Scuba Diving
December 29, 2004 6:50 AM   Subscribe

[Scubafilter] My partner and I need some advice on learning how to scuba dive...[MI]

In March, picklebird and I will be traveling to the lovely island of Dominica, which features wonderful scuba diving, among other things. Problem: we don’t know how. Possible solution: we will be spending the first week of the new year in Cabo San Lucas (rough life, I know). We’d like to take some lessons while we’re there but have no idea where to start. There seem to be a zillion places to take lessons, but I can’t figure out which are reliable or not. Any tips on what we should look for when shopping around for diving instruction?
posted by googly to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total)
Depending on how far you really want to take it, you don't necessarily even need to get certified before you can just go out. My wife is (or was) certified, but I'm not, and when we were in Hawaii last, there were several outfits that would take you out into a relatively shallow area (maybe 15-20 feet deep), give you some instruction and practice, and then let you basically swim around within 100 feet or so of the boat.

If it's in the right type of area, you can still see a huge amount of fish, coral, etc., but with a lot less commitment and expense than it takes to get certified. I'm sure that a lot of people who _are_ certified will tell you it's not the same as a "real" dive, and I'm sure they're right, but it is a whole lot better than just snorkeling. Others will tell you that you need to be very careful, and they're also right, but the outfit we found was clearly very professional.

One important point--there are very serious restrictions on getting onto a plane after you've been diving, anyway. The lower air pressure puts you more at risk of complications, and you basically can't go diving for some number of days before you head back. If you're only there for a week, you may not have much of an option beyond the "one-day" package I'm talking about.
posted by LairBob at 7:06 AM on December 29, 2004

Just make sure you don't get left behind.
posted by spilon at 7:11 AM on December 29, 2004

The no-flight restriction is for 24 hours after your last dive and it's serious. If you're looking for an outfit to dive with, make sure they're PADI-affiliated, and use the Internet to take a good look at their boats, which are a general indicator of their prosperity. The shops that are affiliated with resorts will typically be pretty good & reliable. In my experience there's very little price competition among dive outfits, so I wouldn't worry overspending -- just about finding nice people with decent equipment.

FYI about dive certification: the full course involves about 8 hours of classroom time, 8 hours of swimming pool time, and a couple of certification dives in the open water. A lot of people do the course in their own area and then go down to someplace tropical for their certification dives. This approach has its pros and cons. (Some of those people get to their cert dives and discover that scuba diving is not at all for them). What I wouldn't do is take the full course down in the tropics, unless you've got nothing else whatsoever to do.

LairBob's suggestion is a good one. The type of dives he mentioned haven't been sanctioned for very long -- they're a new thing. I think PADI calls them "fun dives", and they're a great way to find out if you're going to enjoy it enough to get certified.
posted by coelecanth at 7:49 AM on December 29, 2004

Thanks Lairbob & coelecanth! Very sound advice.

And if you can't trust a coelecanth to give good advice about deep-sea diving, who can you trust?
posted by googly at 8:23 AM on December 29, 2004

I'm SSI certified, so I think SSI and NAUI are better than PADI, but PADI is easier to find at resort destinations. Now for the not-so-fun stuff - this stuff doesn't apply to coelacanths but could be an issue for humans.

What do resort programs do about the doctor letter? Or does PADI not require one? Since I have asthma, I actually had to get a chest X-ray! But I'm pretty sure my class required a doctor signature from everyone, not just folks who answered yes on a screening questionnaire. Either way, find out now - while you have plenty of time - whether you need a doctor's OK to get certified.

If you're on any medications, the change in pressures can affect them - they can synergize with nitrogen or just plain delay your response time, even slightly. Find out.

DAN, the Divers Alert Network, does research, offers education, and offers insurance for dive injury. They have extensive diving medicine information at their site. PADI, NAUI, and SSI all have sites, too, that focus mostly on what they sell and where their affiliates are.
posted by caitlinb at 11:02 AM on December 29, 2004

There appear to be a bunch of PADI-certified dive centers and resorts in Cabo San Lucas.

Keep in mind that (a) being underwater isn't a good place to experience any type of problem, and (b) because of the danger of bends, if you've been down a while (or down deeper), you can't safely just go straight to the surface. So be cautious (and enjoy).
posted by WestCoaster at 11:25 AM on December 29, 2004

I forgot about the doctor's form. Apparently this (pdf) is PADI's standard medical form. Maybe you could get the signature faxed from your doctor in a pinch. Or print out a copy (if necessary) and get it signed before going down.
posted by coelecanth at 1:53 PM on December 29, 2004

Thanks all!
posted by googly at 2:07 PM on December 29, 2004

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