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Getting scuba dive certified has been on my bucket list since the dawn of time. Or at least since I found out about it. With a name like Arielle and all of the misplaced mermaid jokes that come with it you pretty much have to be into the ocean.
Once I finally made the decision to get a Working Holiday Visa in Australia, getting scuba dive certified jumped up on my list of priorities. Of course, I need to dive in the Great Barrier Reef. So, in February I got my PADI Open Water Dive Certification while on a trip to Indonesia. If you’ve always wanted to get scuba dive certified, this is how you do it!
Table of Contents
- PADI vs. SSI
- Diving Skills
- Dealing with Anxiety
SSI vs. PADI Scuba Dive Certifications
When researching scuba diving you will see that there are two different major categories of certifications: PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and SSI (Scuba Schools International). Both follow the standards laid out by World Recreational Scuba Training Council.
While both courses are comparable, I chose PADI because they offer a variety of different little certifications that you can complete in your diving future. With diving, you should be aiming to do a dive every six months to maintain your skills. For my partner and I, we liked having the option to plan dive trips around doing further certifications. For example, on our upcoming Great Barrier Reef trip, we plan to get our Advanced Open Water. SSI does offer some extended courses as well.
Both dive programs have numerous shops around the world. No matter which you choose you’ll be able to find dive shops in most destinations. Personally, I like using PADI’s Dive Shop Locator Tool. This will let you know if a dive shop is actually accredited by PADI. Now that I am PADI certified, I plan to only dive with PADI accredited dive shops.
To me, SSI seems like more of a casual diver program. However, I wanted diving to be important in my life. This was one of my deciding factors.
Completion of a Divers Medical form is necessary before you begin any dive training. There are some health conditions that might exclude you from diving. For some medical conditions, you may have to get medically cleared by a doctor. As such, it is a good idea to review this form before planning and booking any dive trips.
From here on, I can only speak in terms of the PADI Open Water as this the only diving course I have completed. In order to successfully get certified, you will have to demonstrate a series of skills.
PADI offers an online theory component that you will complete before day one. This includes basic information on scuba diving safety, using diving charts, and more. You will have to pass an exam at the end. This course can be done in a day or two but it is important to take it seriously as it will keep you safe in the water.
I got my PADI certification through a three-day course and I mainly chose this because the timing worked well for my trip’s schedule. I didn’t want to be too rushed but I also didn’t want it to keep me from exploring Bali. However, some dive shops offer longer courses with the dives spaced out across more days. If you have found that you experience scuba diving related anxiety, a longer timeframe might be beneficial.
On the three-day certification, the first official day of diving begins in the pool. During this confined water portion, you will be asked to demonstrate a series of skills.
Firstly, you will need to demonstrate that you can swim 200 metres. There is no time limit so take your time. Secondly, you will need to be able to tread water for 10 minutes. Both of these aren’t overly challenging but if you are rusty like I was, they can be a bit exerting.
On day one, you go over a variety of different divers’ skills. In order to successfully complete the course, you need to demonstrate each of these. Some of the skills include setting up your own dive equipment, clearing your mask/taking off and replacing your mask while underwater, controlling your buoyancy and various safety skills. The details of all of the skills you will have to complete are listed here.
On day 2 and 3, you will move to the ocean. Here you will re-do some of the skills from the pool day while in the ocean.
My Experience with Anxiety During my Scuba Dive Certification:
As your instructors will tell you, diving messes with your brain a little bit. You normally can’t breathe underwater. This makes your brain feel a little off at first. However, if you breathe through that initial feeling then diving is wonderful.
Despite desiring to get scuba dive certified since my youth, I experienced some unexpected anxiety regarding some of the skills. Mainly, mask removal and replacement. The first time we did this underwater, I was fine. However, when we had to do a swim without the mask and then replace it, I panicked. I don’t know changed.
For some reason, taking my mask off underwater makes me feel like I am suddenly going to die. I got certified with my partner and one of our friends. But, I was the only one in our group who seemed to struggle with this task. I was paranoid that I would be the only one who doesn’t get certified. This definitely didn’t help my anxiety.
How I worked through my anxiety:
In order to work my way through this, I pinched my nose. I took a few deep breaths while I adjusted to the feeling. I kept my nose pinched until the last possible moment of putting my mask back on. In this way, I was able to get through it. I had to do a lot of reassuring myself that I am not going to drown and that my dive instructor is trained in handling anxiety under the seas. I read a lot about other people struggling with this particular skill. At the end of this post, I’ve listed some of the other resources I read that helped me cope.
However, I did it! I worked through my apprehension and was able to get dive certified. It is okay if you find that you are struggling with the skill. It is a tough one.
Since I know that I feel panicked without my mask, I do plan to practice taking it off and on during further dives. The only way to get better is practice. One of the most important things that you can do with diving is to make reactions automatic. For example, one of the skills is to take out your regulator, throw it away, and put it back in. Practicing this helps it become something you can casually do in the event it does happen. It might, another diver might accidentally knock it out. Or, my nightmare, your mask strap might break.
And remember, the number one rule of diving is to breathe. If ever you find yourself feeling a bit anxious, take a few deep breaths. It also has helped me to spot an interesting fish and put all of my thoughts on visually following the fish through its movements.
During your dive certification, there is no need to rush. Take your time and breathe.
Other Common Diving Anxieties
- Running out of air: This is a very common diving anxiety. It makes sense to be worried about running out of air. However, as my dive instructor said, “You would have to be really stupid to have this happen. I’ve never seen it happen.” Another diver that I’ve spoken with said that in over 1000 dives, she has only seen one real-life running out of air emergency. This is a totally valid fear but, no one wants it to happen. Dives are planned to avoid this situation. You will have an air monitor attached to you that you can easily monitor. On all guided dives that I’ve done the leader asks us how much air we have left throughout the dive. If this is a very large concern for you, then plan guided dives after certification.
- Other divers: It’s true, another diver might accidentally kick you and knock your mask off or knock your regulator out. That’s why you are practicing these things so much in your scuba dive certification process. The more you practice the easier this will be to fix. You’ll never be diving alone.
- Claustrophobia: Some people feel claustrophobic under the ocean. If this is happening to you, breathe. Find a fish and visually follow the fish.
Never plan a dive that you are uncomfortable with. Even if your friends really want to do it, you don’t have to. Put your own comfort first. If you ever do find yourself getting in your head, find a fish. Imagine an entire life for that little Nemo. And most importantly breathe! I cannot stress that enough. Taking deep breaths is the best way to keep your body functioning under the sea.
If you are feeling anxious, signal your buddy and take a minute to breathe with their support. You’re not alone down there. But also, remember that diving isn’t for everyone. It is definitely okay if you try it out and find you hate it. You don’t have to continue if it really just isn’t for you.
- Girls that Scuba is amazing! I love to not only follow their Instagram but also, their tips on how to clear a mask really helped me get through my struggles.
- This post talks about teaching the mask removal technique from the diving instructor perspective. I found this helpful because it really reassured me that my instructor is used to dealing with this common hurdle.
- More mask clearing tips from someone who once struggled.
- This thread is all about clearing that mask.
See how common it is to feel anxious about the mask clearing skill? It is definitely normal and doesn’t need to stop you from diving. But you better believe that I am buying a properly fitted mask to limit water ever getting in!
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