National Instructor Luisa Smith says Ocean Diver is one of the most challenging diving qualifications to achieve, but you should have fun doing it and she has ten top tips to help you succeed.
Although BSAC Ocean Diver may be the first rung of the diver-training ladder, for many students success at this grade poses far bigger challenges than at subsequent grades. Why? Because this is the diver grade that covers the most diverse range of subjects, requiring you to become competent and knowledgeable in all of them. It is where you get your first opportunity to learn all the skills that you will then go on to master and refine as they are repeated throughout the BSAC Diver Training Programme.
Ocean Diver training introduces all the theory topics that you need for learning to dive, from basic diver physiology to dive planning and decompression theory.
Practical lessons start in the pool, covering all vital ‘basic’ skills ranging from buoyancy – the cornerstone of becoming a good diver – to personal skills such as mask and mouthpiece clearing, and the essential rescue skills – alternative supply ascent and controlled buoyant lift – that will give you the know-how to rescue another diver.
Having mastered all the skills in the pool, they are repeated at increasing depths in open water, wearing appropriate protective clothing.
So, how can you ensure success? Here are my top tips:
1. Understand the theory you have been taught
Don’t assume you know all about diving theory, even if you come from a medical or physics background and are already familiar with some of the topics. Take the time to read through your student notes before each lecture, as this will make new topics easier to understand and may raise some questions you want to clarify with your instructor. And revise each topic after the lecture, especially if it is new to you.
Also make plenty of time to revise everything thoroughly before the exam. Practice beforehand using the Ocean Diver course quizzes online. Make sure you practice working through the BSAC’88 Decompression Tables. Be familiar with where all the elements are located and what the terminology means (remember… in the front of the tables are all the definitions, which could come in handy for answering some of those exam questions).
Read the exam questions carefully. Sounds obvious, I know, but it is easy to misread a question if you are rushing. Take your time to read each question, along with all the answers, before making up your mind which one is correct. If you want something clarified, ask the person invigilating. They cannot tell you the answer, but may be able to explain something if you are not sure
2. Get your own mask ASAP
Make sure you try on lots of different sizes and styles of mask before you actually buy one. Nothing is worse than trying to master any skill in an ill-fitting, leaky mask, constantly filling up with water, because you will not be able to see your instructor properly.
Mask clearing in Ocean Diver training
3. Make mask clearing second nature
Mask clearing, in principle, is a very simple skill but it is one that many people struggle with. If you are finding it hard to master, then take heart from the knowledge that you are not alone. Practice the basics of the skill: breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose everywhere, walking down the street, in the shower, in the bath. Practice in the swimming pool, without actually putting any water in your mask; breathe in through your mouth, start to blow out through your nose, and while you are exhaling tilt your head back. It‘s important you start to exhale through your nose BEFORE you tilt your head back, as that stops water shooting up your nose… the sensation that makes many people panic.
Don’t get too bogged down in mask clearing as a skill – after all, it is actually only a very small part of the training programme. If you find it hard, practice it frequently, but mix it up with practicing all the other skills you have learned as they are all equally important. Watch a skills video on mask clearing.
4. Take your time with your training
The Ocean Diver course is designed so that you can do it at your own pace. If you need time to gain confidence with a particular skill then don’t be rushed.
5. Keep working on your buoyancy control
Buoyancy is the most important skill to master for a new diver, but it is also the skill that you will continue to perfect throughout your diving career. Do not be disheartened if it seems to be a bit “all over the place” at first, as this is definitely a skill that improves with experience and confidence.
Take your time – only add air to, or dump it from, your buoyancy compensator in small bursts, then pause and see how much of an effect it has had. The temptation is to add, or dump, too much air too quickly, then you have to do the opposite to compensate for your mistake, and this leads to you yo-yoing up and down in the water.
Try to anticipate changes in depth: if you are going deeper you will need to add a small amount of air to your BC or drysuit to maintain neutral buoyancy. Similarly, if you are ascending, this excess air will need to be vented as it expands. If you plan ahead and start to add or dump air before you feel the effects of changing depth on buoyancy, this will give you a lot more control.
Don’t forget that your breathing will also affect your buoyancy. Breathing deeply in and out can make you move up and down in the water. Don’t panic if you feel yourself moving up and down as you breathe.
6. Gas consumption will improve
The amount of gas that you breathe is another thing that will improve with experience, so don’t worry about it too much if you always seem to use a lot more gas than your instructor when you start out. If you are nervous or out-of breath, and therefore breathing more rapidly, you will use more gas, but this will improve as you become more comfortable underwater. Remember that practising certain skills (such as alternative supply ascents) will also use a lot of gas.
7. Constantly review your weight belt
The amount of weight that you use is something else that will change over time. New trainees invariably seem to need lots of lead to be able to get under the water. This is because you are breathing faster, and are less relaxed. As you become more experienced you should continually review the amount of weight you carry. Being over-weighted will increase your gas consumption, will affect your underwater trim, and can lead to you feeling uncomfortable on your dive. Weight is affected by changes in your personal kit, which must be borne in mind as you start to purchase your own equipment.
8. Practice really does make perfect
Devote a bit of extra time on pool nights to continually practice your skills, even after you have completed all of your formal lessons. If you are preparing to go in open water, practice your skills wearing a hood and gloves – this will make it that bit more like “real life” and is good practice before you go through these skills on open-water dives. You can never practice your skills too often. The more confident you become performing all your skills, from mask clearing to rescue skills, the easier they become. The easier they become the more you enjoy it, ’nuff said. If you want a refresher on certain skills, speak to one of your Club instructors.
9. Have fun!
Diving is supposed to be a hobby that you enjoy, not a modern-day version of purgatory. This enjoyment should start with your initial pool and open water training, and then grow as you experience the sights underwater; both the sea life and the scenery. There are lots of ways that training can be fun, from doing light-hearted buoyancy challenges to underwater treasure hunts, while unwittingly practising your skills.
10. Have a sense of humour
Talking of having a sense of humour, when you realise that using KY jelly is the easiest way to get into your drysuit seals, for example, you’ll need to find a way to walk into the supermarket and buy this in bulk without blushing too much. (Don’t try to explain anything to the cashier – it just makes everything sound worse.)
And you can forget James Bond: scuba diving is not a glamorous sport, not least if you learn in temperate waters. Fighting to get into thick neoprene suits, ending up with a snot-stained face at the end of the dive… you won’t win a fashion contest. But, as long as you can see the funny side, you will most certainly have a laugh.
Learning Curve article from SCUBA issue 78
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