Everything you need to know before scuba diving for the first time

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If you’ve ever fancied yourself as the next best thing to Ariel from The Little Mermaid, you may have thought you’d like to try your hands (and fins) at scuba diving. And you can! You don’t have to live near the sea or go on holiday to scuba dive – although it would be a bonus,. You can still scuba dive in your local swimming pool (within reason. Don’t just turn up with your scuba gear and expect to be let in). So if you want to don your flippers, check out these 5 things you need to know about diving.

You don’t need to buy all of the equipment

You know what they say, ‘all the gear but no idea.’ Well, if you turn up to your first scuba diving session with all of the equipment you’ve seen online, you will be the laughing stock of the scuba school. Many people love to keep it simple when they go scuba diving and prefer their own mask, fins, and snorkel (because you can go scuba diving without the air tanks and wetsuits!). After you’ve tried the basics with your standard snorkel and dive a bit deeper, you will need air tanks, inflatable vests, and wetsuits; but these will be provided by the scuba school. Don’t go buying it all yourself.

You don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer

Diving isn’t limited to athletically toned Olympians or those that work out every day (because for starters, who even enjoys exercise?!) Although it is desirable that you can swim at least the length of a swimming pool and not be completely out of breath, there is no exact requirement. No matter your size, weight, or physique, you can all have a go at scuba diving. There are certain medical requirements that could affect your ability to scuba dive, so always check with your doctor before you try it out.

You get to see another world

Yep, the underworld. Not the creepy underworld we see in movies and horror stories – more like The Little Mermaid…under the sea. Most people try their hands at scuba diving because they are attracted to exploring below the surface of the ocean. Because we never see the underwater world too often, having the opportunity to explore the little nooks, crannies, colors, shapes, and animals of the sea is an opportunity you just can’t pass up.

If you want to dive on your own, you need be certified

If you try out scuba diving on holiday, with a diving school, and you absolutely hate it – this won’t affect you (but we doubt this will happen). However, if you find a new-found passion, and want to carry on the sport by yourself, you will need a certification. When you first start scuba diving, you will need to be properly trained as it can be dangerous if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. You will then have to take a test to ensure you have the knowledge and practical skills to do it yourself. Just like you need a license to drive on land, you need a license to drive – or dive – in the water.

Don’t hold your breath

When you’re scuba diving, it can often be a common reaction to hold your breath – which is completely understandable. However, this can be dangerous (as we all know what happens when you hold your breath too long). When you’re scuba diving, it’s important to keep your breathing as normal as possible to maintain your bodily functions while under water. Although it may seem strange and unnatural, you have to do it.

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Why you shouldn’t fly after diving

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Diving is addictive!

A quick Google autocomplete search for “Why you shouldn’t fly after…” will illustrate the fact that this is a very commonly asked question in the diving world. The likely reason for this is that lovers of diving are always desperate to get those last few moments in an underwater world, before having to fly off back home. After all, why would you want to miss out on any opportunity for a good dive?!

So why shouldn’t you fly after diving?

Although the idea of being deep in the ocean just a few hours before being high in the sky sounds somewhat incredible, it is actually a trigger for decompression sickness. After diving, you may have a few minuscule bubbles in your body, which you will not even notice when you get to the surface; however, the altitude of flying can reduce pressure and therefore these bubbles can expand, causing decompression sickness.

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What is decompression sickness?

Otherwise known as ‘Divers Disease’ or ‘the Bends,’ Decompression Sickness (or DCS) is based on Henry’s Law of Scuba Gas Laws, which explains that a greater quantity of gas can be absorbed by a liquid if under pressure, so, for example, while diving. While breathing in the nitrogen from the scuba tank, a greater quantity of this is absorbed by the liquid that makes up the diver’s body.

Usually, this is not an issue as nitrogen is expelled when a person breathes out, and also naturally through their skin. However, due to the water pressure, when compressed air is inhaled, it remains inside the body’s blood and fatty tissues. When the diver resurfaces, and the pressure decreases, the nitrogen slowly releases through the tissues and into the bloodstream, a process which is called off gassing. This is why divers ascend slowly and steadily and tend to stop part of the way up to allow any gas to diffuse slowly and safely. If this process happens too quickly, the nitrogen will begin to form bubbles within the bloodstream and body tissue which can cause issues.

If these bubbles collect around the joints, they can be excruciatingly painful and the colloquial term ‘the Bends’ comes from the instinct to double over in pain. If the nitrogen bubbles form in the bloodstream, it runs the risk of restricting the blood flow to the lungs and can then cause shock, slowing of breath and dramatically low blood pressure. If however, these bubbles form within the spinal cord, or brain, it can cause the diver to become paralyzed or even cause death.

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How soon after diving can you fly?

Unlike waiting 45 minutes after eating to swim, there is no universally agreed upon time that divers should wait between diving and board an airplane. The US Navy, for example, suggest that the gap is at least 12 hours; however the US Air Force says it should be a full 24 hours.

DAN, the Divers Alert Network have some guidelines for divers to follow. These state that, for sports diving only, a diver should wait 12 hours after a single no-decompression dive before flying. If there have been several dives in one day, or multiple days of diving, this should increase to 18 hours. If the diving was decompression diving, it should be a substantially longer than 18 hours, although they do not give a figure.

Of course, this is all just guidance as everyone’s body works differently. So waiting before flying, although it decreases the risk of DCS, it does not remove it entirely.

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Does this work the other way around?

There is nothing to suggest that you cannot dive immediately after flying from an air pressure point of view; however, it is important to consider you and your team’s fitness to dive. If you are fatigued, dehydrated, undernourished or even just a little stressed, it is best to wait a while to dive, purely from a safety point of view.

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