave height as a minimum. You then, realistically, need to map out your likely dives for the next 4 or 5 days based on the weather forecast and logistics of reaching them.
And then be prepared to swap days around as the weather forecast dictates.
A top tip from us is also to look at some land based attractions that you could also visit if the diving doesn’t pan out. That way, an hour's drive to a particular site doesn’t have to be completely wasted.
We once arrived at a site where, unbeknown to us, the entry point had been destroyed in a storm around 3 months earlier. Fortunately we took ourselves off to a local winery and museum instead…needless to say, the local dive centres were nowhere to be seen - back to the local knowledge point above.
This really is a top tip. You’ll almost certainly be hiring tanks and weights so simply ask when you are at the dive centre. The staff will happily give you tips about where you are heading, including telling you not to bother if they feel the conditions will ruin things.
Some independent divers are a little nervous of this as they feel it’s rude to ask if they are not actually diving with the centre. We say nonsense.
On a recent trip, 2 of us parted with over 800 Euro just from a few weeks of grabbing tanks and weights.
Good cash for the dive centre, whilst not taking up any of their other logistics (including team members) at their busiest time of the year.
In part 2
We will be looking at the key safety and other consideration as well as discussing how to begin your journey to scuba diving independence... Click here.
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