Oct 2014

Open Water Diver Difficulties

By Mike Waddington

There are some parts of the Open Water course that many beginners would rather not do. Usually because the skills are more difficult and sometimes because they feel uncomfortable. As a dive instructor, I have regularly heard students complaining about certain skills. I often get called mean, or get asked “Why do we have to do this?” All SCUBA Diving courses, regardless of agency have to adhere to certain standards set out by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council. You will find variations between the Open Water course from PADI and the Open Water Course from SSI, but most of the skills will be included in both courses, especially the most important ones.

Mask Removal & Replacement

This skill is the one where most divers have problems, and it can take many attempts, sometimes over more than one session to get really comfortable with it. Many times when some of my student divers have had problems they will say things like “But I’m never going to take my mask off underwater so why do I need to do it?” This skill is actually more about just being able to take the mask off and put it back on. As you may have noticed, masks often leak a little bit, even if the mask fits you perfectly. So you need to be comfortable clearing the mask. Although it is rare a mask will ever flood over eye level, you should still be comfortable clearing a fully flooded mask. Another reason why it is important to remove your mask is so you are comfortable breathing with water around your nose. On a dive you are surrounded by water, and if your mask was to get knocked off (usually by another divers fins) you will need to stay where you are and not panic. This is why your instructor will get you to take the mask off, and keep it off for a minute, before putting it back on. This can feel very uncomfortable at first, but with practice it will get easier. A nice tip is to lean your head to one side, and the bubbles will not go around and up your nose. And finally if you lose your mask you need to be sure you can swim without it. This is why you need to do a no mask swim. In the unlikely event you lose your mask on a dive, and cannot find it again, it is important that you know how to ascend safely ascend from the dive. At any point swimming without a mask it is important to keep one hand protecting your head as you are swimming around, to stop yourself hitting it on anything.

BCD Removal and Replacement at the Surface

This is a skill where many divers have difficulty, often trying to stretch their bodies into odd shapes to get back in. Often this is where I get called mean, as it has to be completed both in confined and Open Water. As we would always dive off large boats, we would simply kit up on the boat, and giant stride into the water. And for exiting we just simply remove our fins and climb up the ladder to get back on board. This would lead to confusion as to why they needed to be able to remove their gear in the water, and even more confusion about putting it back on. Although we were lucky in having a big boat, not all diving is done off large boats. Many times you will be in small boats with outboard engines, RHIBs, longtails or any other boat that doesn’t have a ladder to climb back on. On many of these small boats there isn’t really a good way to get into the water with your gear on. It is common practice to jump in with just mask, snorkel and fins, and then the skipper or surface cover will hand you your BCD, and then when that is on, your weights. As for getting out of the water you will need to remove your weights and pass it onto the boat, followed by your BCD. Another reason this is important is if you need to make any adjustments to your tank. If you feel you have set it too high and keep hitting your head on the regulator, or the tank band has slipped and the tank is floating about all you need to do is take your gear off, and change it to a more comfortable position. A good tip for removing and replacing your BCD on the surface is to not have the BCD fully inflated. Just have it buoyant enough to hold you up, this makes it a bit more flexible and you should be able to get your arms in easier.

200 meters swim & 10 minutes treading water

Not so much of a skill, but a prerequisite before taking the Open Water Course. Students will often say “Why do I need to prove I can swim as the BCD floats?” As an Open Water diver you need to be able to swim, not like an Olympian but at least be comfortable swimming 200m. This is because usually those who cannot swim, are very uncomfortable in the water, even if they are floating. This is because they may have never had experience with water splashing in their mouths, or getting in their eyes. This could lead to panic, which is very dangerous, especially if they the panicking diver is underwater. Those who cannot swim can take part in a Discover Scuba Diving program. This is a single dive experience and the diver is under constant supervision by an Instructor or Divemaster (with extra credentials). The guiding Instructor will usually be holding onto the participant the whole time so if they do panic, they are under control. The Open Water Course certifies you to dive independently from an Instructor, therefore you need to be 100% comfortable in the water to certify.

Knowledge Reviews and Exams

Many divers (especially in the traveling destinations) expect to show up to their Open Water Course and get straight into the water. Unfortunately this is never the case. The diver to be must watch videos, read books, fill in quiz sheets, take exams, and even do homework! Although diving is something that you can only learn by practice, and being in the water. There is a lot of theory behind it, and it is important to know why you are doing certain things in certain ways. For example you may be told to ascend no faster than 18m per minute (9m/minute for SSI) but without the understanding the dangers of ascending too fast then you may just ignore the rule. Many students of mine have said “I didn’t come on holiday to be stuck in a classroom for 3 days and get given homework”. Unfortunately there is no way to complete the course without the theory, Sorry. If you are planning a trip and don’t want to be stuck in class, then you can do the theory at home on the internet. PADI and many other dive agencies offer E learning, and then you can simply print you’re your scores and take them along with you to the course and just complete the water work.

There are many aspects to learning how to SCUBA Dive and all of them are there so that Instructors are producing safe divers. So next time you want to take a new SCUBA Diving course, check to see what the requirements are and make sure you are happy to follow them, as there is no way of going around them.

‘Open Water Diver Difficulties’ was written by Mike

Photo Credit: www.scuba.about.com

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia