There are a lot of questions new divers have when learning how to scuba diving. Is it safe? Aren’t there sharks? Am I too overweight to dive? Fortunately, the good news is that most scuba certifying agencies have standardized the way we dive, and we know a lot more about scuba diving today than we did in the 1970s, when BCDs were yet to become a thing.
Whether you’re considering taking your first scuba diving course or a seasoned scuba diver, here are ten things you should know.
1. You need to be in great shape to scuba dive
FALSE. Though you need to be healthy to scuba dive, scuba diving is not an activity reserved solely for avid athletes. The only physical skills you need for scuba diving are swimming, floating, and being able to adjust your gear during the dive. A sharp and calm mind helps scuba diving more than six-pack abs ever could. There are divers of all ages, body compositions, and physical abilities enjoying their time breathing underwater.
In fact, scuba diving is starting to be used as a therapy treatment for many people with disabilities – even paralysis, so long as there is a dive buddy or guide close by to offer assistance.
If you have depression, claustrophobia, acrophobia, or anxiety, reconsider diving. Many diving accidents are related to panic and stress. If you are extremely scared, maybe put off diving for a few months – watch educational videos, talk to other divers, and go snorkeling before diving with a tank.
If you have a medical condition, consult your doctor and research your issue on Divers Alert Network before you dive.
2. Scuba diving is a dangerous activity
FALSE – WHEN DONE CORRECTLY. Without proper training, this myth rings true. There’s a reason it takes three days to become certified in scuba diving. You need to learn how to assemble your equipment, how to time your dives in terms of surface intervals and depth, how to cope with currents, and more. Fortunately, once you’re taught these skills, scuba diving is a safe sport – with a lower rate of injury than golfing.
Diving recklessly, panicking, or diving in conditions beyond your ability level is extremely dangerous. And like all sports done in nature, we cannot control the sea. So while there is an element of danger involved – especially among those who don’t follow the guidelines – scuba diving is overall a very safe sport.
3. Diving with a wound in clear, clean, tropical water helps it heal
FALSE. Salt water helps clean wounds, right? Sure! But not when it’s filled with microscopic bacteria, coral polyps, and other creatures that are too tiny for your eyes to see. If you have a scratch or wound, you need to be extra careful when diving – especially in tropical water, where infections can spread wildly. If you want to come home with all body parts intact, stay out of the water until your wound is healed or be extra vigilant about applying antiseptic treatments on it once you’re out of the water.
4. Diving can make you dehydrated
TRUE. Dehydration in divers is a risk because aside from being generally bad for you, it can increase your risk of decompression sickness. And it’s easy to become dehydrated while diving – at neutral buoyancy, our bodies experience blood shifts that cause us to process fluids more quickly than we would on land. So, you need to drink much more than usual in between dives.
Scuba diving is a social activity and many divers double as drinkers – with even experienced divers tossing a few beers back in between dives. This is not a smart move. Alcohol and water activities are linked to most adult male drownings (up to 80-percent) according to a study called Diving and Subaquatic Medicine (Edmonds C. 2002). Alcohol dehydrates and can cause you to make mistakes that your sober self usually wouldn’t.
5. You shouldn’t dive on your period
FALSE. Females can dive on their period without any issues. You know your body best, so if upping your physical activity causes your menstrual symptoms to worsen, then maybe you should reconsider diving. Divers Alert Network suggests that women who menstruating and taking oral contraceptives should dive conservatively (shallower, shorter dives) than they might otherwise.
Anecdotal evidence shows that some women with endometriosis might opt out of diving if there is any pain, for fear that increased pressure will make the pain worse.
6. Everything worth seeing is deep
FALSE. Did you know that most marine life lives around 18 meters? Shallow dives are underrated – despite usually having better visibility, more marine life, and a longer bottom time than their deeper counterparts. Though deep diving can be incredible too, don’t let the lure of going deeper be your main attraction and factoring point for a destination.
7. All dive shops and schools are equal
FALSE. Unfortunately, not all dive shops and schools are equal. Though all should service their equipment regularly and stay up to date on training, many don’t. It’s best to play it safe when it comes to choosing a dive shop to rent from or school to attend. Only rent from and learn with schools with high accreditation. It’s also worth asking around and searching for reviews online in advance to see what the consensus is.
Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for when it comes to the scuba diving industry. Cheap rentals often mean shoddy gear. Cheap classes mean the school is likely to push the instructor-to-student ratio as far as possible.
8. Dive computers are fool-proof
FALSE. Remember that dive computers are based on averages and won’t know when you’ve switched computers or dived without one in the middle of your dive trip. Know your computer (read the manual) and check your dives against dive tables if you’ve missed recording a dive on your computer. Check your computer’s data against your buddy’s after a dive. If any numbers jump out, you’ll know your computer is off.
Trust, but verify.
9, If I have a dive buddy, I am totally safe
FALSE. Diving with a buddy is one of the best things you can do not just because it’s more fun, but because it’s also safer. Having a buddy helps in case you have equipment issues or an accident happens underwater. However, it’s easy to get overly confident when we’re diving with a buddy – possibly doing things we wouldn’t do if we were diving alone. Your buddy is human and therefore prone to getting distracted, panic, ill, or having something happen where their attention is diverted from you. Diving with a buddy is exponentially safer than diving without one, but it doesn’t make you invincible.
10. Sharks are a major threat to scuba divers
FALSE. There are literally thousands of dives logged every day throughout the world, and shark attacks are a rare occurrence. Our fear of sharks stems mostly from mainstream media, where movies like Sharknado (how did they ever get enough viewers to make more than one?) and Jaws have caused an incredible fear among land-bound people and new divers.