How to Be a Scuba Diver

SCUBA stands for “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.”

Make Sure You Want to Do It

Determine how serious your interest is. Will you dive in warm waters a few times a year at some pricey resorts, or are you interested in hardcore cold-water diving and exploring shipwrecks? It’s important to ask yourself such questions because you can enjoy diving without becoming certified. If you vacation in popular diving spots like the Caribbean, Acapulco or the Florida Keys, you will easily find offers for “resort” dives. These are usually one-day or weekend crash courses in diving that include a guided dive with a dive master. You do not get certified and cannot go unsupervised, but you are certainly allowed to enjoy the marine life in the area. Although often expensive, this type of introduction to diving is a wonderful way to decide if you want to pursue certification. You will probably even get a few underwater disposable-camera shots of yourself with colorful fish.

If you have a more vested interest in diving and want to become certified, there are physical and mental aspects of the sport that you should consider. It’s fairly obvious that this is a sport with a healthy amount of risk.

You first must determine whether you are physically able to scuba dive. Even if you know how to swim, scuba diving can be tiring, so your swimming skills should be fairly strong. If you are overweight, tire easily or have diabetes, a heart condition or any other predisposition to drowning, talk to your doctor before scuba diving.

Some people have problems getting used to breathing through their mouths instead of their noses. This problem can be easily fixed through practice with a snorkel or regulator in “safe” environments like a pool or bathtub. A harder problem to overcome is equalizing the pressure in your ears as you descend lower and lower into the water–that is, being able to “pop” your ears, like on a plane. As you go deeper in the ocean, pressure builds, and it is crucial to your physical being that you be able to pop your ears. Some people find this easier than others. Some can just swallow, yawn or hold their noses and blow gently. Others like to yawn and wiggle their jaws from side to side. Whatever the method, it sometimes takes a pretty long time to kick in. If you are having trouble equalizing, don’t go any deeper. Tell your buddy (more on him below) to hold up, and make sure you pop your ears because the alternative can be ruptured eardrums.

When you have congestion, it’s very hard to equalize. People with colds and allergies should reschedule their dives.

There are also mental considerations. You must not panic while scuba diving–not necessarily in case you get in trouble, but in case your buddy has a problem. Whenever diving, you should always have such a “buddy,” someone who you’ll stick next to, and who will watch over you while you watch over him. If your buddy has a problem, it’s your responsibility to get someone (most likely, the dive master) to help him. If you panic, your buddy might not get such help.

Diving with a friend or loved one makes you feel safer because you can pretty much count on her to watch over you. You really have to trust your buddy in what could be survival conditions, and you may both have to breathe out of the same regulator if something disastrous happens. So if you are a bit shy around people you don’t know and don’t feel comfortable being paired up with just anyone you meet on a dive boat, consider snorkeling instead. You must communicate with your buddy.

It’s true that you would rarely encounter things like sharks, barracudas, and piranhas, but how do you feel about jellyfish, slimy stingrays and thick kelp forests? If you get revolted by the thought of encountering such phenomena or even swallowing sea water, you might not be the best candidate for scuba diving. And if you are prone to seasickness, remember that scuba diving involves going on boats to get to dive sites.