Scuba diving is a fun hobby that provides a built in path for continuing education. The PADI progression goes from discovery dives, to Open Water Certification, Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver, Master Diver and then on to instructor certifications.
I got my Open Water Certification in August 2005 and in addition to some classroom and pool work, 4 certification drives are required to demonstrate the skills that were taught. This basic package allows you to rent dive equipment and shows shops that you have the basics. On recent trips, the dive shop also asked for medical forms to be filled out as well as the date and location of your last dive. As some of us are landlocked, infrequent dive experience is a concern.
I took a refresher course in December 2011 which went through all of the basic skills in one night at the pool. This was extremely helpful and at the time an affordable $99 way to jump start my diving again.
Advanced Open Water consists of 5 Adventure Dives. Deep and Underwater Navigation are required. The other 3 can be chosen from a long list to suit your interest and include Wreck, Drysuit, etc.
A parallel track is Rescue Diver.
Finally for non-professionals, Master Diver is the highest certification. Pre-requisites include Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, additional specialty dives and 50 actual dives. Including my certification dives, I am at 24 dives to date.
I am in the midst of my first specialty course and I chose Peak Performance Buoyancy. We talked about the basic guideline for how much lead you need to offset buoyancy due to your person, wetsuit, gear, etc. We talked about adjustments for sea water versus fresh water, an empty versus full tank, and also depth
In the pool, I donned my 3mm wetsuit and the rest of my gear with my typical 10# of weight. My instructor (John) dropped this to 8#, 6# and 4# and I swam around and then tried to control my buoyancy. I would still descend with only 4# of lead, but with a tank at 500psi rather than 3000psi, that would be unlikely. A full tank is the equivalent of 5# of lead.
Setting the sweet spot at 8#, we started to play with position of the weight for streamlining. In modern Buoyancy Control Devices (BCD) weight pouches are typically integrated around the waist rather than having a separate weight belt. Some BCD have weight pockets up high. Some divers distribute weight with ankle weights. When I swim underwater, I tend to have my feet high so 2# on each ankle actually streamlined me quite well. When I kept 4# high on my BCD, I was less streamlined and in an exaggerated feet high position. The sweet spot for me is 10# around my waist.
One might ask what was the point of spending $75 for a class to tell you what you were doing is fine? I actually did learn quite a bit and know what proper buoyancy should feel like. Also, I am more prepared to adjust for different gear and conditions. I also got tidbits of knowledge on things to watch out for. Older wetsuits that have spent a lot of time at depth will have less buoyancy. As my tank empties, I need to reduce the air in my BCD. Visualizing a relaxed, streamline dive can make it happen.
My certification dives are tomorrow and I will be one step closer to having an Advanced Open Water rating. I would like to do the other 4 dives at resorts if possible with a referral from Coral Key Scuba.