By erik

Difference Between Scuba Diving BCDs

I am often asked by students and other divers why I choose to use a backplate and wing rather than a jacket or even a back inflate BCD.  So I figured I would address the differences by writing a blog post.

 

As you may or may not know, the BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) is an integral part of your scuba diving equipment. Not only does it hold your tank firmly on your back while you dive, but it helps you control your buoyancy by adding small bursts of air into it when you are at depths and releasing the air as you become more buoyant (changes in depth, buoyancy characteristics of the tank, etc), and it helps you float on the surface (all things covered during an open water scuba diver course).

If you’re looking at purchasing your first BCD, all the different kinds might be a bit overwhelming.   There are jacket style, back inflate, back plate/wing setups. Enough to make you just pick the first thing the salesperson tells you is the latest and the greatest.  Well, hopefully with this blog post, you will understand a bit more about the different kinds.

Let’s begin.

 

Jacket Style BCDs

Jacket style BCDs are the most commonly found type of BCD in dive center rental stocks.  They are somewhat big and bulky, but when the diver adds air to them, since the bladder basically wraps around the diver, there will be air in the front, sides and back. This makes it extremely comfortable for a lot of people, and it is very comfortable when floating on the surface.  Also, since the air is basically all around the diver, it is quite easy to deflate these types of BCDs, Plus the generally have big pockets to put an extra mask, slates, or other stuff that might come in handy (remember, never take anything while diving – except for trash).

However, as they are usually bulkier, they tend to create more drag, and since they have more padding, they require more weight to sink due to their inherent buoyancy.  Also, if it is isn’t fitted properly, these types of BCD will alter a diver’s body position underwater, putting them in a slightly feet down, head up position (due to the air traveling to the highest point), which can sometimes make it more difficult to achieve that perfect trim that divers want.

So make sure that if you are using a jacket style BCD, it is fitted properly (not too big and not too small!).

jacket bcd

Back Inflate BCDs

On a back inflation BCD, the bladder is only behind the diver, there is nothing wrapping around the diver.   These type of BCDs are inspired on the back plate and wing setups, but they’ve been made more “user friendly” if you will.  So as I said, the air bladder is behind the diver, then you have your shoulder straps coming out from it, on the waist you have a cummerbund which may or may not have integrated weight pockets, and utility pockets.

The benefits of these type of BDCs is that since the air bladder doesn’t wrap around the diver, there isn’t that feeling of being squeezed like there may be on jacked style BCDs.  Also, they are generally more streamlined, which allows the diver easier movement in the water.  Usually, back inflate BCDs have trim weight pockets which allow the diver to put some of the weight (non-ditchable) behind them, and that will in many (not all) cases help the diver obtain a better, horizontal trim.

Some folks claim that back inflate BCDs will throw you on your face on the surface when inflated.  While that may be true to some extent, it only really happens if you over-inflate your BCD. The reason for this is that all of the air is on your back rather than around you like in a jacket BCD. However, if only enough air is put into it to keep you on the surface comfortably, then no issue should be had.  Since these are still fully recreational BCDs, you should expect lots of padding, which makes the inherent buoyancy on them while not as radical as on a jacket style BCD, still  pretty noticeable.

 

Back Plate and Wing Setups

 

For years people thought of these setups as “tech only” setups.  And while yes, any technical dive who is diving in backmount will be diving one of these setups (although with a larger wing), for many years we have been using them for recreational diving as well.

These setups are minimalist by design.  My personal favorite is the Hogarthian design.  Without getting too deep into the details, it is a design by Bill Hogarth Maine, who in the 1980’s came up with a minimalist approach to cave diving.  Wait!?! Cave diving, you say?   Remember what I said before…   For many years this setup has been adapted into recreational, single tank diving as well.

Anyways, this setup is made up of a stainless steel or aluminum back plate, the harness is a single piece of 2″ nylon webbing (same as the weight belts) that is woven through the back plate, 1 d-ring on each shoulder, and 1 d-ring on the left waist band, a crotch strap, a back mounted air bladder (wing  – 20 to 30 lbs lift max) and that’s it.  No pockets (though utility pockets can be added), no padding, nothing else.

Ok, so what’s so great about this? It sounds horrible!  Well, it is actually super comfortable.  Plus, the fact that this type of setup is completely negatively buoyant, means that you need to carry around less weight on a weight belt.  You can add weight pockets to these setups, but me personally, I don’t need any weight in salt water with my setup, so it is perfect. Since all the weight is on your back  (a steel plate weighs around 6lbs, and an aluminum 4lbs), and the air bladder is also on your back, it helps you maintain that perfectly horizontal trim (obviously, it is not a magic bullet. Practice is required!).  There are some other harnesses that are adjustable and have some padding, but I personally like the minimalist style.  Also, if/when the harness wears out,  I just buy a length of webbing (super cheap), and make a new harness.

The cons of this type of setup is that to set it up, it does require some some assembly since they are modular systems, and may require some help to set up properly.  But once you’ve done it once, if you ever need to do it again, you can probably do it yourself with just the help of a mirror.  Also, some people may not like that there are no pockets on these systems. Me personally, I have a leg mounted utility pocket that works wonderfully to carry my extra mask, slates and other safety items I carry.

 

I hope I was able to clear up some of the differences between the most common types of BCDs out there.  Remember, you should always seek proper training prior to attempting to use any scuba diving equipment, and if you buy used equipment, have the gear inspected and serviced by an experienced, certified and qualified service person prior to using it. After that, schedule some time in the pool to test it out and get used to it. Never try out brand new gear on your diving vacation. That is a recipe for disaster, and we will cover that in another blog.

Swimthrough at Moc Che Shallow in Playa del Carmen
By erik

Scuba Discovery/Discover Scuba Diving… What is it?

What is the “Scuba Discovery” class?  Well, let’s say you’re on vacation.  You’ve always wanted to go scuba diving, but you’re not sure it’s something you want to invest the time or the money for a full certification course.  You want to “try before you buy”.  So you sign up for the Scuba Discovery  (also known as Discover Scuba Diving, Try Scuba Diving, Tandem Diving, etc.) class.

During this program, you get a taste of what diving is like.  You should always have a theory session, during which your instructor will go over the basics of the SCUBA equipment, important rules of diving, what to do, what not to do, communication and signals, as well as a briefing on what skills you will be working on when you go into the pool.

Then you go into the pool.  Different instructors have different ways of teaching, but there are standards that every instructor must follow in terms of what skills are to be taught.  Personally, I like to make sure my students are comfortable with breathing underwater before we even start with any of the skills.  We repeat the skills over and over again until both the students and I are confident that the skill has not only been mastered, but will be remembered and applied should the need arise.

We then practice swimming underwater with the equipment, maintaining neutral buoyancy and learning how to do proper kicks and maintain a proper body position in the water (trim).

 

Then we move on to the pièce de résistance. The open water dives!  In our case, we always offer 2 dives with our Scuba Discovery program.  Why 2 dives? Well, simple..  On the 1st dive, a lot of people tend to be very apprehensive, nervous,  don’t really know what to expect,  and so once that dive is done, you know what to expect, you can relax more on the the 2nd dive, and enjoy it a whole lot more (not to say that the 1st dive is not enjoyable… it is. Very much so).  You’ll get to experience and discover a whole new world. One that you only had seen in movies and TV is now not only directly in front of you, but you are a part of it.  You are weightless, breathing beneath the sea, swimming with the fish, eels, and all the other critters that live in, on and around the coral reefs.  Do me a favor. Close your eyes, and try to picture yourself there… Pretty cool, right?

 

 

Everything is done under the direct supervision of one of our highly qualified, extremely experienced instructors.

 

Now you’ve tried it, you’ve loved it, and you want to keep doing it. Well, if you have time, you can sign up and complete your Open Water Scuba Diver Certification Course with us, or, when you go home, you can sign up with your local dive center and do it with them. Then, when you come back to Playa del Carmen (or anywhere else) on your next vacation,  you are ready to go diving!

 

 

So there you have it! If you’ve never been diving before and want to try it, get in touch with us before your next vacation in Playa del Carmen and set up you Scuba Discovery adventure, and get ready for the first day of the rest of your life!

cave diving warning sign
By erik

How to Choose a Cave or Technical Diving Instructor

Cave and technical diving are quite different from recreational diving, and as such, so are the instructors that teach these highly advanced scuba diving courses.

There are several things you should always consider before you choose your instructor, and this guide will hopefully help you choose wisely.

  • Is your instructor an active diver?

    • This is probably a bit of an odd question. If he/she is an instructor, obviously they are active divers, I mean, they are diving all the time, right?  Well, not really. A lot of instructors pretty much only dive when/while they are in course.  You could say that they’ve lost the passion for it.  Maybe they are churning out one course after another, and the last thing in their mind is to go diving on their day off. SO be sure that you ask about their actual experience diving.  Are they involved in any exploration projects? Conservation efforts?  What kind of dives or which sites really get their engines going?  If they won’t answer or you get an answer that is too vague or ambiguous well, I suggest you turn away.
  •  How many courses do they do every year?

    • Ideally, you want an instructor that is actively teaching courses at the level you want to train in. With TDI, all instructors are required to actively teach at their highest level on a regular basis, otherwise, we lose that level.  Again, an instructor who is teaching [for example] 3 full cave courses per month might have a lot of experience teaching, however, there is no time in there for him/her to conducts dives of their own and actually go out and expand their skills, explore, and have fun.
  •  What is their failure rate?

    • Nobody wants to fail a course, and I assure you no instructor likes failing a student, but it does happen, and it should happen. Technical and cave diving are both highly demanding activities that require a lot -both physically and mentally-, and as such, not everybody is built for them.  An instructor that has a really high failure rate is most likely doing a few things wrong him/herself.  A very high failure rate either means that this instructor is not properly screening their students, or is not adequately teaching them, and expects them to be perfect with minimum effort on his/her part. On the other hand, a 100% passing rate means that the instructor is probably just handing out cards.  We are educators, not magicians or miracle workers.  And like I said before, not everybody is meant for this type of diving.
    • Me personally, I have a failure rate of around 5-10%.  However, keep in mind that even though someone might fail a course, it doesn’t mean I wash my hands of them.  No. I will try to do everything I can to make sure the student is able to get over whatever is keeping him/her from passing.  However, there is an issue with attitude.  If you don’t have the right attitude for cave or technical diving, even if you have the highest developed skills ever known in the diving world, you will not pass until you get your ego and/or attitude in check.
  •  How long have they been diving at this level?

    • Here you should ask how long they have been diving. Not how long they have been teaching.  Let me expand.
    • A lot of instructors become instructors with very little actual diving experience. I am talking maybe a year or 2 after certification and a mere 100 logged dives.  This is a trend (commonly known as “zero to hero”) that is unfortunately even invading the technical and cave diving world.   We’ve seen instructors who have been diving at a full cave level for less than 2 years, and somehow managed to become cave instructors at some level (be it cavern, intro or even full cave!).  Regardless of how many dives one can log in a 1 or 2 year period, it is my opinion that they still lack actual real-world experience.  They’ve never had what I like to refer to as an “Oh, Sh-t!” moment.  So how can they teach you if they themselves just passed the same course you are planning on taking such a short time ago?
    • I think that an individual should have no less than 5 years of experience and several hundreds (if not more) of dives at the level they are planning on teaching before even considering the possibility of becoming an instructor.  Otherwise, it just seems like they are trying to enlarge their ego, and are jumping from one certification to the next.  Again, this is my opinion, and yours could differ, but I do believe you deserve better than to get “trained” by someone who doesn’t have enough experience yet.
  • Is the price too cheap?

    • Technical and cave diving are expensive activities.  All the equipment you need to do the dives you will train for will come with a price tag in the thousands (if not tens of thousands).  While the majority of instructors love what we do for a living, we still have bills to pay, mortgages/rents, taxes, food, equipment repairs, etc., so a good course comes at a price.
    • When a course is really cheap (and for technical and cave diving, anything less than $200-$250/day is really cheap), you have to ask yourself where those savings are coming from? Are corners being cut? Are you getting maybe just some really short dives just to meet standards so that the day ends early and the instructor can be home early and kick back? Are they properly servicing the equipment they are using or the equipment you are renting?
    • A good instructor values their time, training and experience, and obviously, that is reflected in the price of a course.
  • Do you “click” with your instructor?

    • Interview your instructor. After all, when you first make contact, your instructor is also interviewing you.
    • Every instructor has a different style, some are really laid back, some are tougher, with a no-nonsense approach to things, and some have a bit of a combination of both styles.  Most instructors are able to switch styles depending on the needs and personality of the students.  Some students require a bit more laid back approach to things, while some others need a bit of tough love.  Regardless of teaching style, we all, at some point have to get tough to get a point across.  This does not mean that we are trying to be jerks, quite the opposite. We have to get tough because when you are on your own, planning and conducting your dives with your cave or tech diving buddies, the environment you will be diving in will be a lot less forgiving of mistakes.
PADI Vs SDI
By erik

SDI or PADI? Things to consider

What is the difference between SDI and PADI?

Entry level students often ask us the difference between SDI and PADI. Today, I would like to address that question and the reason we choose to do the vast majority of our recreational diving courses through Scuba Diving International.

I have heard the phrase ‘I want to get my padi’ or ‘I did my padi with X or Y dive shop,’ so many times that if I got a nickle each time I hear it, I’d be able to take my wife out for a fancy dinner at least once a week!

Today, I want to clear the air, and get rid of any misconceptions or misunderstandings about scuba diving agencies.

Keep in mind that Beyond Diving does offer training courses through both PADI and SDI at our Playa del Carmen dive center.  You are probably wondering how that can be, so let’s begin.

Let’s talk about the WRSTC  –

The WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) are the nice folks who set the bar for all scuba diving training agencies.  They tell every agency (who in turn tells all of their professional members) what the minimum requirements are for each course taught. Therefore, most training standards are pretty much universal. The core curriculum of the courses is basically the same across the board.

Now you’re probably wondering…

‘Who to choose?’

‘Which is the safest?’

‘Can they be safe or good if I’ve never before heard of them?’

Let’s really drill this down. What really effects market share in our mass consumer world?

VISIBILITY

Perhaps you have a friend who has completed their PADI Open Water Diver training and another who completed theirs with SDI. Both loved it and are looking to dive again. They have invited you along on a dive trip to Playa del Carmen with them, yet you are not a certified diver.

You did your research. You checked Tripadvisor and Scubaboard, and narrowed it down to a few dive centers in Playa del Carmen.  You can’t wait to complete your open water course in Playa del Carmen, but you are totally confused…you ask yourself:

‘Can we all dive together if we were certified through different agencies, and who should I choose – PADI or SDI?’

I’d like to explain the reasons why at Beyond Diving we prefer to teach SDI courses.

 

The team at PADI do a really great job at promoting their brand. Those PADI posters you’ve seen, that dive show you attended, those magazine spreads you’ve read. These all stick in your head, and have turned the name “PADI” essentially into a generic for “scuba diving certification”.

SDI on the other hand, have a much smaller marketing budget. A budget that they gain from smaller dive agency fee’s, smaller certification cost fee’s and smaller staff budgets (I guess they don’t have a big fancy marketing team working from a new shiny office). Yet, they still do a fantastic job creating a buzz about the agency, keeping in touch with the instructors and dive centers affiliated to the agency, and most importantly, making themselves available to all members. Not to mention every person who works at TDI-SDI Headquarters is an active diver, dive instructor and/or instructor trainer for different levels of recreational and technical diving.

So just because you are aware of one more so than the other, is it fair to say that they offer a different service? A service that is less safe, that has less quality? Less educational value?

OF COURSE NOT!

We prefer to teach SDI because of these reasons:

Student Focused Learning:

SDI Instructors can modify their teaching methods to suit the students pace of learning but PADI run their courses in a strict set order. To give you an example, think of it as McDonald’s and your favorite local eatery. You go to any McD’s in the world, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get with very little room for modifications (if any), but if you go to your favourite restaurant, you can get your food made according to your needs and wants.

Order is good, isn’t it? Or why should this matter to me?

Imagine you are taking a PADI course, and you have problems with Skill A. Well, according to PADI standards, Skill B cannot be started until Skill A has been mastered.  If you continue to struggle with said skill, then the course starts to loose its fun factor, you stop enjoying it, your confidence goes down, and that sucks.

With SDI’s proven methods, your instructor can move on and come back to that particular struggle area at a later time, making you feel more comfortable, less stressed – ultimately more safe and in control in the water at any given time, which greatly increases the level of fun and enjoyment.

In Playa del Carmen, currents can sometimes reverse, pick up or die down, so it is important for us to be able to be flexible when conducting our training dives.

SDI started from technical diving:

SDI is the sister agency of TDI (Technical Diving International). This means that it was created following the strict protocols and procedures needed for conducting advanced technical dives. While we don’t expect you to become a technical diver right away, we will train you with the hopes that some day you will and a solid foundation.

Instant Certification E-Card:

With SDI, besides you getting a physical card in the mail, you will be able to download your electronic card free of charge. This means that although the card might take a few weeks to get to you, you will have the card in your phone ready to go. Also, in the event of you losing your card, you do not have to worry. You have it in your phone. You can dive anywhere in the world, even if the next dive center you choose is only offering PADI courses. PADI actually charges you over US$20 for an electronic version of your card.

The benefits of chosing PADI over SDI?

Well, that one is really up to you.

Let’s go over the similarities once again…

Both are governed by the WRSTC – so PADI & SDI have quality of training and safety – check!

Both offer the same format – videos, theory, knowledge reviews, confined water training, open water training, exam – check!

Both have been around for over 20 years – professional and have longevity – Oops I missed that, well, here you have it!

DID YOU KNOW?

You can even move between certification agencies, do your Open Water with SDI and then switch to PADI for your Advanced course, all the way up to professional Instructor level. Keep in mind that through SDI, to earn the level of “Advanced Diver” you must have 25 dives and 4 specialty ratings (only 1 of them can be a specialty that doesn’t require dives – such as Equipment Specialist). With this, you can actually call yourself an “Advanced Diver”, whereas with PADI, the Advanced Open Water Diver rating is achieved after completing 5 dives (deep and navigation are compulsory) in the course. In SDI, we call that “Advanced Adventure Diver”.

SDI Scuba Diving Courses

Conclusion:

Which is better PADI or SDI?

Well, honestly when it boils down to it, it’s your decision. There’s no difference in training quality, world wide recognition or experience level.

We always recommend  that you make your choice based on the instructor rather than the agency. Pick the dive center you feel most comfortable with, the one who you have connected most with. The one that is the most informative, the one that doesn’t ‘bash’ the competition based on a negative, mostly uninformed, fictional view of  other certification agencies.

To reiterate, at Beyond Diving we can teach both PADI and SDI courses, we just prefer SDI based mainly on the flexibility allowed and in the agency’s roots in technical diving.

 

Similarities

Internationally Recognized – Dive anywhere in the world

Interchangeable – you can get certified as an Open Water Scuba Diver with SDI, then Advanced Open Water Diver with PADI. Or even better, stay and progress with SDI.

Safety – Science, Skills and Techniques are essentially the same

Insurance – if your insurance covers scuba diving, you’re covered!

Theory (AKA book learning)–

SDI: E-Learning or Manual.

PADI: E-Learning or Manual.

 

Differences

Water Flexibility and Skills –

SDI: Yes. The instructor can adapt the course to fit the pace of learning, ensuring a student focused training program. Students are taught to always maintain neutral buoyancy and horizontal trim. The courses are taught with the use of dive computers.

PADI: None. Skills performed in rigid sequence with no wiggle room for changing water conditions or student learning pace.  Neutral buoyancy and trim are generally not introduced into the course until it is well on its way. If you do change, you break standards. If you teach more than what is required in the course, you break standards.  Courses are still taught using dive tables only, adding unneeded complexity and [in my opinion] antiquated materials in the age of dive computers.

Certification Cards –

SDI:  Sent to your home (physical card), and free electronic card to keep in your mobile devices.

PADI: Sent to your home, 90 day temporary card issued, extra charge for electronic card.

e-Learning –

SDI: Yes. And if you get stuck along the way, they have a nifty “Chat with an Instructor” button which will connect you to one of the instructors at HQ to answer your questions. The transcript of the chat is then emailed to us so that we may follow up with you.

PADI: Yes. However, if you get stuck, you might have to wait hours before you get a reply from your instructor to answer the questions you may have.

 

 

Ultimately, the decision  of taking a PADI or an SDI course is yours.  If you train with Beyond Diving, you will get a course that is second-to-none. Regardless of the agency.  It is very commonly said that the instructor, rather than the agency make the difference, however, we truly believe that the right instructor coupled with the most advanced and best method of teaching can and do make a gigantic difference in your training and future enjoyment as a certified scuba diver.

scuba diving in playa del carmen
By erik

Being the only diver on a family vacation…

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.