Your First Scuba Dive

Scuba Training

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Chest-deep in calm turquoise waters, buoyancy compensator inflated, regulator in hand, you begin to wonder if learning to dive was really such a great idea. When you signed up for the open water course, scuba diving seemed like a great adventure, but now you're being asked to put your face in the water and inhale. Seriously?

When you first start your scuba-diving course, you might not have any idea what to expect, but your instructors will paint a very clear picture of what safety steps you must master before you'll be allowed to venture into the depths of whatever sea or lake or river sits nearby.

Scuba Courses Are Taught in 'Baby Steps'

A dive student's first dive will be at a controlled dive site such as a pool or shallow bay. At least one area of the dive site will be shallow enough to stand up in. What's more, before ever entering the water, a scuba instructor will explain to new divers how all the dive gear works and will familiarize them with safe-dive techniques. 

Breathing Through a Scuba Regulator

Breathing through a scuba regulator for the first time feels strange — you're drawing breaths while your face is beneath the water. This is not a typical human behavior, so it's normal to be a little hesitant at first.

One trick is for students to put on their dive masks and practice breathing through the regulator above the water until they become comfortable with mouth-only breathing. Then, they lower just their faces into the water while exhaling fully through the regulator. This usually tricks the divers into breathing automatically, pushing them past the first, disconcerting step of inhaling underwater. The most important thing is to exhale fully after each breath. This practice prevents divers from hyperventilating and feeling starved for air. Some students adjust to regulator breathing after just a few breaths, while others take longer to gain confidence in their scuba equipment. 

The Noisy Underwater Environment

Divers who have done research into scuba diving have probably read about the silent, relaxing underwater world. This description is not completely accurate. Breathing underwater generates significant noise. After a diver becomes accustomed to breathing underwater, he starts to tune out the bubbling sound of exhalation and the comforting whoosh of air as he inhales, but at the beginning, the sounds are surprisingly loud!

Water conducts sounds much more efficiently than air does because of its density. Sound waves travel more quickly in water and reach each of diver's ears almost simultaneously. Pinpointing the origin of a sound is difficult, as the physics of sound-wave transmission underwater make it seem that all sounds are coming from directly behind a diver's head. While these signals can be confusing at first, after a few dives you will adjust to this aspect of the underwater environment and will hardly notice it.

Underwater Vision

Most scuba masks cut off a diver's peripheral vision. At first, this restriction may make some divers feel claustrophobic. As with most aspects of scuba diving, however, new divers quickly acclimate to their limited field of vision. Imagine that you are driving a new car with some significant blind spots. These blind spots can be annoying the first time you use the vehicle, but after a few trips, you will become aware of exactly where the blind spots are and will learn to turn your head when you need to see into an area which is out of your field of vision. Scuba diving is just the same! If you cannot see your instructor, simply look left, right, up and down and you will find her.

Light behaves differently in water. Objects appear about 33 percent closer than they actually are. The implication of this change is that your dive buddy, instructor, the floor, the surface and every other object seems nearer than they are. (This also makes it really easy to read your gauges!) Most experienced divers do not even notice the magnification because a diver's brain quickly learns to adjust to the difference. A good way to speed the learning process is to touch objects such as the pool floor, pool wall, or your dive buddy. This technique will teach you how distant these objects really are. Never touch corals, fish, or other aquatic life, however.

Weightlessness and Freedom of Movement

One of the best parts of scuba diving is the feeling of weightlessness. Scuba divers can fly up, down, left and right. Divers can move easily in three dimensions. The trick is to relax into the weightless feeling of the water and let the water and your buoyancy compensator support you. Don't fight the water. At first, a new diver may feel that he needs to move to stay in position — he doesn't. Try to be as still as possible and enjoy the freedom from gravity. It's like being an astronaut!

The Density of Water Restricts Movements

Water is, of course, denser than air. A diver who tries to move quickly will feel resistance to his movements from the water and may quickly exhaust himself. Underwater movements, including swimming and arm motions, should be slow and controlled. After a diver accustoms himself to the resistance of the water, underwater movements become an exercise in forced relaxation, almost like Tai Chi.

You Might Need to Pee

The human body reacts in unusual ways to the underwater environment. Being surrounded by water lower than body temperature may lead to a physiological reaction known as cold water immersion diuresis. The body speeds up the synthesis of urine, leading to an immediate urge to urinate. On ocean dives, many divers simply pee in their wetsuits, but if a new diver is learning to dive in a pool, or is using a rental wetsuit, he may need to hold it needing to pee underwater is a completely normal consequence of scuba diving. If the need becomes too great and peeing in your wetsuit is impossible or disgusting to you, simply end the dive.

It Is Normal to Forget Skills, Hand Signals, and Other Instructions

The underwater environment exposes new divers to a new world. On your first dive, your brain is working hard to adjust to the feeling of weightlessness, the magnification of the water, underwater breathing and similar stimuli. This experience presents a huge amount of information to process, and sometimes instructions that seemed clear on the surface such as the use of hand signals and the steps of underwater skills get pushed to the back of a new diver's mind.

If your instructor has to bring you to the surface to explain something again, don't feel bad. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the new sensations. It is a new, delightful world down there!

Scuba Diving Takes a Little Getting Used To, but It's Worth the Effort!

Some divers take to scuba diving as if they were born part-fish. They put regulators in their mouths and off they swim! However, this "natural" diver is the exception rather than the rule. For most new divers, scuba diving feels a little strange at first. Be patient with yourself, don't rush through skills training, and take your time beneath the surface.

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