Preparing for Your First Dive

Congratulations on competing your academic and pool work. If you’re scheduled for open water checkouts then your instructor must be satisfied with your skills and your comfort level in the pool. The checkout dives are the final step in certification. What can you do to prepare?

First, take a deep breath. Let it out. Your instructor knows you’re capable and will keep you safe. Visualize your instructor and yourself face-to-face underwater right now. If you have a problem, who ya gonna call? Good choice.

Now maybe some review is in order. Go back through your student manual, DVD, whatever resources you used during the class. Think about entries and exits. Think about your self-aid skills (mask, regulator), buddy skills (out-of-air scenario), emergency ascent procedures. Think about what really goes on during most dives: checking in with your buddy, monitoring your gas and depth and time, knowing where you are relative to the boat or shore, and relaxing. Relaxing. Relaxing even more.

Next, let’s make sure we show up with all our gear. You might have a checklist, either one you made yourself or one provided during the course. It can help. Also helpful is to stand up and visualize (there’s that word again) yourself fully geared-up and entering the water. This will vary depending on conditions, of course. For a cold-water dive I think top-to-bottom: hood, mask, snorkel, suit, boots, fins, then up again for BC, regulator, weights, gauges, etc. Mind you, I’m thinking cold-water checkouts at your local dive shop. Our divers also bring their own mouthpieces if they’re using rental gear. If you’re taking a resort course on a nice destination island, the resort may arrange to have everything onboard before you show up. Except your snorkel items, of course: mask, snorkel, fins, boots (if needed), swimsuit, towel.

Don’t forget the paperwork. You should bring your divelog, a pen, your dive tables (unless you’re diving with a computer), and any other pertinent papers, for example the checkout referral paperwork if you’re checking out somewhere other than where you did the academic and pool training. Speaking of dive computers and dive tables, if you’re diving tables remember that you need a waterproof watch to time your dives. While the instructor can tell you the length of each dive, this is your opportunity to develop independent diver habits, one of which is monitoring depth, time, and gas during the dive and logging them all later.

A few years ago one of my open water diver classes included a nice middle-aged couple. They were a little apprehensive about the checkout weekend. So the day before (Friday), they opened up a tarp on their lawn, set up two camp chairs, and laid out all their gear. They mentally rehearsed putting the gear together, getting into their wetsuits, the whole enchilada. I’ve never forgotten that image.

Now, there are several non-diving things you may want to bring to checkouts. Again, the list varies depending on the checkout location, the entry, and the water conditions.

Diving from a boat means you have a place to assemble your gear and a place to sit and suit up. You might want to bring water and snacks if the boat doesn’t provide them. You’d be surprised how many calories you can burn “just floating.”

If it’s cold out, or cold in the water, it’s important to stay warm. Show up warm, wear fleece tops and hats that can keep you warm even after you’re wet. Stay out of the wind. Ask your instructor for more tips; the dive shop might provide hot water, a radiant heater, even a tent.

Conversely, if you’re somewhere tropical, stay out of the sun between dives so you don’t overheat. A hat and a thin polypro or lycra top (“underarmor”) is a good alternative to sunscreen and won’t wash off into the reef ecology like sunscreen.

Diving from shore means gearing up on land. Best bet here is somewhere stable to sit (folding camp chairs are popular) and somewhere clean to stand (a tarp or rubber mat). One item I haven’t yet mentioned is scuba tanks. Some shops will issue you the tanks so you get to haul them to the dive site yourself. Other shops will have them available at the site.

Finally, think about the trip home. If you’re using a car, you might want some big plastic tubs to hold your wet gear so it doesn’t stain the carpets. If you’re diving in cold water, get those wetsuits, hoods, and gloves hung up to dry overnight. Wetsuits turned inside-out will dry faster on the inside, which is the side that counts in the morning.

Okay, let’s recap. Visualize. Visualize yourself donning your exposure suit, assembling your gear, getting into the water. This might not be as foolproof as a printed checklist, but it helps relax you and gets you into the proper frame of mind. Then run through your pool sessions in your mind. See yourself executing the necessary skills, one step at a time.

Are you ready?