Scuba diving beginners should always dive within your limitations , as it is often reminded upon you. That carries more truth than you may realize.
Especially if you are a beginner diver with less than 20 dives under your belt. There are dive sites that are just not suited for you, Not yet unless you have been specifically trained to dive these sites or have actually encountered them before and know what to expect. Dive sites where there are strong underwater currents ,or limited visibility. Deeper water dive sites that have different conditions. Strong surface currents which requires a high level of inwater competence to dive.
Scuba diving beginners ,please note that there are dive sites that if you dont know how to dive with a proper profile can risk...sweeping you out to open sea...getting you nitrogen narcosis and risk drowning underwater...sites with down currents which pushes you deeper, bad visibility dive sites with overhead environments , even shallow water ship wrecks can be dangerous if you are not mindful of a few considerations. swim throughs with fire corals,potentially sharp objects.etc
These are all potentially unsafe dive sites to the untrained scuba diver. Most of these type of dive sites are covered in the advanced courses in scuba diving which is the next level up from the entry level.
But mainly the objective of this post is to help you to recognize or realize that you are potentially placing yourself in a risky situation underwater and how you may get out of it.
For those who can reflect back on their open water diver course when they signed up for the entry level course,they will remember the basic training of the skills they were taught. Like cramp release, buddy breathing etc. The skills learnt during the course revolves around emergency underwater scenarios,what to do and how to react in certain given situations.Most of the skills are not really used on a dive to dive basis ,maybe 30% of the skills being applied on every scuba dive,the rest to be called upon when it is needed in an emergency.
Then as you obtain your certification and start your diving adventures,you will be going to differing dive shops and diving with different guides .Most of the dive guides are highly skilled pros good at their jobs but there will always be the odd ones out who may just lead the beginner divers into risky situations if they dont realize it.
A Dive master is trained to ask relevant questions and make tactful and subtle observations on the divers signing up for dive trips to help them form an idea of the experience level of the diver in question and plan accordingly or know what to expect.. But at the same token,that in itself can be in reverse. It may work both ways.
The diver about to sign up for a dive trip can also train themselves to observe the dive guide or ask the relevant questions.
Just determine if the guide taking you out is a qualified DM or do they have the experience to in dive safety.
( strange that this may sound but there are very experienced dive guides who are more than capable to handle whatever potential situations and there are qualified DMs who have been trained to do so yet lack the real practical experience so they are untried and untested, in a way it is down to the individual dive guide)
Another factor is to determine the ratio..DMs are allowed up to a ratios of 12 to 1 but most dive shops will allocate 6 to 1 .
That depends on some considerations.. If the group has mostly experienced divers then 8 to 1 ratio is ok but if the group mainly consist of certified divers that are relatively inexperienced and if i am the newbie diver in the group.. I will either ask to join another group ( if there is one ) or have a lower ratio of DM to divers., 6 to 1 and below.
And then there is the actual dive itself. Here is where if you are a beginner , you will need to train yourself to remember all that you were taught t during the dive course and measure it to the profile your dive guide is doing.
Here are a few things to help you form an opinion on how safe the dive centre or dive guide may be when it comes down to safety considerations.
!..Was there a pre dive briefing..providing info about the dive site and how your guide will be communicating, and more
importantly how much emphasis was on the safety aspects of diving in a group and making sure everyone knows what to do at the beginning , during and at the end of the dive..(If there isnt one,then you will have to be more mindful of you and your buddies profiles, max depth and air consumption)
2..Assuming it is a small group of perhaps , 6 to 1 ratio.. upon arrival at dive site and water entry, did the guide ensure everything goes smoothly or did they just jump in and ignore all else.
3..Descending or diving into the water, was the guide or DM in plain sight making sure everyone can see him/her as they lead you down to the dive site.
4..During the dive, how often does the guide look back to make sure the whole group is accounted for.and their underwater communication with the divers.A positive sign of a conscientous and responsible DM or guide is one who looks back every 15 minutes to make sure all is good.and they will have a sounding device to get the attention of the divers they are guiding.
Another thing worth mentioning is that , when you are at the dive site and it turns out to be more strenous than expected,strong currents or choppy water, you always have the option of not diving or aborting the dive.And you can suggest accordingly to the DM to change sites.( Good DMs automatically decide that soon as they recognize potential hazards)
5..Was there any mention during pre dive briefing on when and how they will check your remaining air and the signals used.And during the actual dive ,how frequent did they do so. especially the 1st dive with the group.
6..Observe the way the guide handles themselves underwater. Buoyancy skills.. Their interaction with the marine environment. The way they position themselves when they are leading a group.
7..Ending the dive. Did the guide signal to all that it is time to go up and do a safety stop.
Was the dive overall close to the description provided during the pre dive briefing.
Following would be a description of a potentially hazardous or risky situation to a beginner diver following a dive guide.
You arrive at the dive site , but waves are very choppy and even the dive boat is rocking violently.
A good DM will abort and have a contingency site planned. A reckless one will insist it is ok to dive .
As you descend into a dive site,, the guide just motions you to follow them and they just take off swimming as fast they can deeper and deeper. You follow and checking your depth gage, you realized that you are at the 25m mark and the guide is still going deeper. Stop and level off at that depth and swim to the nearest position at a shallower depth and wait for the DM to come to you. OR go back up slowly if you feel its too risky.
You get caught in and are swimming against an underwater current and you are getting out of breath.Your guide is a long distance in front and doesnt even look back to check on you . You dont have to push yourself if you cant. You just risk hyperventilating and risk suffocating, stop where you are ,sink to the bottom grab onto a rock or something and catch your breathe,if it is shallow and within reach..(18m and above) Check your air, and if you think you have enough,stay there a minute to see if the guide will come for you or notice you missing. If not ,dont bother chasing up if you feel you cannot possibly swim against the current. Just make a slow ascent. ( If there is a current present and you have to make a decision to surface,it may be more prudent to skip the 3 MINUTE safety stop inwater) Just suface and get the dive boat's attention to pick you up or wait for the DM to come get you.
you are diving at a site with overhead environments. ( swim thrus) if you feel your buoyancy skills are not up to mark,better not to attempt it, during the course,you wiil have been reminded that beginners are not suppose to swim into environments that doesnt have a direct access to the surface. But the reality of the situation is that there are dive sites with very tempting swim thrus but are spacious and safe enough for beginners. Yet some of these environments may need a full 3 to 5 minutes to swim in and out of.
If the dive guide you follow crawls into a tight space and motions you to follow,use your common sense. You dont want to get stuck in a crevass underwater.
A good DM or dive guide will not allow you to do so if they feel you are not capable or you may not have enough air to do so.
Another sign of a bad guide is one who grabs onto corals for balance or hassles the clownfishes or grabs onto turtles demonstrating no respect for the marine life.
Remember that the good ones know when to be strict and when to relax a little when guiding. A bad one just dont care.
A good guide always has safety as the priority when they are underwater.The decisions they make are always based on the ability and skills on the divers they guide,focusing on the weakest link. The reckless ones will push the limits .
Beginner divers need to be reminded constantly on the safety aspects and give tips on how to improve their profiles. Usually it takes at least 20 dives plus before the diver can start to settle and feel confident enough to dive in many varied conditions.
There are dive sites that are more challenging and unsuited or even risky for the newbie diver and it is on the dive guide to recognize that and plan accordingly.
But if you think you may be following a dive guide who is taking too many chances with the safety aspects, there is always another shop or another DM,and even if there isnt one , you can always opt to not dive.
Scuba diving is suppose to be a fun activity to be done safely and not take chances with