Things I wished I knew before starting my PADI Open Water Course.
It’s always been your dream to go under the waves and explore the fascinating underwater world. Now you are thinking about becoming a certified diver on your next vacation to Gozo, right? Many questions are floating in your head and you are unsure where to start your research. You don’t really know what scuba diving is all about or what to expect, or who to turn to? All you know is it’s fun and you want to learn to scuba dive!
Many of you are in this position right now and cannot find answers to all the questions in one place. Many years ago I was also a PADI Open Water student. Fast forward to now, with several thousand dives under my belt and many years of teaching experience at all levels, I will try to help those who struggle to find answers to the questions you are asking.
Lets take a look at your journey towards your open water course in small steps;
Research is Key;
You read that the PADI Open Water Diver course is done exactly the same all over the world – correct? Sadly this is not always the case, so look at the dive centre reviews and comments before signing up to your course. Contact the dive centre and ask questions about how the course is conducted and over how many days? Ask about the group size and how many sections of the course is done in one day? This is vital, scuba diving is a physcial exercise and it makes you tired. Is eLearning available on Gozo if you do not want to sit in a classroom over your holiday period? Some people prefer classroom sessions; this is more personal with the hands-on approach to learning with your instructor at your side.
It is expected that all PADI instructors adhere to the same PADI standards when they teach you how to learn to dive. However, there is a HUGE difference with what really happens beyond the so-called ‘minimum requirements’ and ‘mastering a skill’ section of the open water standards. All dive centres should and must accept the fact that each student is different and their learning capabilities differ. Often student divers struggle to finish an open water course in 3 days after completing the eLearning. Four days is acceptable for students, giving them time to learn and master the skills. Dive centres who rush their students through the OWD course produce only ‘poor quality scuba divers.’ Long term these practices damage the reef, the reputation of the dive centre and the reputation of the instructor, as well as the dive centre equipment!
Do your online research and you will be able to separate the chaff from the corn.
Talk to Your Dive Centre;
Questions are popping up in your head, so relax and sort out what you want to know. The PADI open water course is completely suitable for beginners, it has been tried and tested many times. If you have questions don’t get flustered, speak or email your instructor or dive centre. They will reply with reassuring answers and help you understand the concept of the open water course.
No such thing as a Stupid Question;
If you are not sure, ask a question. Over years of teaching I have heard many questions, so ask away, that is why we are here. Don’t be embarrassed to speak up if there is something you don’t understand. Many students ask the same questions, so often we have heard it before.
Questions about sharks often come up, no we do not have sharks on Gozo that come close to shore. Yes, you ladies can dive when you have your period, it’s not a problem. If it was, there would be no female instructors!
Allow enough time for the course;
Give yourself plenty of time to complete the course. It is both mentally and physically tiring. Try to start the course at the beginning of the holiday. This allows time later to explore the island. It also allows for one or two days just in case you need a little more time. When you get really hooked you can go straight through and do your PADI Advanced Course! Remember, ear infection or a head cold will set you back a day or two, so allow a little extra time just in case. Avoid using the air-condition in rooms and vehicles on Gozos warm climate, this often results in head colds.
Practice swimming at home;
You do not have to be a strong swimmer to complete the open water course. If your swimming skills are rusty practice in the pool at home before you leave. You should be confident in the water and not worry if water gets in your face. The swimming requirement is a 200m swim or a 300m mask, snorkel and fins swim, all have no time limit. You will be asked to complete a 10-minute float, showing the ability to tread water without holding onto anything.
Medical Statement and Paperwork;
Before starting with the OW course, you need to fill out some registration paperwork. Make sure all your documents are in order, and you will have no problems. Let’s see what you require;
Medical form– The dive centre needs to check that you are fit to dive and have no medical problems. A standard medical questionnaire is available for ALL student divers, and it is mandatory that you complete it. If you need to answer ‘YES’ to any of the questions on the medical paper, you will need to visit your GP at home. The GP must give you a clearance to dive with NO restrictions if he or she deems you fit to dive. Get a medical questionnaire from the dive centre prior to departing, if required, visit your GP who is familiar with your medical history.
Insurance– Most travel insurance policies include diving, however, some don’t. Please read the terms and conditions to find out what your policy covers and keep your diving insurance information on hand for the check-in. All dive centres on Gozo must have third-party liability for students. When you participate in your course, you will be insured through the dive centre and instructor. This applies to scuba diving courses only.
Emergency Contact details & passport number– This is a standard procedure and every dive centre will require this information from you. Make sure you have a valid emergency contact number in case of any problems, preferably not a fellow divers number who is on vacation with you.
Equipment and Packing List;
You will be informed by your dive centre if there is anything specific that you need to bring with you. There might be a few items that you yourself might want to bring along on the trip;
Swimwear– Basically, any type of swimwear is acceptable under your wetsuit. For men, board shorts are not ideal under a wetsuit. The legs tend to roll upwards underneath a tight-fitting wetsuit causing bulk and discomfort. For the female student, a strapless bandeau bikini is not the best bikini to wear, and it tends to move upwards when you remove your wetsuit!
Contact lenses- Some divers or students require contact lenses in the water. Many divers wear contact lenses on a regular basis and have little or no problems what so ever. Diving with contact lenses is alright, maybe you need to bring some inexpensive daily lenses as spares, just in case you lose one.
Travel Towel- Large travel towels are handy as a wrap-around to quickly dry off with. They are lightweight and easy to pack. Some hotels provide beach towels; they are often large and need a lot of space to carry around.
Rash Guards or Reef-friendly Sunscreen- Did you know that sunscreen causes an immense amount of damage to our reefs and fish? An alternative product is a reef-friendly sunscreen, better still use a rash guard to protect you from the suns UV rays. Rash guards can be worn underneath your wetsuit as well.
Get Your Own Mask and Snorkel;
This piece of equipment is very important to new divers for both safety and comfort. It is a piece of equipment that must fit right, otherwise, it is of no use to the diver. I would not buy a mask and snorkel before I try out scuba diving. During your open water course, you decide you like diving, then you can buy a mask and snorkel and complete the course with it. The mask must fit correctly, this is crucial for your safety and being comfortable underwater. It is better to have your own for hygiene reasons and for a good fit.
Before purchasing any more dive equipment, think about what you are going to do and where you will dive? Sometimes certain equipment is not suitable for certain conditions, for example a thin 3mm wetsuit in the cold waters of Europe.
I know, it is very tempting to buy all those great diving gadgets. A good mask and snorkel is well worth purchasing and a computer. Over and above a computer or mask and snorkel, wait and see how your diving career evolves. You buy piece by piece with your head and not your heart. Progress with the diving, and you will see what you really require.
Future Dive Destinations;
Diving is a sport that is very addictive, and it needs fuelling. Future travel plans revolve around diving and dive destinations. There is a multitude of places to dive in the world, some so far-flung you might not even know where it is. Make a list where you would like to dive and dive accordingly to your budget and preferences. A bucket list is a great idea, tick them off as you go and add new ones as you learn about new destinations.
Start out now, don’t wait;
Many new certified divers say: “I wish I had done this earlier in my life.” As an Instructor, we hear this comment often, so don’t wait, go for it and enjoy it.
To begin a PADI Open Water Course you are 10 years of age, know how to swim and able to pass the medical questionnaire. Under 18 years of age, you require a parent or guardian consent to be able to scuba dive. All paperwork in place, now it’s time to book your PADI Open Water course and enjoy the underwater world!
Enjoy your PADI Open Water Course