It happens very often. You plan a great vacation with your family to a tropical destination like Playa del Carmen, but you are the only scuba diver in the family. This puts you in quite the predicament, doesn’t it?
How do I spend as much of the vacation time I have with my family, yet still manage to get a whole bunch of awesome dives in during that time?!
Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to get you in the water, get you diving and still keep your family happy with you.
You can arrange for the non divers in your family to participate in the Discover Scuba program. This way, they can take the theory and pool session in the morning (maybe while you get 2 dives in), and then in the afternoon you can join them for another 2 amazing shallow dives. This is a great way to introduce your family to the wonderful world of scuba diving, and they will get to experience first hand all of the great things that diving in Playa del Carmen can teach them!
If they are interested, they can do their Open Water Scuba Diver course, and you can join them during the open water dives of the course! How great would it be to have a bunch of certified divers in your family? Imagine being able to plan every vacation you take together as a dive vacation!
They don’t have to do the entire course here though. They can start their course back home at a dive centre in your home town, and then they can finish their courses as a referral course in Playa del Carmen.
If all of that fails, then there is always the option of bribery… A round of golf or a day at the spa while you get your dive on sometimes does the trick. After all, we get that not everybody is interested in diving, and no matter how many youtube videos, photos, or amazing diving stories we share with them, their minds are not going to change.
One of the great things of diving in Playa del Carmen is that when we do ocean dives, the reefs are quite close to the coast, so on our morning trips we are usually back by (or before) noon, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day with the family.
Diving in Cozumel and in the Cenotes is a bit more time consuming, but we are usually also back by around 1:30-2:00 PM, so you are not away from them all day.
Being a small dive center with small groups does give you (and us) options that some of the bigger resort operations don’t have. That is why we have morning and afternoon trips for local ocean diving, and we can customize the trips to suit your schedule (of course it all depends on our other guests as well).
It is important to remember that family vacations are exactly that. They are for spending quality time with the people you love the most.
It seems like every time I log into my favorite cave diving or technical diving forums or even facebook, I see news about someone who was not trained for cave diving, attempted to go cave diving and died. Many of those have happened at some of the most challenging sites in Florida’s Cave Country. Caves like Eagle’s Nest that not only are overhead environments (like all caves) but super deep as well. Such sites are challenging even for the most experienced of cave divers. Yet untrained people attempt to do these “pinnacle dives” so often that it seems to be becoming the norm.
I’ve been diving caves for over a decade and doing deep technical dives (whether on air or trimix) for about as long. However, I sought out training before attempting to do these dives because I knew that I didn’t know enough not to do something that could jeopardize my safety or that of those diving with me (also known as “something stupid”).
I took many courses. Technical diving courses, cave diving courses, technical cave diving courses, you get the idea. I took those courses from different instructors because as much as I enjoyed learning from each one, each one of them had something special, and each one of them helped shape the cave diving instructor that I am today. But this post is not about me or what a great instructor or great diver I am.
So what drives someone who isn’t trained on a specific form of diving into doing it? My best guess… EGO. They probably feel that they are above taking that cave diving course because they have been diving for x amount of years, and there is absolutely nothing new that some instructor could teach them that they don’t already know. They probably feel that by taking a course they are admitting to the fact that they are not good enough.
Well, I hate to sound like a complete jerk, but you aren’t. At least not yet. That is why you train. That is why we all train. To better ourselves. We train and we practice to become better. Better athletes, better scientists or better divers. You don’t start college knowing everything about your major, right? Heck, you don’t even graduate knowing everything about it. Just because I had bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and biochemistry when I graduated didn’t mean I knew everything. Then I went to graduate school and got advanced degrees, did research for many years, and became an expert in the field of my studies. But it took practice, it took training and it took persistency.
Same thing when I started diving nearly 3 decades ago. It took much training, practice and will to become a good diver.
Some of the better known diving agencies have seriously dumbed down their courses. You basically get your certification just because you paid and you showed up. It doesn’t matter if you demonstrated proper diver skills (and by that, I don’t just mean that you know how to clear your mask and regulator while kneeling on a sandy bottom) and attitude. This is also the root cause of the problem. People are not getting proper scuba diving training at the most basic of levels, and are getting certified without earning a certification because it seems is not in the best interest of the dive shops to train good, independent divers who will not need a divemaster or instructor to babysit them the whole time, or instructors start the course, and they know they will not be conducting the checkout dives, so they do the bare minimum, and let the one who will be conducting the checkout dives deal with the mess. This holds true not only in tropical destinations, but everywhere.
Sometimes people go for the cheapest course, or the best deal. Well, as a good friend of mine always says, “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” A good scuba diving course at any level should not be cheap. It shouldn’t break the bank either, but it should not be cheap. When you think of all of the costs associated with giving a quality course (good equipment, good instructors, tanks, boats, fuel, pools, materials, etc), plus the costs of doing business (rent, taxes, utilities, etc), you have to ask yourself where the corners are being cut to offer such cheap prices.
But I seem to have gone off on a tangent. Back to getting properly trained.
Proper training courses are not only necessary to get the knowledge you need to make well informed decisions regarding your future dives. They give you the necessary tools to build up your skills and get experience so that in time you can do those dives you see people posting about on social media. Earning a full cave diver certification does not mean that you are ready to take on the most challenging cave dives, and start exploring caves. It means that you have demonstrated mastery in the skillset (and yes, that includes attitude) required to conduct dives at the level of a full cave diver, but should be cautious enough to start out slow. That is one aspect where we as instructors sometimes fail our students. We sometimes do not emphasize the fact that although they are now full cave divers (or divers at any level), they should continue to learn from every dive and build up their experience. The certification is a ticket to continuous learning at an independent (i.e. without an instructor) level.
What will happen if people continue to disregard the need for training? Well, we will see more deaths, and with that, we will see either government regulations (we do not want that!), sites closing down (we do not want that either!) or both!
So please, get proper training. Research the instructor that you want to train with. Evaluate yourself before signing up for a course so that you know that you are fully ready for what lies ahead, and most important, ask yourself why you want to do it. If it is to blow up your ego, then stop right there. Diving is not a competitive sport.
We’ve all seen that person who looks like a bull running around a china store when they dive. You know the type… over weighed, trampling on the coral, or doing a number of things that – whether on purpose or not, gravely damage (sometimes irreparably) the reefs.
Here we will do a list of things you can do to not be that person and to become a better, reef friendly scuba diver.
Only take the amount of weight you need to become neutrally buoyant.
When you are over weighed, you will feel like you’re constantly fighting the current (even on drift dives), constantly finning to try to stay off the bottom, which will in turn lift up tons of sand that will inevitably end up on top of some poor unsuspecting coral polyps.
If we are properly weighed and neutrally buoyant, our air consumption gets way better, our dives become more enjoyable, and we don’t send sand all over the place ruining visibility and damaging the corals.
Good buoyancy comes with practice, but having a good foundation to begin with is also essential.
If you’re an instructor, teach your students to perform skills while neutrally buoyant, maintaining horizontal trip. Hovering vertically and doing “fin pivots” teaches nothing but bad habits.
Keep a horizontal trim throughout the dive and keep all of your equipment streamlined.
When we keep a proper horizontal trim throughout the dive, we can move with much more ease even if we are going against the current. This is because when we are flat and horizontal, with no gear dangling, we are streamlined and we create less drag.
If you have gear dangling, then it can get caught on the reef possibly causing severe damage to both the the reef and to your equipment. It also increases your drag.
Do not stand, kneel or bounce around delicate coral reef structures.
This one should be obvious, but unfortunately it is something we see way too often.
When people do this, it causes irreparable damage to the reef. In fact, it kills the corals that form the reef, can kill, or seriously injure the delicate small creatures that live there, and can also cause them to get injured from possibly stepping on fire coral, scorpionfish or some other animal that doesn’t appreciate getting trampled.
Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles, kill nothing but time.
Another super obvious one. Do not spearfish while on scuba, do not collect shells, or anything while you’re diving. Those empty conch shells could be the next home of a hemit crab, they could provide a place for juvenile fish and other animals to hide from predators, and ultimately, it is not yours. Not to mention that in a lot of places in the world, it is a criminal offense.
While on the subject of taking photos…
If you need to come all the way down to the bottom, make sure you do it on a flat sandy area. Not on the reef, not on a plant, a gorgonia or a critter’s burrow.
Be mindful of where your fins are throughout the dive.
What do we mean by this? Very simple. Please always know that your fins are not accidentally scraping on the reef, on sponges, or anything else.
Learn other kicking styles than the flutter kick.
Frog kicking is a lot easier than you think. It is also a lot less disruptive and destructive. This is because when we frog kick, the water we displace gets pushed to the back rather than to the bottom where it hits with tremendous force.
The modified flutter kick is another excellent kicking style in areas where frog kicking might lead to damaging the coral (such as a smaller swimthrough – though you shouldn’t get yourself in an area that small, but that’s a topic for another blog post).
Backwards finning, helicopter turns, among others, are kicking techniques that every diver should attempt to master. There is a reason why we use such styles in cave diving.
If you see a piece of trash, pick it up and bring it up.
Turtles and other animals cannot tell the difference between a plastic bag and a jellyfish. To them, it looks the same, however, when eaten, one will seriously hurt them (eventually even cause their death), and one will provide them with a nutritious meal. Can you guess which one does what?
Also, do we really want mountains of trash polluting our oceans? I think not. Take a small mesh bag with you on your next dive. Make it count and pick up any trash you spot. You will feel good about it and you will make a difference by saving the life of the animal that will not eat that bag or get stuck on the six-pack ring.
Do not harass, chase or touch any of the animals you encounter.
Other than the fact that marine creatures do not enjoy getting petted, chased or harassed, if we touch them we are introducing all kinds of bacteria and other pathogens to which they have no immunity. This can cause life threatening diseases, and can get you bit as well. Neither one is a happy reminder of a great dive.
Do not feed the animals!
Feeding or chumming to attract animals is a terrible idea. It changes feeding behaviours, migration patterns, and it makes animals associate humans with food, which could eventually lead to a very unfortunate accident.
If you must use sunblock, make sure it is biodegradable.
Sunblocks, suntan lotions and body lotions leech all kinds of nasty, harmful chemicals into the water. Biodegradable lotions will not. Even better, use a rashguard and a hat to keep the sun’s rays from burning your skin to crisp. That way, you will not be leeching chemicals into the environment.
We are often asked by our non-diving friends and relatives to explain to them why we scuba dive… what drives this passion that all divers have about the sport.
Well, instead of telling you the reasons why I dive, and why I have been diving for over 25 years, let me give you a list of reasons why YOU should learn to dive and become a certified scuba diver.
Why should I learn to dive?
The World is over 70% water. This means that there are more places in the world where diving is possible than those where it isn’t. What does that mean to the average diver? Well, it means that no matter where you live, or where you travel for vacation, you will never be more than a few hours away from great diving – yes, even lakes and quarries offer fabulous diving… just make sure it is allowed.
You will make tons of diver friends. Seriously! I would say that about 70% of my friends are divers. Not just here in Playa del Carmen, but also in every other place where I have lived, diving has always helped me make some great friends. Of course, not every diver you will meet will become an instant best friend, but ask any active and serious diver how many of his/her friends share their love for the sport, and you will be pleasantly surprised. This also means that you will always have someone you enjoy being with willing to go out for a dive over the weekend, or to take a diving vacation (don’t you just love the word “Vacation”?).
The whole family can take up diving together! Yes, that’s right! As long as everybody is over 10 years of age, in good health (Of course, as with any activity, your family doctor should be consulted first), everybody can swim (and you don’t have to be an Olympic level swimmer. Just be competent in the water and comfortable), you and every member of your family can take up the wonderful sport of scuba diving. Which will in turn make vacation planning so much easier! Just go to a nice tropical destination and be sure you book your dives beforehand!
It is easier, cheaper and safer than what you may think. The sport of scuba diving has evolved much over the past 30 years. While it used to be considered almost like an extreme sport, today, diving is one of the safest activities you can do as long as all the rules are followed and it is done properly. Diving doesn’t care about age, gender or body shape. Underwater, we are all the same! When you do a training course, you don’t have to buy every piece of equipment at once. Most dive centers will have rental equipment for you to use when you book dives with them, so don’t worry about having to spend thousands of dollars in gear just to get started.
When you are under water, you will see things that the majority of the people of the world never get to see in real life! You will see the most beautiful colors you never thought existed, some of the most beautiful animals that you always dreamed about being face to face with, and you will see that sharks are not man-eaters. They are misrepresented, and they should be respected, admired and protected, not feared. It doesn’t matter where you dive. Be it a tropical reef like those we have here in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, a cold lake in the North or a cold water reef like in the Pacific North West (USA & Canada) or UK, you will find the most amazing things ever (not just fish and coral.. think historical wrecks as well).
Feel what astronauts feel when they are in outer space. When we dive, and we are properly weighed and neutrally buoyant, it is as if we are floating in space. We feel as though we were in real zero gravity. We can say that the weight of the world comes off of our shoulders! Even better, when we do a drift dive, we feel like we are flying across a whole new planet filled with new and interesting creatures!
You will become Aquaman! Well, not really, but you will get to breather under water! Even though we don’t get to talk to ocean creatures with telepathic superpowers, we get breathe underwater! Imagine! How cool is that?! So basically, if you become a scuba diver, you essentially become almost like a superhero!
You will become an Ocean Ambassador. What does this mean? Well, you will be a part of an elite group of people across the world who do everything in their power to make sure that all waterways – be it the ocean, lakes, rivers, swamps, etc. are protected and that the creatures that inhabit these areas are protected as well. We need clean waterways, and we need healthy coral reefs if we want to protect our species as well! Not to mention we want to keep having beautiful places where we can dive.
You never stop learning. Even after you become a certified diver, there are still dozens of courses which you can take that will keep expanding your knowledge and skills. Courses like nitrox, advanced open water, rescue diver, deep diver, even – with sufficient experience- cave diving!
Once you become a diver, the world is really your playground!
There are some caveats. Don’t be fooled by the super cheap courses offered at many dive shops. Get your training with a reputable instructor, at a reputable dive center, and don’t be afraid to ask your instructor about his/her experience as a diver and as an instructor.
When you do a google search for “scuba diving in Playa del Carmen”, “dive centers in Playa del Carmen” or “dive shops” or any other scuba diving related querie, you get hundreds, if not thousands of hits. Obviously, you are not going to contact every single website that you come across, because, well, you have better things to do! However, it is very important that when you are planning your vacation to Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya as well as any other destination where you plan on doing some (or a lot) of diving, you do some research.
What do I mean by research? Very simple. There are some questions you should always ask any potential dive operator.
Do you have a physical dive shop?
Are you/your guide/instructor a Mexican citizen, and if not, are you legally allowed to work in Mexico?
How many years have you been in business?
What are your group sizes, diver:instructor ratio?
What is the experience of the instructors/divemasters that work for you?
You are probably scratching your head at some of these questions. There are good reasons why you should know the answer to these questions.
If the operator does not have an actual shop, and is just some person selling trips/courses from his/her computer, then what guarantees do you have that your reservation will be honored, deposits will be safe, and that you will have a safe place where your equipment can be stored if you will be diving for several days? An established dive center will give you all those and more.
If the operator is not a Mexican citizen and is not allowed to work legally in Mexico opens you up to all kinds of trouble. Imagine you are heading off to the Cenotes with this great person who has a beautiful website, talks a big game about his/her thousands of dives, charges very little in comparison to others, and then you get pulled over. Well, it turns out your guide has no permits to be transporting you, has no permits to be working in Mexico, and now, the vehicle you’re in as well as everything in it (including your personal equipment) will be subject to seizure by the authorities. Also, there is the issue with liability and insurance.
We all started our business at one point. So a new shop does not necessarily mean that the shop will not be just as good, or even better than one that has been around for decades. However, a shop that has been around for a few years probably has a better track record than a new shop.
Some dive shops are all about maximizing profits and minimizing expenses, and this is not always better for you, the customer. This holds true both in Playa del Carmen as well as the rest of the world. It is not uncommon to see an Open Water Diver class with 8 or more students and just one instructor. Or a combined group with several open water diver students, a couple of advanced open water diver and perhaps a rescue student and one instructor (and maybe a dive master assisting). This is unacceptable even in the best of conditions. An instructor should never have more than 4 students at once, and they should all be doing the same level of training. The same goes for leading dives. Groups should not be larger than 4 divers per instructor or dive master, and they should all be of similar experience and training levels. Mixing groups is just not acceptable.
Again, we all started as instructors or dive masters at one point. With little experience, and fortunately, someone cut us a break. Some of us were certified divers for a long time, and even worked as dive masters for many years before we decided to become instructors, however, the world has changed a lot in the past 10-15 years. We live in a world of “instant gratification”, and unfortunately this has also transferred onto the diving industry. One of the bigger agencies allows many of their larger affiliated centers to conduct what have been commonly become known as “zero-to-hero” programs. In these programs, they basically take you from being a non-diver (or one with little experience) all the way to open water scuba instructor level in a year or less. You probably ask yourselves what the problem is with this… well, the main problem is the lack of experience. You see, most recreational scuba diving training agencies require that to become an instructor, one has to have a minimum of 100 logged dives. 100 logged dives may seem like a lot, but in reality, it isn’t. Especially for someone who is an instructor. When you choose an instructor, you want to make sure that your instructor has lots of experience in as many different environments as possible (be it tropical reefs, cold lakes and quarries, caves, wrecks, cold water reefs, etc).
These are just some of the things you should be asking before booking dives or scuba diving courses not just in Playa del Carmen, but all over the world. This information will not guarantee that your vacation will be flawless, but I can promise you that if you know all of this beforehand, you will save yourself a whole lot of headaches and heartache.
Greetings fellow divers and lovers of the underwater world! Today we task ourselves with bringing you news of a potential serious red flag. This one goes out to all of our potential guests who are planning their weddings and honeymoon in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.
A couple of years ago, we signed up with an online company that goes by the name of Wanderable (not going to give them the benefit of a link). This company is an online wedding registry where couples choose activities the want to do during their honeymoon and their friends and family can purchase said activities for them.
Seems like a pretty cool thing, right? Well, there are many other sites like that one (honeyfund, honeymoonwishes, travelersjoy, among others). We were invited to be a part of this wonderable site when it first launched about 3 years or so ago.
At first, things were very smooth with them. People would list a gift certificate for whichever activity (we had Discover Scuba Diving, Cozumel Direct Trip and Cenote trip), their loved ones would buy it for them, and we would get an email to tell us “John Doe and Jane Smith were gifted X, Y or Z activity – gift certificate code blah blah bah), then the couple would get in touch with us, we would confirm dates with the couple, and we would get paid by wonderable.
Suddenly this all changed. Folks would get girft certificates, and we would not be informed by the company, nor would their certificates sometimes appear on our “sales orders”. Then the payments stopped coming. A couple of times we honored the reservations, and had to wait weeks to get paid, they wouldn’t reply to emails or answer phone calls, so eventually, we stopped honoring the gift certificates bought through this company, and we asked them to take Beyond Diving – Riviera Maya off their website and off their vendor list.
Fast forward several months…. We receive an email from a nice gentleman who has unfortunately fallen prey to these unscrupulous people. Him and his future wife were gifted a local Playa del Carmen 2 tank dive trip, which we told them that we could not honor, but would still love to have them as our guests. Fortunately, they decided they still wish to dive with us, and all is good.
However, they will have to fight it out with wanderable to try to get their money back.
I was just checking out wanderable’s facebook page, and it hasn’t even been updated since July 2015, so that alone should raise all sorts of red flags. Not to mention the comments left by couples who cannot get in touch with them.
I have emailed wanderable yet again demanding that our company be taken off their site, so we will see how that plays out. Since Beyond Diving – Riviera Maya is a registered trademark, any unauthorized use of our name constitutes a violation of international trademark laws.
So our suggestion to anybody thinking of using wanderable, is to not use it. I am sure that our company is not the only one that has stopped honoring their gift certificates, so I would recommend that you contact the companies directly from which you want to purchase an activity and do so directly. That way you can be assured that your reservations will be honored and you will save yourselves the hassle of a potentially cancelled reservation due to non-payment.
Unless you’ve been living in the International Space Station for the last 8-10 years, surely you’ve heard of sidemount configuration. Surely, you’ve even seen a few divers using this configuration. Over the next few paragraphs, I am going to give you a bit of a rundown of what this is. Let’s start…
How did sidemount diving start?
Sidemount diving is by no means a new thing. It was started by British cavers back in the 1960’s. When they were doing exploration in sumps, they needed equipment that was light weight and small enough to get past tight underwater passages that lead to the next dry section of the caves. Needless to say, carrying around back mounted double tanks, was not an option. Since the dives were not long, and the dives themselves were simply a way to get from point A to point B, the harnesses were somewhat crude, had no buoyancy control, sometimes they didn’t even carry fins. They simply needed a means to attach a tank and a regulator to themselves (outer thigh) with a belt and a cam band and that’s it.
In the 1970’s, Florida cave divers refined these crude systems, added buoyancy control and made the systems so that they allowed them to do extended exploration dives in the Florida caves. The tanks were moved up from being attached to the thigh to being attached at the hip, then up the torso. This allowed for improved trim which in turn allowed the divers to do their dives with more comfort. They continued to improve on their system individually as there were no commercially available harnesses at the time. Everything was DIY.
In the 1990’s we saw the first commercially available sidemount harnesses.
The early part of the 2000’s saw the boom of the sidemount configuration. The Armadillo Harness was developed, and many of today’s harnesses follow that design. It had bungee anchoring for the tank valves. a bottom routed inflator on the wing, buttplates, etc.
From the mid 2000’s till now, a myriad of harnesses have been made commercially available, with many divers still embracing the DIY ethos.
So what makes Sidemount Diving so special?
Sidemount diving to many, is more than a simple configuration of equipment. It is an entire philosophy for diving. Going a step beyond DIR (albeit without the dogma attached) of only taking what is absolutely necessary on a dive to make yourself as streamlined as possible with very little chance of getting snagged or tangled on a cave line, and being able to pass through small restricted passages in caves (keep in mind, this configuration was originally thought out for cave exploration). However, it goes far beyond that.
Sidemount diving allows the properly trained diver to improve his/her trim, buoyancy and air consumption. It allows some of us who may be getting a bit older or who just don’t want to walk around with big heavy tanks strapped to our backs to kit up in the water and get out of our gear in the water as well with ease.
As each tank is independent from each other, gas management does become a bit more complex, but emergency management becomes safer and easier because we have access to the valves right in front of us.
Now the beauty of sidemount is that you do not necessarily have to carry two tanks. You can sidemount a single tank, or even multiple tanks for technical diving.
I myself have been diving for over 25 years (about 10 of which I have been doing cave and technical diving)… I wish I had discovered this configuration sooner!
Should I take a course to learn sidemount diving?
While you can probably pick up the basics of sidemounting on your own, it is important that an instructor teaches you all the nuances of diving in this configuration. After all, you’ve trusted an instructor to teach you other aspects of SCUBA diving, correct?
Most SCUBA diving training agencies have a sidemount program. TDI, SDI, IANTD, SSI, PSAI and even PADI have sidemount training programs. Some are good, and frankly, some are just atrocious. In my opinion, the best way to learn proper sidemount techniques is to take a course with an instructor who is an expert in sidemounting.
How do I know good vs bad sidemount techniques?
Allow me to illustrate. Obviously, the faces of these subjects will be blurred to protect both the innocent and the guilty.
Let’s start with the bad…
Notice in all of these pictures, the tanks are completely out of whack… Even though the trim on the first 2 photos is ok, the tank position is just horrible! This happens because as Aluminum tanks empty, they tend to become more buoyant so tanks need to be repositioned to prevent looking like this. Also, in some, you will notice horrible hose routing due to improper regulators, and improper hose lengths.
Now let’s look at some good examples of proper sidemounting techniques.
If you notice on all 3 of these pictures, tanks are in-line with the body, hoses are properly routed, valves are pointing inwards and first stages are protected by the diver’s body. This creates a neat, streamlined configuration. Mind you, all 3 of the photo subjects are experienced cave and sidemount instructors.
So what is the best sidemount rig for me?
There are many sidemount harnesses and wings. Some are manufactured by very large equipment manufacturers, and some divers choose to make their own rigs. Some of the most notable commercially available systems are the Razor Harness, the Ultimate SM Harness, the XDeep (in its Classic, Rec and Tec variants), Apeks WTX-25, Hollis SMS50 and the UTD Z-System. These are all sidemount specific rigs that are proven and tested.
Then we have several other rigs that are not sidemount specific such as the Hollis SMS (75 &100 variants), DiveRite Nomad (several variants) amongst others. .
There are several differences between these systems. For starters, most SM specific rigs use harnesses that are custom sized and wings that provide lift only in places where lift needs to be provided. They have no extra rings, clips, or unneeded accessories (there are exceptions though), whereas multi-use rigs can be used for sm, single tank backmount or double tank backmount. They have massive wings, loads of extra stuff that is really not needed in most sidemount diving scenarios. They can also be quite cumbersome and large. Especially if you are diving with Aluminum tanks (as is the case with most tropical diving destinations). Not to say that they don’t have a purpose and a use with steel tanks for example (but even that can be done with SM specific rigs like the Razor and Xdeep Tech).
I don’t personally endorse any one brand. But I can tell you what I use (Razor SM system with Apeks DS4 regulators, and I have an Ultimate SM harness with a DECO 20lb bladder, as well as Razor harness with a UTD Z-Harness). So it is very important that when you choose an instructor for your Sidemount Diver Course, you choose one with experience with different systems. Not just one, and that they don’t just advocate one particular training system and brand of equipment.
It doesn’t matter if you are going to progress into techinical diving or you wish to stay completely recreational after your sidemount training. Getting proper training is the best way to ensure that you will be a well rounded sidemount diver!
This is a question we are often asked. We recommend that people who have not been diving in more than one year do a refresher course. Of course, this all depends on the experience of the diver. Someone who has been diving for several years, and has hundreds or thousands of dives, but has a lapse of a year in diving wouldn’t necessarily need to do a refresher (unless they wanted to). However, someone with just a few dives, and more than a year of not diving, might benefit from it.
In fact, we recently had a gentleman who came to the shop and wanted to go to the cenotes for some cavern diving. He said he was certified open water diver since the mid 1980’s, when we asked him when his last set of dives had been, he dropped a bomb on us… For someone who has not been diving in over 20 years, a simple refresher course would not do the trick. Unfortunately, certification cards do not require you to do a certain number of dives per year. Once you are certified, it is good for life. However, we said to this gentleman that we could not take him out to the cenotes without doing a thorough refresher course and evaluation (and a couple of shallow open water dives in our local Playa del Carmen reefs), and that in fact, after a 22 year absence from scuba diving, we would recommend redoing the entire open water diver course.
He was quite offended, said that XYZ shop had told him they would take him, and that in fact their price was WAY cheaper than ours, and stormed out of the shop. The following day, we were leading a group in one of the cenotes and we came across this gentleman with a group from XYZ shop. After seeing him in the water, we were all quite relieved that he was not diving with us (especially after witnessing his panic attack within the first 3 minutes of the dive because of his absolute lack of understanding of buoyancy control or equipment function). After speaking with the guide for XYZ shop, he said that he was aware that this person had not been diving in several years, but did not know how many as the owner of the shop had not given him any more information other than “he hasn’t been diving in a few years, so watch him”.
On the other hand, we have had people who insist in doing a refresher course even though they may not necessarily need to do it, but they just want to get comfortable in the controlled conditions of the pool prior to going to the open water. We always welcome that, and we are grateful for people who are proactive and take a hands on approach to their safety when scuba diving.
So this wasn’t meant to sound like we were preaching or like we were trying to put ourselves above everybody else. It is just a reminder that just like everything else in life, skills are forgotten when we don’t use them in a while. Scuba diving is not like riding a bicycle. The consequences of a poorly executed dive can be disastrous. So much has changed over the last 20 years in terms of equipment and knowledge of decompression theory…
Even if a refresher “course” is not needed for you, we always recommend starting out shallow and easy on your first couple of dives after an extended dry period. There is always time to do something a little more challenging.
For more information on our courses or dive trips click the links below:
When you plan a tropical vacation and you decide to come to Playa del Carmen, you have many options for your choice of dive centers that offer training and scuba diving certification courses through a variety of training agencies (PADI, IANTD, TDI-SDI, SSI). Some offer fantastic training, some unfortunately do not. We are not going to name names, and we are not here to say who is good or who is bad (but we are great though!). It is important that when you choose to train with which ever dive center, you ask about the instructor who will be conducting your training. How long has he/she been an instructor? How many dives has he/she done? Are they all tropical dives, or has he/she been diving in other locations? Why is this all important? Well, perhaps you are from Canada. Maybe you are interested in at some point diving locally. Well, conditions will be quite different there. While you will certainly need some different equipment to dive there (thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit for example), if your instructor knows what conditions are like for cold water diving he/she can talk to you about it instead of saying “oh that’s way too cold for me! I would never dive there!”
Also, it is important that your instructor focuses not just on running through the skills required for the course. That’s easy. Every day we come across instructors who overweigh their students, kneel them on the bottom, do the skills for the dive and then a short tour of the reef never teaching the student how to actually dive. The most important part of scuba diving is buoyancy control and trim.
When a diver is overweighed, he/she must fight the drag created by the extra weight which is going to make him/her excessively negatively buoyant. When a diver is underweighed he/she has to struggle to not float up to the surface. Neither one of these scenarios is good. Being overweighed ads an additional danger to the reef ecosystem. Since you are excessively heavy and sinking too much, then when you kick, you can damage the reef, injure the organisms that live in the reef (and in the seemingly lifeless sand) as well as yourself.
The little that is taught about neutral buoyancy is taught in the form of two skills that really don’t teach much about it. We are not going to go into depth about them, but it is important that you learn how to hover properly and horizontally (see image above) and not vertically. When we dive, we want to be always be in proper horizontal trim.
We never kneel our students nor do we overweigh them. We try to always do all of the skills while maintaining proper trim and neutral buoyancy. After all, if/when you have to do any of those skills in real life, it won’t be when you’re kneeling on the bottom. Corners should never be cut where scuba diving in concerned.
I don’t expect my open water diver students to be perfect like I do with my cave diving students. After all, my open water diver students are beginners who are just learning the basics, but we don’t want to bring in bad habits from the start. That is why at Beyond Diving we focus on proper diver education. We want our student divers to be real scuba divers. To be safe divers. Because when you learn how to do something right from the start, you enjoy it more. And when you learn how to dive properly from the start, your dives last longer, your dives are much more fun, they are safer (because you are doing things properly) and you will want to continue to dive because it is fun. After all, we want to you love diving as much as we do.
So if you are interested in properly learning how to dive, or if you are already a certified diver, but you maybe want to correct some bad habits, and become a better diver during your next visit to Playa del Carmen, get in touch with us!
That’s right folks! You read it right! Beyond Diving is now a TDI (Technical Diving International) 5-star instructor training facility. That doesn’t mean that we will no longer offer some of the best training available through SDI and PADI for recreational diving, it means that now we can offer professional level training for TDI and SDI. TDI offers one of the best and most demanding cave diving programs in the world. We have 3 cave diving instructors as part of our staff (one of them an instructor trainer). So if you are looking for the best cave diver education in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya, contact Beyond Diving and we will discuss with you all the possibilities!