Scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef is top of our bucket list. In order to do this, we obviously need to be able to scuba dive. C qualified seven years ago but I had only ever done a try-dive in a swimming pool. So when we arrived in Phuket I knew it was time to get my Open Water Diver certification.
The course is split into three sections:- knowledge development (theory), confined water dives (swimming pool) and open water dives (in the sea).
This bit is so fun!…just kidding. This is the boring, but probably most important part of learning to dive, and I believe there are three different ways of doing it. Dive organisations such as PADI have created online e-learning platforms that you can sign up to separately and pay to complete the theory aspects yourself. Alternatively your dive centre/instructor will run classroom sessions between the confined water dives. Thirdly (this is what I did) your instructor will let you watch a DVD and read a manual in your own time prior to the confined water session. You complete review tests at the end of each of section to establish how much you have understood.
The theory includes all aspects of becoming an open water diver, from what equipment you need and how to look after it, to basic techniques and signals for use under water. In addition there are some super important ‘sciencey’ bits (scary I know!) relating to pressure, density and nitrogen build up underwater and dive planning.
Confined water dives are where you get to put all the basic skills and techniques you learnt during knowledge development, into practice. The dive(s) take place in what is called ‘confined water’ aka swimming pool conditions, so no current or water movement. Depending how you do the theory parts, will determine whether this is done in one session or multiple sessions.
Breathing underwater for the first time is a strange sensation. You’ll have a mask on, a regulator in your mouth, a tank on your back and tubes everywhere. All of your being will be screaming that something is wrong. It will feel weird, trying to breath while there is a regulator in your mouth. However, if you’re like me, you’ll soon find yourself taking to it ‘like a duck to water’ to coin a phrase, and loving every second. Learning how to make yourself buoyant in order to do fin pivots (basically a press up done using only breathing) or hovering between the floor and the surface, are far easier than they sound.
The course is run according to performance based learning. This means that in order to pass, you have to demonstrate that you meet specific learning objectives. It is not based on how long you spend in the water. There isn’t a time limit as such, on how quickly you have to do it. Your instructor won’t rush you and won’t take you to open water if you’re not yet comfortable in confined water.
open water dives
This is where the fun really begins and you get a taste of what is means to be an open water diver. You will make four open water dives at a local site suitable for beginners, with your instructor. This can be done from a beach (i.e. you walk into the sea) or from a boat (i.e. you sail out to the site and jump off the boat). The first two will involve practicing and applying the theory and basic skills you learnt in the previous sections. It is also the time to get comfortable with being in different conditions.
Diving in the sea can be very different to a pool. Firstly, because of the salt water you float more easily, so getting your weight/buoyancy right can be tricky. There may be waves, current and the obvious marine life to avoid which you just don’t get in the pool. The other thing to consider is visibility. Visibility can be severely affected by the conditions. During my open water dives the visibility didn’t get any better than about 7m, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment or learning.
Dives 3 and 4 will mostly be fun dives, with the final few skills to practice. This is your chance to really explore the under water world and get more diving experience under your belt. You can marvel at the sights just a few meters below the surface. It’s also a great opportunity for taking lots of awesome photographs of the marine life and you as an open water diver. We used our Olympus TG-860 and came out with loads of amazing photos. (The link is for the TG-870, which is the upgrade)
open water diver
In addition to learning theory, the confined water dives and open water dives, there is also a final exam. It’s a multiple choice exam with 50 questions and you need to score at least 75% to pass. Don’t worry if you get less than this the first time though. You will go over what you got wrong and take a make-up test to ensure you understand these aspects.
You are now an Open Water Diver…yay!
I had an absolutely amazing time diving in Phuket with Tony Laughlin of Namloo Divers. If you’re in Phuket and looking to take your open water diver course, get in touch with Tony.
I feel like I’ve been given the keys to a whole new world. C and I can now just rock up to any dive shop, hire some equipment and scuba dive to our heart’s content. (Okay that isn’t 100% true, there are restrictions, but the imagery is the important thing).
Have you been scuba diving before? Where did you do your open water diver course? Where is your favourite place to dive? Get in touch below, we would love to hear your recommendations and diving stories.