This is PADI instruction, which seems to be the most widely accepted dive instruction organization. For two weeks, I'll be studying about an hour a day to prepare for the classwork and pool dives. I've got my books, worksheets and a DVD. The dive shop has their own pool for the confined water dives.
The confined water dives are where the training begins, and the open water dives will complete this initial educational course. Refresher classes as well as options to do even more interesting dives are available, but I'm getting way ahead of myself. Learning the basics, getting comfortable with the equipment, and understanding gestures by dive masters are all part of the certification process. And did I mention the quizzes? There are about five of those to make sure what has been covered is sinking in.
During the learning process, I thought I'd post up some notes that may help others in their quest to become better divers. I'm a newbie myself, but as always I try to share what I've learned:
Cleaning a brand new face mask: I was told to remove the "newness" of the glass by cleaning it with water, some dish soap, and some white toothpaste (not the gel version). Rub it around on both sides, and let it sit on the glass for about an hour. Rinse it all away, and now it is ready for anti-fogging treatment.
Listening to advice: When walking into the ocean during a shore dive, affix what you can to your person to avoid losses. The flippers I purchased could be tied together with a strap and affixed to a weight belt or tethered to the B.C., or I can slide the heel section of the flippers over each arm to my elbows to keep my hands free. When walking into the ocean, as well as trying to climb up a ladder into the boat, you'll want your hands free for obvious reasons. Especially if you suddenly find yourself falling forward and need to catch yourself. Affix your face mask to the B.C.'s strap in the event that a wave knocks you off balance, to avoid having it wash away. Listen to the people taking you to your destination, because while they've given their advice a thousand times, by paying attention your experience should be one to remember, rather than grumblings about avoidable mistakes.
Reducing tension to regulator: If you find that the airline hose running to your mouthpiece is restricting movement, reach behind yourself to turn the tank & valve slightly. The minor adjustment will correct the way the mouthpiece tugs at your mouth.
Fin choice: When shopping for fins, there are plenty of choices that range in style, quality, color and price. I chose a bright color so I could find them easily when diving with others. Many people opt to get black or blue fins, so bright yellow was as opposite as I could imagine when sharing space on a dive boat. Many divers recommended the split fin to me, while one dive shop tried to talk me out of it. Time and experience will dictate which decision was best; for now I'm trusting my friends' advice.
Study time: Prepping for certification classes, I picked up all my educational items and will be studying for about two weeks before actually attending the first class. Allocating one to two hours daily seems to be best, which will permit one to take in a specific amount of knowledge and retain it. The workbooks have practice tests, and the DVD will answer many questions.
Gloves and wet suits: I've heard you can't wear gloves, or that you don't need a wet suit, but I've also heard how they can be useful under the right conditions. We each have our own tolerances, so listening to others may help you decide what's really best for each dive. If you are told you can't wear gloves, this is more than likely to assure you won't handle anything during the dive. Grabbing corals can do damage, and doing so with bare hands can hurt. At the same time, if the current is pushing you toward the rocks and corals, you may need to protect yourself and push off your environment. If you are told no gloves, it may be smart to tuck those into your B.C. for the time being, and upon descent decide if you can forego them. Wet suits can help insulate your body from the cooler water, especially after diving for 30+ minutes. One diver told me that he would often dive without, but would get scratched up by corals in the process, so he prefers to suit up.
Temperature: You might ask what the water temperature is during the training sessions. For my pool sessions, the dive shop had their saltwater pool heated to 85 degrees. That was a nice perk, considering the time of year and how many hours I had to be immersed as I practiced the new skills I'd been taught.
Watch your footing: The gear is heavy when you are out of the water. Try to think ahead with every step and keep yourself centered as you'll be extremely top heavy. Once you start to topple over, unless your buddy or dive master is close enough to get you back on both feet, you'll hit the ground hard.
Allow plenty of time to study: The PADI book was about 250 pages long, and yet it took many hours to not only learn the information but answer the mini quizzes and the chapter tests, as well as memorize various phrases and acronyms. If you want to study for an hour a day, plan on doing so for two weeks before attending your first class. If you have DVDs to watch, another couple of hours will be needed. If the dive computer book is part of your education, at least two more hours of study, quizzes and tests must be completed before class. The more you study in advance, the better you'll comprehend the tutorials, and you'll be more likely to notice when things are wrong. I spotted a bad O-ring in my tank the second day, which others may not have worried about... until it mattered when they were in the water.
Busy schedules: Ask the dive shop if they offer one-on-one private lessons. They will cost more, but will be tailored to match your needs. The goal of the shop is to help anyone learn SCUBA, and they are often quite willing to be flexible.
Balance is key: To dive and stay level in your gear, the weights need to be equal on both sides of your body, and equally distributed as well. If you have more on one side than the other, you will list in the water to the heavier side. Even when everything is affixed with mirrored numbers, you may need to shift (hard) in your gear to get yourself dead center within the equipment to float evenly and avoid rolling over to your left or your right. This also includes the air bladders in the BCD. If air moves to one side of your body instead of being equally dispersed throughout the vest jacket, it may be difficult to focus on your skills because of being off center. Think about how to keep everything matched, as this will allow you to enjoy what is going on.
After each section: After toweling off, you'll want to switch to your street clothes. Having a hair brush and stick deodorant in your bag would be best before heading back into the classroom or elsewhere. You may even want to bring extra clothing with you in case your planned attire somehow ends up wet. The changing room was soaking wet, but I threw down some towels to soak that up so my socks would remain dry while getting dressed.
Dry mouth: The dry air from the air tank will really dry out your throat. Bring drinking water in a plastic bottle and keep it within reach during your classes. The air is very dry on purpose, as this avoids rust within the air tanks. It's hard to swallow when your throat is dry, and for some reason you never really feel the need to swallow which was surprising. I was told some of this is in your head, so when I encountered it the next day, I tried to think past it, to make it less important, and also endeavored to milk my mouth of any moisture to get a small swallow during one dive session. I was also told the higher end regulators sweat internally when diving providing a little moisture with each breath, although I've not experienced this yet since I was using what the shop provided.
Avoid germs: You don't want to be sick when doing your classes as well as during planned dives. Congestion will hurt your ability to equalize and during ascension from depth make it hard to release air. Either way, being ill will cause pain. Allergies are another problem, and medication isn't a fix. Avoid those around you that are coughing or sick; don't be shy about asking what they have and if necessary keep your distance. Get plenty of rest, eat and stay healthy prior to your next dive.
Fogged up mask: If your mask fogs up during a dive, perhaps after it has flooded and been cleared, you can try to wait it out for the glass to warm up internally enough to dissipate the condensation. Another option is to let a little water accumulate in the mask, and tilt your face forward so the water is on the lenses. Move your head around to swish the water around the lens, rinsing it basically, then clear the water out.
Fins don't float: If your fin comes loose, I'd recommend you keep it in sight and capture it quickly. Yesterday's dive, a fellow diver lost her fin during a rescue certification procedure, and it wasn't recovered. The water's visibility was very poor.
Weights: Most of the PADI course emphasizes dropping your weights if you need to surface quickly, but none of it discusses how the weights are later retrieved. It turns out that ditched weights are considered acceptable losses, as you can live to breathe another day. The BCDs have built in weight pockets that snap into place, and each pocket holds the weights themselves. If you need to remove and drop your weights in an emergency, you'd actually have to drop the weight pockets (with weights) and each replacement is around $135. Another option that might be worth researching are BCDs that have zippered compartments that hold weighted bean bags (like the Tic Tac Toe tossing game you played as a kid). These are full of buckshot, and such are sold between $2 to $4 per pound. In an emergency, you simply pull the zippers upwards and the bags fall out. If you dropped two 4 lb weight pouches, you're only out $16 to $32 instead of the cost of two replacement weight pockets and the lost weights themselves.
More to come as my immersion continues...