It all started two years back in a small city of Egypt. A snorkeling opportunity in the Red Sea was my sole purpose to visit Hurghada on the western coast of Red Sea in Egypt. Scuba Diving was something big for me, so in Hurghada, I restricted myself to snorkeling only. I did snorkeling there and was unable to swim comfortably during the first session. But two sessions later, I was swimming comfortably with the help of the fins and snorkel. It was the love at first sight with the underwater world, the corals, the fishes and other marine life. It was during that trip, when the idea of scuba diving certifications came in my mind. Last month, I went to Havelock Island for the PADI Scuba Diving courses. In Havelock, I completed PADI Open Water Diver plus Advanced Open Water Diver Certifications, and now, I am officially certified as PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. 🙂
Scuba Diving is one of the most challenging adventure sports around us. The charm of underwater world allures many people, but they never try it because of the associated risks. When you dive, you get a spectacular show of life under the water, but then, 10-30 meters under the water, you constantly have the risk of loosing air as well as the threat of underwater creatures. With proper training and suitable equipments, you can overcome all these risks and threats to enjoy the underwater world in a more effective manner and this is where Scuba Diving courses come in the picture.
I am just a novice in this field and don’t have enough knowledge and experience to give you a lecture on Scuba Diving. But before going for the certification courses, I did some research to get the best available course in India. I hope this post will help you to fetch some good information, so that you can also plan for the diving certifications in the future.
Why Scuba Diving Certifications Are Necessary? Diving certifications are the benchmark to ensure that you have a proper diving training from an authorised agency to dive safely. These training programes teach you the required skills, handling of diving equipments and techniques to minimize the risk under the water. Almost all dive operators, diving shops, equipment sellers, diving cylinder providers insist for the certification card, while providing their services. These certification cards have the information regarding the bearer’s name and certification level, certifying institutes, instructor, type of certifications etc. There are thousands of diving schools, who provide these certifications worldwide.
What is PADI, SSI, NAUI etc? These are the professional organisations and works as the association of the scuba divers as well as the training and certifying agencies. They train, assess and certify the divers as well as the diving instructors according to their knowledge and skills. If you search on Google, you will find at least 100 such organisations worldwide, but PADI, SSI and NAUI are the most famous names. Here is the brief introduction of each one:
PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) has the largest pool of divers (around half of the divers certified in the world take a PADI course), but it is often subjected to criticism due to the low standard of training courses and money focussing strategies. After 8-9 dives, it certify you as an Advanced Open Water Diver. It charges heavily for online course materials and asks more money for offline printed materials. It insists its students to purchase course materials, so that they can maintain an adequate knowledge-level in the future.
A PADI instructor can teach his/her students independently under his/her supervision without affiliating to a dive shop, and he/she can certify them also. PADI has a good online network, so if you forget your certification card, then also, your dive centre can verify your credentials online. After completion of the course, you get a temporary card from the diving school, and later, PADI regional office send a permanent certification card at your postal address.
SSI (Scuba Schools International) is another popular organisation. It doesn’t allow its instructors to teach independently. It doesn’t charge heavily for online course materials and doesn’t force students to buy the course materials. It has a longer and more rigorous Advanced Diver Program to provide adequate training and experience to an advanced diver. SSI Certification cards are processed locally, so you can get the permanent card, not the temporary card from your diving school. SSI schools are also able to check your certification credentials online.
NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) is mainly based in USA. It gives you the freedom to conduct your own class and open water sessions the way you see fit. Its training program is more stringent than others.
All of these organisations are regulated by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC), that decides the training levels and minimum standards of all the courses. All of these agencies have to comply with ISO Standards that attribute standards to comparable levels of diver training.
Which One to Choose? At last, the choice is only yours. They all teach you Scuba Diving. They all have their own strategies and techniques to make diving enjoyable as well as safe. All of these certifications are valid for life-time and recognised worldwide at any diving site/centre or equipment shop. You can also switch from one organisation to another without any problem at any stage during your diving career and your previous certificate will be valid to qualify for the next level of certification with a different organisation.
However, there may be a slight difference in the nomenclature of the courses. For example, PADI Advanced Open Water is not the same level as the SSI Advanced Open Water. It is equivalent to SSI Advanced Adventurer Qualification. The SSI Advanced Open Water Certification is equivalent to PADI Master Scuba Diver level. But, still switching from one organisation to another is quite easy and straight-forward. I opted for PADI courses without any specific reason.
Availability of Scuba Diving Courses in India: There are tons of diving schools in India, mainly based in Goa, Netarani Island (near Goa, off the coast of Karnataka), Puducherry, Lakshadweep and Andaman Islands. I selected Havelock in Andaman Islands as I thought it would be the best place to learn diving in India.
During the course, I met different people, who were trained and dived at the other places like Netarani, Lakshadweep and Goa. On the basis of their inputs, I can say that Goa and Puducherry don’t have any good schools to learn scuba diving. Netarani is good, but mostly for the certification purpose in mainland India. Lakshadweep has the best coral system in India and it is very beautiful. But, I heard that the diving activities are restricted there by the government these days. Thus, Havelock in Andaman Islands is the only choice for the best diving schools in India. It has rich marine life (far ahead of any other place in India), but lacks behind Lakshadweep in the coral system. However, there are many good diving schools and diving sites in Havelock, that make it a perfect choice for diving. The only drawback with Andaman Islands is the availability of cheap flight tickets from the places like Delhi.
Which Diving Centre in Havelock Island? There are at least 10 diving schools in Havelock Island. I contacted only two of them, Barefoot Scuba (Dive Andaman) and DIVEIndia for my course, since they are much sought schools on the web. During the initial queries, I was unsatisfied with the responses from Barefoot Scuba. I am not a good swimmer, but they never tried to motivate me. They replied back on every query, but in a straight-forward manner. I was scared about the swimming test until I passed it. I asked, if I could swim with masks and snorkel for 300 meters rather than 200 meters non-stop swim, both are in accordance with the PADI course requirements, they replied back that the masks and fins were not allowed at their center and I had to pass the swim test to get the certifications. It was a big worry. But, later, during the course, we were allowed to opt for 300 meters snorkeling instead of 200 meters swimming.
I asked same set of questions with DIVEIndia and got a detailed reply from Vinnie in a very professional manner. I felt very comfortable with his reply. He explained everything in a proper manner and boosted my morale to take the courses. He also suggested me to go for a swimming class before enrolling in the courses. He informed that the swim test with the masks and fins were allowed at their centre, and even, If I would not be able to pass the swim test, my advance amount would be used for Discover Scuba Diving Package, that doesn’t require any swim test. I was very comfortable and confident with his answers.
However, at last, I opted for Barefoot Scuba, because of the two reasons: First, their combo package for PADI Open Water plus Advanced Open Water course was cheaper than DIVEIndia (Difference was at least Rs.5500). DIVEIndia was expecting a revision in the course prices for 2014-15 session, and they tried to charge me as per the new prices, however those prices were not updated at their website that time. Barefoot Scuba quoted me the price mentioned in the website. Later, they also revised their course prices for 2014-15 session, but they charged the old prices only. Latest prices for these courses are available at the websites of the respective centers.
Second, the frame hut, budget accommodation at Barefoot Scuba was available in Rs. 300 per night, while at DIVEIndia, its rate was Rs. 500 per night.
Since, both centres have a good reputation in online reviews, I opted for Barefoot Scuba over DIVEIndia, mainly because of the cost difference. Later, I realised that it was indeed the best available choice in Havelock Island. They have a pool of very knowledgeable and well qualified instructors and dive masters. I never felt uncomfortable and scary during the 7-days course. Everything was explained well and demonstrated well. Diving with them was indeed a fun.
PADI Courses for Beginners:
Discover Scuba Diving: This is actually not a certification course. This is just an introductory package of underwater world for those tourists, who don’t have enough time to go for the certification courses. Duration of this program varies from few hours to 2 days. You should be at least 10 years old to enrol for this program. There is no special skills requirements, but you must fill the PADI Medical Statement. In this package, you dive with the certified instructors upto the maximum depth of 12 meters. You get the local institute’s certificate after the completion of this program, and during Open Water Diver Course, this course can be counted as the first dive.
Open Water Diver: The first PADI course available for beginners is the Open Water Diver. This is the most popular course worldwide. The duration of this course is about 4 days. In this course, you learn about basic diving theories related to air pressure, volume and density in the underwater world, diving equipments and their handling, basic diving skills like underwater navigation, floating, descend, ascend, buoyancy, breathing, various hazards of diving, basic diving tables etc. Before going for actual diving in the sea (Open Water), you learn basic skills in the confined water, either in a swimming pool or in a protected area at the beach. In Havelock, the Beach # 2 is considered as the primary centre for basic diving training by many schools.
As a PADI Open Water Diver, you will be a certified entry-level diver able to rent dive gear, get air fills and dive anywhere in the world upto the depth of 18 meters maximum in better or similar conditions to those you’ve trained in. As a certified PADI Open Water Diver, you also have the freedom to dive with a certified buddy independent of a dive professional. After this course, you are also eligible for PADI Advanced Open Water Diver Course.
Advanced Open Water Diver: It is basically a course to master some of the skills learned in basic course. These course modules consists five dives in five different areas of interest. Deep Dive and Underwater Navigation are the compulsory modules. You can choose three more modules from the available options in consultation with the your instructor. We opted for Buoyancy Control, Night Dive and Computer Dive. Other options are underwater photography, underwater videography, fish identification, wreck dive etc. The duration of this course is about 3 days. After successful completion of this course, you will be able to dive with an equally certified buddy, anywhere in the world upto the depth of 30 meters maximum in better or similar conditions to those you’ve trained in.
I personally feel that the duration of these courses are not adequate to certify us as an Advanced Open Water Diver. Diving is a highly risky game, and it needs lot of skills to avoid the panic situation under the water. You may able to dive efficiently under the normal conditions, but the moment a situation arises, you are under the real test. To improve our learning, it is recommended, that we should dive more and more in rather shallow depth to gain more skills as well as confidence, before attempting frequently for our certification limit of 20-30 meters.
The maximum depth limit for recreational dive is 40 meters worldwide. As you descend more and more in the water, your duration of stay gets shorter to avoid nitrogen decompression sickness. At 30 meters, with 12 kg cylinder, you can stay for approximately 8 minutes. However, carrying more than one cylinder, and NITROX, you can increase this time or you can also descend deeper, but then, the visibility keep reducing and risks keep increasing with the depth. So, if you do not want to make a career in the diving and it is only a hobby, then Advanced Open Water course is sufficient to enjoy diving worldwide.
If you want to do more in diving, then after the Advanced Open Water course, you can opt for various specialised courses as per your interest, like Night Diving, Wreck Diving, Deep Diving, NITROX, Underwater Photography etc to polish your diving skills. With the specialised adventure courses of Night Diving and NITROX, you can go upto the depth of 40 meters, maximum depth limit for the recreational diving.
To gain more confidence while diving and to increase the comfort level, you can also go for Rescue Diver and Emergency First Response (EFR) Courses. But, again if you are not serious to become a diving instructor, I think this is the end of the diving courses for you.
To become a diving instructor, you can continue your diving education with the courses of Divemasters, Assistant Instructors and Instructors under PADI system.
Skills and Fitness required for Scuba Diving: You should be mentally and physically fit before going for the Scuba Diving. At the beginning of the course, you will get a medical questionnaire to know about your medical history, and if you answer any of those question as YES, then you need a certificate from registered medical practitioner regarding your fitness level. If all your answer is NO, then you don’t need any certificate and your undertaking is sufficient.
Swimming Skills: To get an Open Water Diver Certification:
1. You should be able to swim 200 m non-stop (no time restrictions, any stroke of your choice) or snorkel non-stop for 300 m with mask/fins/snorkel (which is actually easier, again no time-restrictions).
2. You should be able to float/tread water for 10 minutes (again any stroke of your choice).
Second is relatively easy task. For first, I opted (in fact 6 members from our 7 members team) for 300-m snorkeling. I was comfortable in that, so the swimming requirements didn’t become an issue. But personally, I felt during the course that it would be very nice to learn swimming before going for the diving courses. Swimming skills give you more confidence underwater and if situation turns bad, you can handle that in a better way. Also, you can enjoy on the surface more, if you know swimming.
Age requirements: Minimum age for PADI Open Water Diver Course is 12 years, however, after the age of 10 years, one can receive PADI certifications as Junior Open Water Divers.
Where to Stay during the Diving Courses in Havelock? If you go to Havelock for the diving courses, you will find that most of the diving schools are the part of expensive sea-facing resorts, where accommodation options are very costly. But one good thing is the frame hut, provided by these resorts to the student divers. These frame huts are raised inside the resort premises only and offers very basic budget accommodation with a bed, a mosquito net, a fan, a light and the shared bathrooms. Barefoot Scuba offers these hut in Rs. 300 per night, while DIVEIndia has the huts in Rs. 500 per night. These huts serve their purpose very well. If you arrange any cheap accommodation outside the resort, you can stay there, but make sure to reach at the diving centre by 07.00 AM.
If you are in Havelock for the diving courses, don’t expect to visit each and every corner of this beautiful island. You don’t get enough time for that. A typical diving class starts early in the morning at 07.00 AM, and ends around 02.00 PM in the afternoon. Since sun sets early around 0500 PM in this part of India (in the month of October), you daily have only 2-3 hours to visit in the daylight. However, Havelock is not a very big island, and you can push yourself to visit the beautiful beaches and serene villages.
Foods at the resort’s restaurant are costlier than the outside cheap eating joints, but still, I felt that the rates at Barefoot’s Cafe Del Mar are good enough to eat there, if you do not wish to walk for 1 km to the local market. However, Welcome Restaurant in the main market is the most popular food joint in the Havelock Island.
As I said earlier that I am very novice in the world of Scuba Diving, so I can’t suggest you many things. But these are the observations, that I had during my introduction to this spectacular underwater world. Hope it will help many people to achieve their Scuba Diving dreams. Go, Dive the world.