Scuba Diving Basics: Skills and Techniques

Scuba diving takes knowledge of basic skills and techniques before you attempt that first dive (or a first dive after a long time). This list details skills that dive students learn during scuba diving classes and open water certification. Check it out for review or preparation for in-the-water practice. The Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI, is a great resource for diving courses and certification.

Pre-Dive Safety Check

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The pre-dive safety check is an essential scuba skill that should be completed before every dive. Divers perform a pre-dive check after they have donned their fully assembled scuba gear and before they enter the water. The pre-dive safety check runs through all of the diver's life support equipment to ensure that everything is working and in place, much like a pilot would run through a pre-flight check before taking to the air.

PADI's 5-Point Descent

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Much like the pre-dive safety check, the 5-point descent is pre-dive safety procedure. It confirms that all members of the dive team are prepared to descend safely. The 5-point descent is performed once the divers are in the water and can be done using only hand signals in case of rough conditions. The procedure helps divers to maintain buddy awareness, track their dive parameters, and maintain orientation during descent.

Properly Controlled Descents

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The descent is a crucial part of every dive. Divers who learn to control their descents drift gently downward without landing on the reef or stirring up the ocean's sand floor. Properly controlled descents make diving more comfortable and less stressful, but they are also important for dive safety. A diver who plummets toward the bottom in an uncontrolled fashion could have trouble stopping in the event of an ear equalization difficulty, might exceed his maximum depth or might exert himself unnecessarily.

Mask Clearing

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At some point in every diver's career, water will enter his scuba mask during a dive. Clearing a scuba mask is easy once you learn how. During the open water course, divers learn to clear a fully flooded scuba mask without needing to surface. Dive students practice this skill in the pool or confined water first and later in the open water during their check-out dives. With practice, a diver can learn to clear his mask in seconds without changing his swimming position.

Hand Signals

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Learning to communicate clearly underwater with your dive buddy is definitely a skill that needs practice. Divers use universal hand signals to communicate everything from ascent to an ear problem. Taking a few moments to review underwater diving signals with your dive buddy makes communication easier during a scuba dive.

Regulator Recovery

It is uncommon for a diver to lose his regulator underwater, but every once in a while, a regulator gets kicked out or dropped. In the unlikely event that a diver finds himself without his regulator underwater, he has two options: Switch to his back-up or recover the lost regulator. Recovering a lost regulator is a simple process that requires only a few moments, less than one breath of air when done properly, and it works in nearly every position.

4 Emergency Ascents

PADI teaches four emergency ascent options during the open water course: the "normal" ascent, the alternate air source ascent, the controlled emergency swimming ascent, and the buoyant emergency ascent. Learn about the different emergency ascent options, as well as when to use each one. Emergency ascents are extremely rare in scuba diving and can almost always be avoided by carefully monitoring the pressure gauge.

Free-Flow Regulator Breathing

Scuba diving regulators almost never break. But, if they do, they break in a manner that allows them to free flow, or provide a diver with a constant stream of air. Breathing from a free-flowing regulator takes a bit of practice, and divers must get comfortable with free-flow regulator breathing before completing the open water certification course. This skill doesn't take much time to learn, but it is essential for emergency management.

The Low-Pressure Inflator

Buoyancy compensators are reliable, but if dirt or salt is allowed to accumulate on the inflation mechanism or if the inflator simply wears out, the buoyancy compensator could begin to self-inflate. While there is almost no way to unjam an inflator underwater, it is possible to disconnect the low-pressure inflator hose while scuba diving. This cuts off air flow to the buoyancy compensator. The diver can then orally inflate the buoyancy compensator to control his buoyancy until he is able to ascend.

Frog Kicking

Flutter kicking works well for most open water dives, but divers can improve their efficiency by learning to frog kick. Frog kicking is superior to flutter kicking in many ways: It avoids stirring up bottom sediment, gives divers better control and propels water directly behind the diver for maximum movement with minimum effort. Frog kicking takes practice to learn, but most divers never return to the flutter kick once they learn the frog kick.