Scuba diving is an immensely rewarding sport that enables you to freely interact with a totally alien environment. It is also very safe provided you have the right training and a small amount of experience. I have been diving for around 10 years and can still find something new and exciting on every dive.
Here are my top 5 tips to improve your skills and enjoy your diving experiences more.
1. Familiarise yourself with your kit
Most divers, like me, will rent their equipment from the provider that they will dive with for that day. I would strongly recommend that every diver has their own mask and snorkel set that they feel comfortable. Every face is different and you may not feel comfortable in a mask that has been used by many different divers before you. If you do rent a mask check its fit thoroughly before departing. The main bit of your kit is your BC (Buoyancy Compensator). Make sure you know where all the straps, releases, buckles, controls and dump valves are before trying it on. Ensure it is comfortable when you do put it on. I have dived with a BC that doesn't fasten properly and feeling like you're hanging on for dear life for 45 minutes is no fun.
2. Check you are properly weighted
One of the most common problems with inexperienced divers is having too much weight. Instructors and Divemasters will often over-estimate the amount of weight needed to make sure you can sink. This does lead to problems under the water in terms of controlling your buoyancy and controlling the angle at which you swim. Unfortunately the best way to check is at the end of your dive! As a rule of thumb at the start of a dive you should only start to descend when you have a very small amount of air left in your BC. At the end of your dive empty your BC at the surface and with empty lungs your eyes should be level with the surface of the water.
3. Don't overcompensate your buoyancy
Often when you see inexperienced divers in the water they will yo-yo up and down like crazy. When they find themselves ascending they dump air from the BC and when they descend they add more! As wellas being annoying it wastes a lot of energy and air. So, at the start of a dive add a small amount of air as you descend to slow yourself and a little more as you reach the bottom. Remember, you don't generally want to touch anything so keeping your buoyancy controlled is very important. If you feel yourself still sinking slightly at the bottom bear in mind that kicking with your fins adds a small amount of upthrust to keep you at the right level.
Clearly this is important for a lot of reasons. But without stating the obvious you should breathe in a continuous and controlled manner throughout your dive. Panicky breathing will run down your air in a matter of minutes, particularly at depth. This is not only frustrating for you, but also for anyone else diving in your group. Breathing will also ensure that you don't injure your lungs through over-expansion. Holding your breath and changing depth will cause injury, so just keep breathing, your air will still last the same amount of time. Breathing is also the best way to fine tune your buoyancy. If you are swimming over a slightly higher piece of coral then inflate your lungs and in a couple of seconds you will start to rise. Need to get under an overhang? Empty your lungs and feel yourself sink. This is the main reason you hardly ever see experienced divers add more air to their BC partway through a dive. It's all about breath control. Find a relaxed place in your head where you can just breathe slowly and methodically.
5. Aspire to the next level
The 2 major worldwide Scuba organisations, PADI and SSI, provide a framework for advancing your diving skills. Even if you dive infrequently you should aspire to the next level to improve your skills and what you can gain from each dive. You never know you may decide to become a dive professional and earn your living underwater.
Above all enjoy diving and remember when you see more inexperienced divers in the water that you were once in their position and offer them positive encouragement and friendly advice to improve their underwater experiences.