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Scuba diving is a sport in which you swim underwater for extended periods using special equipment. The word Scuba is actually an acronym for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Scuba diving is an excellent way to see some very beautiful sites: coral diving sites with their colourful sea life are the most famous but other scuba diving attractions include shipwrecks and caverns.
Scuba diving can also be a very relaxing sport and in many places it's very beginner friendly. Many dive sites are accessible (under the care of an instructor) after a short briefing and training dive. You can learn to dive far more quickly than you can learn snow sports, for example. It's also suitable for people with a number of physical disabilities. As long as you can use the breathing equipment and are able to successfully propel yourself underwater you may be able to dive.
Diving is a major travel activity: dedicated divers plan entire dive holidays, and others may want to include dive sites in their itineraries. Major dive destinations include:
Asia's best diving is concentrated in South-East Asia:
There are a few spots elsewhere for the adventurous:
Scuba Diving in Australia is world class and the South Coast of New South Wales offers diving unmatched by any large city. Australia is undoubtedly unique. With over 35,000km's of magnificent coastline, we have superb diving in the tropical waters of the world renowned Great Barrier Reef and northern Western Australia, as well as brilliant temperate diving in the southern states. If you are a certified diver or a snorkeller, Australia has some of the best ocean life in the world.
Scuba Diving - Narooma NSW For an informed look at diving sites around Montague Island.
See also Scuba diving in Australia
 Central America and Caribbean
You need to be taught diving by an experienced and qualified instructor: aside from the complexities of assembling the equipment, diving has a number of risks that you need to understand, and safety procedures which you need to learn. There are also some basic skills that it's useful to practise under a teacher: the major one is controlling your buoyancy so that you aren't alternately sinking and floating but instead can swim along without yoyoing.
Precisely because of these safety concerns, you will need to be trained and certified in order to be insured for medical treatment you need after a dive.
 Beginner courses
As a first-time diver, you will learn to dive in open water with no decompression. The term "open water" refers to dive sites from which you can swim straight up to the surface (not caverns, for example). "No decompression" diving is diving timed so that you do not have to ascend in stages and wait long periods of time at various depths to expel excess gas from your system, meaning that in an emergency you can go slowly but directly to the surface without an undue risk of decompression sickness.
 Open water certification
Open water certification courses are complete beginner level diving courses: they assume no experience, but after passing the course you will be certified as being able to dive in open water with a similarly qualified buddy diver but without an instructor's company, at least in cases where conditions are similar to those in your course.
Open water certification is close to mandatory: many insurance companies demand either that you dive with an instructor or that you dive with open water certification in order to insure you and many dive tours will require that you are certified to at least this level.
Open water courses tend to take three or four days full-time although you can often arrange to do them part-time or in pieces over a period of time. The time is divided between: time in a classroom learning the theory of diving; time in a pool learning how to use the equipment and move around underwater; and several dives in open water under the care of your instructor. Some certification agencies now offer the classroom syllabus online, and you only need to do the pool and open water dives with an instructor. Certification tends to be progressive: you need to pass each module in order to proceed to the next. It's usually the case that you pay for the course, not the certification: paying the money does not guarantee that you will pass the course. That said, beginner courses are not very challenging and, barring medical or psychological issues, nearly all participants pass.
Some people recommend that you do the open water certification before a holiday rather than during it: you will need to be prepared to spend holiday time for time in a classroom otherwise. But many travellers do do their open water certification on holiday, either because they didn't plan to start diving until they arrived, they don't live near dive sites, or they have a particular location in mind where they want to spend their first dives. It is also usually possible to do a open water referral where you do classroom and pool training with one instructor and then do the required open water dives and finish your certification with another. This can be used to do the preparatory work at home and the dives on your holiday. You may need to do both halves of the course under the same certification agency's syllabus: check if your preferred agency is in the Universal Referral Program.
 Other beginner courses
If you only want to dive once or twice, or you want to try it before you commit to a full certification, there are often shorter courses (known as resort courses) available. They are 'taster' courses in which you receive basic training in the equipment and do an open water dive under the supervision of an instructor. They are not complete certifications and do not fully train you to plan your own dives with a buddy; you will need the close attention of an instructor at all times. If you intend to dive more than a few times in your life, a full open water certification is worth the cost.
These supervised dives and courses vary widely in quality and safety. You should check that you will be diving in a very small group (or ideally one-on-one with a certified instructor as your personal dive buddy); that you will be diving at a shallow depth (no more than 12 meters/40 feet); and that the conditions are as tranquil as the area permits: cold water and currents are more stressful to dive in than still warm water.
Some certification agencies provide a syllabus for a resort-style course that will allow you to try an open water dive with a small amount of training and an instructor close by; for example PADI's "Discover Scuba" and "Scuba Diver" courses or SSI's "Try Scuba" and "Passport Diver" courses. These courses usually include part of the material for an open water certification, so that when you complete the short course you can go on to finish the open water course without needing to do the full course from the beginning.
Some dive resorts offer their own supervised diving or resort courses. If your resort certification is only awarded by that resort and not by one of the certification agencies then you will not be able to use it at most other resorts and it is unlikely to count towards a full certification.
 Certification agencies
There are a number of agencies which certify divers. They work by training and certifying instructors in their syllabus and teaching methods, and then allowing those instructors to certify individual divers. This section lists some of the certification agencies and their recreational (rather than professional or teaching) certifications. Your choice of certification will depend on a number of factors, primarily which certification agencies have a presence in the area you learn in, and in the areas you wish to dive in.
All reputable dive shops will require certification of your skills in the form of a certification card (C-card) from a recognized agency. This does not need to be the same agency that their own instructors work with: for example, a CMAS or SSI certified diver can dive with a shop that certifies under PADI.
Recognised recreational certification agencies include:
 Advanced studies
After completing a beginner level dive course, you can do additional courses to increase your skills or to pursue particular interests.
Post-beginner skills involve learning to dive in new or more difficult conditions or learning to dive using different equipment. There are several reasons you might pursue more skills in addition to the simple challenge: increased safety knowledge or a desire to dive at particular sites that need those skills are among them. Often you will need to do a formal course in new dive skills because centers running dives using those skills will require evidence that you are properly trained. Post-beginner skills that usually require training include: diving using oxygen enriched air ("nitrox"), deeper diving (optionally including decompression), wreck diving and cave diving. A diving rescue course is worthwhile if you dive regularly, whether or not you continue as a no-compression open water diver. Most certification agencies have courses in these skills and some wrap a number of them up into various 'Advanced' certifications. Many divers proceed to more difficult conditions (cool water, diving at night) without formal courses, but they are available if you want them.
Interests are particular reasons why you dive and include: underwater photography and videography; marine life identification; and marine life preservation. Many of the dive certification agencies have guided dives or courses in these fields but you may also be able to learn them informally from self-study, practise and fellow divers.
 Get in
There are three major types of travelling to your dive site: liveaboards where you stay on the boat, day trips where you take a boat trip out to your dive site and back in the same day, and shore diving where you get in from the land.
 On a liveaboard
Many divers prefer liveaboards, where they sleep on the dive boat. This can save on accommodation costs, allow for more diving, and make it easy to get to know your fellow divers. Liveaboards range from 1 night in length to a fortnight or more. Liveaboards typically allow between 3 and 5 dives per day (depending on time and dive tables). The accommodation quality ranges from backpacker-esque, with 4-share cabins and showers shared between multiple cabins, to luxury cruise style accommodations. If you haven't opted for a luxury liveaboard, you will get your dives for about two thirds the cost of a day trip on a boat, even leaving aside any savings on accommodation.
When travelling on a liveaboard:
If you haven't spent much time on boats, you may not be aware of whether or not you get sea-sick. Some divers have an unhappy first dive trip on boats because they weren't aware that they suffer from sea-sickness. If you haven't been on a boat in open before, especially if you suffer from other kinds of motion sickness, you might be best off doing a few day trips on dive boats and experimenting with sea-sickness medication before committing to a liveaboard. That said, liveaboard trips for your first dives can be an excellent introduction, because you will usually do more than the bare minimum dives required for certification. Instead, you will get a lot of additional dive experience.
The main activity on a liveaboard is the diving: you will wake early for your first briefing and only complete the last dive at or after sunset, day after day. During the surface time you need to let nitrogen out of your body you will usually be eating or sleeping. Liveaboard trips are excellent for dedicated divers, but may not suit divers who don't want to spend their entire holiday gearing up, diving, getting their gear off, eating and sleeping.
 On a day trip
Many dive sites are accessible by a boat ride of a few minutes to a few hours from shore, so you can go out to the site on a boat, dive and return to your land-based accommodation at night. Boats which conduct day trips range from rubber dinghies equipped with an outboard motor to larger boats with indoor areas and hot showers. Longer day trips tend to entail nicer boats. Dive trips that take much of a day will usually include a catered lunch and perhaps some smaller snacks in the price. On a per-dive basis day trips are usually more expensive than liveaboards, so divers choose to day-trip when they want to only have a few dives at a particular set of sites, or when they want to alternate diving with other activities.
As with liveaboards, some people take their first boat trip unaware of the possibility of sea-sickness. If you think you're at all likely to suffer (ie if you get sick in cars or other vehicles), you should take some preventative measures an hour before leaving on the boat.
Be aware that not all day trip boats will have toilet facilities. Since it's not a good idea to dehydrate yourself before diving you may have to accept that you will have to urinate either over the side of the boat or into a bucket which you'll tip over the side and rinse. This can be a little more difficult for women to do quickly and safely. If this is unacceptable to you be sure to check on the boat's facilities in advance.
Some day trips are organised by dedicated dive resorts, which bundle day trips and land based accommodations into one price. You usually won't be compelled to stay with them in order to do their trips, but it may be cheaper. During peak times you may need to dive on most days of your stay to take advantage of the deal.
 From shore
Shore-based dives are dives where the site is close enough to the water's edge that a diver can swim out into the water and descend to the dive site. Shore diving is cheaper than boat diving: unless you're paying an instructor or guide you only need to pay for any equipment you want to hire. You will often find a dive shop or dive resort conveniently located near a good shore dive site.
Shore diving can be tiring if the site is not extremely close to the shore. Rescues may not be as fast as from a boat which will have spotters looking out for divers in distress. Be sure to check the length of the swim to your chosen site and its difficulty: shore dives are not necessarily easier than boat dives.
Some shore dive sites are either only accessible, or are much safer and easier dives, at a certain tide height. Unlike on a boat dive, where the boat operator can time the visit to correspond to the right tide if need be, shore divers need to find out about tidal sites and tide times themselves. It's also not impossible to get sea-sick on a shore dive, particularly if swimming or resting on a choppy surface. It's easier to avoid though as most people find that dropping below the surface where there is less motion helps or removes the nausea.
Different dive sites have different things to offer:
Scuba diving equipment has standardised into a number of basic pieces, together with some optional pieces for certain conditions. Most dive centers will have all the standard equipment for rental, and as with many equipment-heavy sports it can be worthwhile to use rental equipment for a while before you decide to purchase your own.
Standard equipment is:
Optional equipment includes:
Check the warranty conditions carefully, especially on expensive electronic equipment: water damage is usually not covered even on the housing warranties. Specialist dive insurance may provide insurance against loss of or damage to your equipment while diving, general travel insurance usually will not, even if it covers the medical aspects of diving.
 Rent or buy?
The three pieces of equipment every diver should buy for themselves and bring along are fins, snorkel and mask: these need to fit to your body closely to be safe and comfortable, they're fairly cheap, and they don't need that much space. Up next is an exposure suit (wetsuit or drysuit), which is also better fitted than off the shelf, but is bulkier to carry along.
But the bigger question for most divers is whether they should also make an investment in a full set of scuba gear, namely regulators, gauges and BCD. In purely financial terms, you have to dive quite a bit to save money this way, especially when you factor in yearly servicing fees. However, perhaps a bigger factor is safety: not only can you ensure that your own gear is kept properly serviced, but you will already be familiar with the controls and performance of your own gear, which makes diving easier and increases the chances of you acting correctly in an emergency.
The two items almost nobody brings along are tanks and weights, as these are extremely heavy and bulky, and practically always included in the dive price. For some destinations well and truly off the beaten track though (say, the Red Sea coast of Sudan) you may have to take along not just these, but the compressor too!
The scuba diving industry in popular diving areas is always partly staffed by travellers, mostly divers themselves funding their diving.
In order to actually be paid to dive in the recreational scuba industry, you will need to either be a certified divemaster or an instructor. Divemasters look after paying divers on the boat, handle any problems they have and tell them about the dive sites. They might also lead underwater guided tours of dive sites and assist in diving classes. Instructors run the diving classes themselves. You train as a divemaster first and then qualify for instructor training.
Divemaster and instructor certifications are awarded by the same agencies that conduct Open Water courses. To enter the certifications you will generally need to be a skilled diver and have at the barest minimum somewhere in the order of 100 dives experience. Many master instructors recommend a great deal more experience before starting. Divemaster and instructor certifications are expensive to gain and expensive to keep, as you will need to renew them and also may have to pay an insurance premium.
Other work available to travellers in the diving industry includes retail, boat operating and repairing, and cooking. If you're travelling out on dive boats you will often be expected to be able to dive, and possibly to hold diver rescue and first aid certifications, even if you're notionally the cook. For both diving and boat work, some experience in hospitality is valuable, although not always necessary.
Almost all diving work, especially in extremely popular tropical diving locations, is badly paid. In some countries, divemasters are expected to work for tips alone. You will generally make enough to cover the basic expenses of a backpacker lifestyle and will usually get some free diving (although not as much as you expect).
 Stay safe
The obvious safety concern with diving is that you must rely on your equipment to deliver you air. For this reason, scuba equipment is subject to rigorous testing according to various standards. Your part of ensuring your own safety is making sure that you are adequately trained and prepared for any dive you do.
Being familiar with symptoms of equipment failure and recovery techniques obviously improves your safety. Your training will include information about performing basic safety checks on your equipment and about other guidelines. Further training is available in specialty courses.
If you're diving regularly you will probably want to take courses in emergency diving procedures and in first aid including CPR.
 Basic safety precautions
The basic precautions you should take for safe diving are:
 Seasickness medications
Meclizine and dimenhydrinate (US brand name Dramamine) are commonly used for prevention of seasickness, but both have the dangerous side effect of making you drowsy, and the effect seems to be amplified underwater. Try them out before you dive, so you can judge your own reaction, and consider taking only half a dose. Alternatives include scopolamine patches (also known as hyoscine or "transderm scop"), which are very effective but often require a prescription; cinnarizine (Sturgeron), which is popular in Europe but poorly available elsewhere; and herbal remedies like ginger. You need to judge for yourself whether the illness is worse than the side effects: mild motion sickness may be managable, severe motion sickness can dehydrate and exhaust you.
Many dive sites are ecologically or historically sensitive areas. Dive tourism has the advantage of providing a reason to preserve many sensitive sites in order to keep the divers coming: for example, dive tourism may provide an incentive to control overfishing on divable reefs. However divers do themselves present a threat to many sites, having the potential to either directly damage them or subtly influence their characteristics. In order to help preserve dive sites:
Some dive organizations promote a diving variant of the leave no trace motto: "take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but bubbles."
 Stay healthy
 Health conditions which prevent diving
Any medical condition which affects your respiratory or cardiovascular systems, or which may render you suddenly and unexpectedly unable to respond quickly or at all, might mean you cannot dive. Common contraindications are asthma, epilepsy, diabetes and heart disease. If you have any of these, or other illnesses which might cause similar problems, consult a doctor before diving. A physician with a knowledge of dive medicine and diver needs is best, particularly if you have a condition like asthma and want an informed opinion about whether your particular case means you can't dive.
Most dive courses will require a detailed medical history from you or a doctor before you begin diving.
 Pressure related illnesses
In scuba diving, air is delivered to your lungs at the surrounding water pressure. Breathing air at high pressure can cause a number of illnesses:
All of these illnesses and their prevention will be discussed during diver training. Not all of them are fully preventable, hence you must be alert to the risk and know how to seek appropriate treatment. Always know how to contact the local emergency services and the diver emergency services (if they exist) before a dive.
 Preventing dive-related illness
In addition to observing the time, depth and ascent rate limits you will be taught in training, there are some other things you can do to lower the chances of a pressure related illness. Before a dive trip and when diving , it is wise to:
There are several scuba emergency telephone hotlines set up in different areas of the world, which can advise on your symptoms and sometimes organise rescues and treatment (however, you will still have to pay for both). Keep a note of your local hotline among your dive gear.
 Diving in high altitude lakes
While diving at high altitude lakes, the risk for decompression sickness increases. Due to a lower barometric pressure in the environment, special dive tables should be used. These allow for the pressure difference correction factors and avoid decompression sickness.
 Preventing sea sickness
A substantial number of boat divers will experience some sea sickness. You are probably more vulnerable if you experience other forms of motion sickness, eg getting sick in cars. Sea sickness, because of the many ways in which the boat can move, is usually more severe than car sickness. The upside, such as it is, is that as under the water is much calmer than the surface almost all sufferers find that their nausea vanishes within a few minutes of beginning to dive. If you are feeling ill but able to get your gear together, you should still be able to have a good dive.
Sea sickness can be prevented for many people with the use of travel sickness prevention medication from pharmacists. See above for safety issues with sea-sickness medication. If your sea sickness is mild, you may be better off using natural remedies like ginger or simply staying near the centre of the boat, avoiding unnecessary motion, and looking at the horizon. However, severe nausea is extremely uncomfortable and vomiting will dehydrate you: if you suffer sea sickness this badly, or think you are likely to, you might find that the side effects are much easier to deal with than the nausea.
If you are taking medication to prevent sea sickness, you should begin taking it well before you get on the boat so that it can be absorbed by the time the motion begins. Taking it an hour before boarding is effective; this will also give you some time to adjust to any drowsiness. Divers taking overnight trips sometimes begin taking medication the night before departure.
A boat briefing will often include instructions on what to do if you think you're likely to vomit. If these aren't given and you forget to ask, the general etiquette is to go downwind (usually the rear of the boat) so that it doesn't blow into anyone's face, and to the opposite side to the ladder, and vomit overboard. Ask someone to accompany you so that they can make sure you're safe and won't fall overboard.
 Preventing injuries
There are some injury risks that diving exposes you to. This is dependent on the site. For example, coral reef dives carry the risk of coral cuts, which can take months to heal well, and of stings and bites from venomous marine life. Educate yourself about risks in particular environments and particular sites and pay attention to dive orientations.
You can dramatically reduce the risk of injury by exercising caution and not interfering with the state of the dive site (e.g. by provoking the marine life or disturbing the bottom). Assume that everything is dangerous (poisonous, sharp, aggressive, etc.) and you'll keep yourself out of harm's way by not being tempted to touch anything.
It is very important to be insured for both general medical treatment needed for dive related illnesses and injuries, and in particular for decompression sickness treatment, which involves some hours in a recompression chamber. Recompression can be extremely expensive, around US$6000 an hour, and is specifically excluded by some insurance policies. In addition you should be insured for evacuation, as evacuation from boats by the emergency services is typically conducted from the air and is also very expensive.
There are many dive insurance policies which cover medical treatment needed after diving, including recompression. Some are associated with the certification agencies or with dive resort organisations. Typical prices are about US$500 per year for insurance for dives to less than 4 meters and US$1200 per year for coverage to any depth you have trained for. In addition dive resorts and dive tour operators will often have insurance for divers who are injured or become ill on dives they conduct.
Many general travel insurance policies cover diving if you are certified or with an instructor, but check the terms first: some also exclude scuba diving.