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Scuba diving is a fascinating and rewarding activity and is one of the few sports that you can enjoy from your young teen years right through to the time that your grandchildren willingly help you back on the boat. If you have the required skills, know your limitations and act responsibly, you will derive the greatest satisfaction imaginable out of a most enjoyable activity. Just being under the sea is pleasure in itself, it's beauty is beyond description, its life remarkable in diversity. There is the opportunity to extend the pleasure into underwater photography, the marine sciences, wrecks and maritime archaeology, cave diving, and deep technical diving, all gaining knowledge and understanding of the marine environment.

The comments made herein consider Australian diving and cinditions, but are generally appropriate world wide.


Proper training is paramount to the enjoyment of recreational scuba diving. Proper training is also vital to your safety. Australia has a very high standard of diver training and arguably leads the world in scuba instruction and recreational scuba diver skills. 

Whatever you do, adhere to the very important rules below. It is your safety and future life-time enjoyment that is at stake. 

Do not use underwater breathing apparatus of any kind, whether it be SCUBA or surface supplied Hookah, without being properly training and qualified to the appropriate standard. 
There are simple but strict procedures to follow when diving. These must be understood before donning any scuba gear and can only be taught by a qualified instructor. If you fail to adhere to this extremely important rule, you place your life in grave danger and place at risk the safety of others. Many years ago a young country lad, inspired by an underwater documentary he had seen on television, hired scuba gear whilst on holiday and went for a dive on his own in Port Philip. It was his last Christmas. He died of a massive embolism. You don't know what that means? Good. That is precisely the point that I am making. Neither did the young lad. He did something that was quite natural, something that I would have done if I had not known better. When you do the course, ask your instructor what caused the young lad's death. Fortunately, professional dive shops will no longer hire equipment to anyone not qualified to at least ‘Open-Water' standard. And remember, a ‘try dive' is NOT a qualification to dive.

Do not take scuba lessons from anyone but a qualified instructor, and ensure that the instructor is supported by a professional dive shop or dive training academy having a full dive instruction program, using suitable pool and classroom facilities, and has use of a suitable dive boat. 
This applies even to your best mate or relative who may have been diving for many years,. Times change - equipment has improved but in many instances at the sacrifice of simplicity. Unlike a new microwave oven, you  cannot simply read the instructions on a new regulator, BCV or combo unit and think that you know it all. All equipment used in diving is there to protect your life. Failure to appreciate and understand its full use can lead to tragedy. Even technique and diving procedures change over the years as more knowledge is gained. The diver with many years of experience will be set in his/her ways. Although the diving procedure used may be suitable for the individual where experience compensates for recent innovation, it may be totally unsuitable for a new inexperienced novice. I have been diving for over thirty years and know a thing or two about the sport. But when my daughter went for her first dive in Rabaul many years ago, I relied on a qualified instructor for her tuition. (And I might add, it was one of the greatest thrills of my life seeing her on her first dive.) Sure, I hovered nearby. But she was in the safe hands of a thoroughly qualified instructor with many years of experience.
 Although the theory and practice of dive training is much the same irrespective of dive shop or training standard (but not identical I might add), the ‘method' of training, the equipment used, and the logistics will vary greatly. When it comes to dive courses, Cost is not an indication of Quality, but do be aware of advertised courses that appear to be excessively cheaper than competitors - they may be cost cutting. All dive training associations have strict standards as to exactly what is included in each level of instruction, e.g. the minimum number of scuba dives conducted from a boat for an ‘Open Water' course. If in doubt, contact the relevant association headquarters. They are listed in this book. 

Do not allow yourself to be intimidated or pressured into doing a dive course for whatever reason. Diving is a very personal activity which does not suit everyone. If you don't enjoy the sea, reconsider.
 There are many people who do not like putting their head underwater. That's fine and certainly no disgrace. We all have our likes and dislikes. I for one cannot look over the edge of a tall building, or watch two people kiss on television. Unfortunately we seem to live in a world of pressure and intimidation which often results in us not behaving as we would normally wish to. Peer pressure causes the normally-sensible teenager to drive like a maniac with his mates in the back seat. Peer pressure can have an enormous influence on the judgement of a person but there is no room whatsoever for such pressure in the sport of scuba diving. Certainly listen to your mates and be encouraged by their enthusiasm but think about what YOU want and what YOU enjoy and make the decision yourself. It is a most irresponsible diver who cajoles someone into diving. And it goes without saying that you should not allow yourself to be pressured into a dive course by anyone commercially connected with diving. Again, listen to what they have to offer and don't be afraid to question and verify. You will not only obtain the information that you require, but also gain the respect of the other person who will appreciate your interest and maturity. One respected Melbourne dive school lists ‘A desire to learn' in their pre-requisite for a course. This is excellent. The school obviously recognises that first and foremost, the diver must have an enthusiasm to learn and dive.


How do I go about doing a dive course?
Dive courses are conducted by dive shops located throughout Australia, specialist dive training schools, and resorts. Dive trainimng is also done in schools and other education organisations, but always by someone qualified to an acceptable standard. Make sure your dive instructor is properly qualified.

How will I know that my dive instructor is qualified?
Ask the person in charge. Because the school itself may teach to a recognised standard does not in itself mean that the instructor is qualified - but he or she should be. The training associations have strict rules about this. You should have no problems if the school itself is so qualified.

Then who are these training associations?
There are many throughout the world. In  Australia, the main associations are: 
 NASDS- National Association of Scuba Diving Schools
 AUSI - Australian Underwater Scuba Instructors. 
 NAUI - National Association of Underwater Instructors
 PADI - Professional Association of Diving Instructors
 SSI  - Scuba Schools International
Although there are specific training and administrative differences between the associations, the student diver need not be too concerned about these. Sufficient to say that all have a dive training standard suitable for sport divers at entry level. If you wish to dive you will need to complete an ‘Open Water' course, or Scuba Diver certificate - we used to call this a C-card until a few years ago. You may then continue on with Advanced Training if you wish. All standards are recognised throughout the diving world. Although standards may be similar, each dive course will have a different itinerary and venue. Some courses may be held over a number of evenings and weekends, or may be concentrated over one full week. And although the dive shop may be located near to your home or work, the training may take place in another location which may not be so convenient. Talk to the staff of a few shops if you like and see what suits you best. And don't go too much on price. Some courses may require you to hire some gear, or may include only one or two boat dives. If comparing course benefits, find out what is included - and excluded. Better still, talk with someone who has done the course. 
Remember that it is in the best interests of these associations to maintain high standards of safety, course content, and condust, and to balance these with a reasonable expectation of commercial reward. It is reasonable to say that PADI is the largest of them all, workwide. 

What does a Scuba Diver course include in the cost?
Courses are offered by a number of dive training organisations. Some course operators may include a number of enticements such as overnight accommodation, additional boat dives, free transport to the course. Some Queensland operators are in a position to offer free or cheap resort accommodation. I stress that cost is only one factor in considering which course to take. Nonetheless, the final dollar figure is important, and like anything in life, you need to know what you are getting for your money. Most schools also have incentives added to the course cost, such as free airfills for three months, or free dive charter vouchers, or whatever seems a reasonable commercial gift. Take these into account, as they can lead to substantial savings. But the bottom line is the cost of the course itself. Looking at real examples collated late 1998: . 
Victorian school. Option A at $360, includes basic Open Water course, with all equipment supplied, and certification. Option B at $599 provides a more intimate course with a student to instructor ratio of 1:1 or a maximum of 4:1, and can be adapted to the individuals available time. This is an excellent offer as not everyone can fit in with a particular timetable, and some people may prefer more personalised training. This same school offers an ‘early bird' discount for booking well in advance of the course - an advantage to the student, but also shows that the dive shop has the intelligence to approach their objective in a business-like manner, considering the students needs, and their own long-term viability. I would certainly consider a dive operation that takes a no-nonsense approach to its training over one who is attempting to discount and provide ‘ad-hoc' incentives to sign up.
Northern NSW: $280, includes 5 academic modules, 5 pool modules, 4 ocean dives, certification fees, hire gear, wall certificate.
Queensland: 5-day  Open water course $475.
Remember, all courses are different, so  use these prices as a rough guide only.

Should price be a major consideration in selecting a dive course?
When selecting a course don't make a judgement based solely on price, nor duration. There are some dive schools who attempt to put a student through to full Open Water level within less than four days, and some who offer ‘special' or ‘bargain' rates. These may be quite valid, particularly during a quiet period of the year. Talk to other divers and select a course that is run by professional instructors with high standards and an attention to detail. After all, your life is at stake. Dive schools like all commercial businesses must be competitive, but dive instruction must not be compromised because of cost. Unfortunately this sometimes happen in the industry. This is not to suggest that the cheapest course is not up to an adequate level of both dive safety and teacher standard, but a very cheap course should at least start a few bells ringing. I prefer not to give an indication of what a cheap course is because prices change depending on the season - and there is always inflation to consider, and now the GST. But you'll know a cheapie when you compare others. The important thing is to evaluate exactly what you get for your dollar. For example, are all class notes and text books included; is all equipment (hire) included, including a wet suit if required; are there any hidden expenses with the sea dives; does the cost include certification and registration with the appropriate instructor body. Some schools hire out all or part of the equipment separately. That's fine, so long as you know. You should know exactly how much a course costs right through to qualification and certification. If you are ‘hit' with any additional charges that you were not aware of prior to signing up for the course, you would have every right to ask why.

Are there any hidden extras?
There could be costs associated with the instruction manual s that you will use, and the final certification. It is important to determine what exactly is included in the ‘advertised' cost for a course. Manuals can set you back maybe another $20-$50, and the actual obtaining of a certificate from the applicable dive training organisation can be an additional similar cost. You need to determine this before signing up. Most  schools make it quite clear what is and is not included. Some schools may include the cost of the pre-requisite medical examination, but this is not usual. (Refer above question).

What do I need to bring to the course?
Your dive medical is of prime importance. Two passport photos are required for your certification. Some snorkelling equipment (mask, snorkel and fins) may be required - due to hygiene reasons, most courses require the student to bring or purchase a snorkel. Others supply a snorkel, and give you the mouthpiece free of charge. A wet suit is generally not required. Pen and paper is always a good idea. And a towel (and bathing suit) of course. The school should list what you require. 

I'm not too sure about all of this. Can I just have a go first and see what it's like?
Considering the stress on safety during training, it may seem incongruous, but yes,  many dive schools provide a ‘try dive'. This may be just in the training pool, or at the beach, but it will give you the opportunity to feel what it is like to be underwater with a mask on and a regulator in your mouth, breathing air. Some schools also run information evenings where you can watch a video or two and have a glass of wine and a nibble. These are social and promotion sessions, and are excellent for the novice as they allow you to meet fellow students (some of whom may also have a few reservations), and your instructors. 

I hear it's a great way to meet chicks?
I can think of easier ways to meet the opposite sex, and if that is your sole intention, perhaps your heart is not in diving. But I'll tell you what - diving is a wonderful social activity. It brings people together because of a wonderful common interest. I have seen a boat load of divers, all strangers, travel out to a dive site in virtual silence. But after the dive it is as if everyone is a friend and the chatter is incessant. The psychology of this is simple. You are no longer strangers because you have all shared a common experience - and a remarkably enjoyable experience at that. And there are no barriers to the friendship - no racist or religious barriers, no age barriers, no gender barriers (as male and female divers are on an absolute equal). Yes, it is a great way to meet people. But if you have diving of another sort in mind, give it a miss and go to a nightclub.

Isn't scuba diving dangerous?
Whenever we enter a strange environment we place our lives at some level of danger. This even applies when we leave the relevant safety of our home and place ourselves behind the wheel of a car. But if the diver, like the driver, has two specific qualities the danger is reduced to a minimum - Skill, and Attitude. If the diver knows what he/she is doing, knows his/her level of capability and takes the ‘right attitude' there is little danger. Diving has no room for the impertinent know-all who will not heed guidance or instruction. It is not a macho sport as some would have us think. Anyone with commonsense and reasonable fitness will become a good diver. A good diver reduces danger to a minimum through knowledge and attitude.. 

What about sharks? 
The question is always asked by a non-diver, but rarely by a potential diver for some reason. I am not sure why. Perhaps the thought is present but there is a reluctance to ask the question. My answer generally depends very much on my mood at the time and the apparent intelligence or otherwise of the enquirer, but assuming that I am now in full control (and talking to myself!!) I will attempt to answer the question. 
They are magnificent. They are one of the true wonders of nature, the perfect animal, one that commands respect even from the dominant homo sapien, one that has a grace and beauty outstanding in a world of fierce competition. Like most divers I thoroughly enjoy seeing them - well, most of them anyway. I have never been harmed by a shark but that does not present a complacency in me. I have the utmost respect for them. Oh yes, they do bite occasionally. But let me put it to you this way. Your chances of seeing a ‘dangerous' shark other than one of the totally harmless species is next to zero. In twenty years I have never seen a White Pointer and have only once glimpsed a Tiger Shark that was more petrified of me than I of him (although it probably didn't know that!). The majority of shark species in temperate and tropical waters are either harmless or disinterested. But yes, there are dangers. It would be foolish to deny that. But they are statistically and practically minimal. Providing you do not do anything untoward or foolish you have a greater chance of winning Tattslotto than being nibbled by a shark. There have been quite a few spearfishermen, snorkellers and swimmers taken, particularly late this year (2000) but in the history of diving in Australia only two scuba divers have been known to have been killed by a shark. 

Do I have to be a good swimmer?
Not really but it would help. It is more important to be confident in the water, and have good fitness - stamina. If you have no fear of the open sea and swim or snorkel with ease then you will be fine. Swimming skills don't actually apply whilst underwater (the technique is different) and there are many competent divers who are very poor swimmers. But for personal safety an ability to swim is important, as distinct from being a strong swimmer. 

I am not particularly fit - does that matter?
‘Fitness' is a relative term and needs to b considered in the specific context of scuba diving. Obviously the fitter you are, the more stamina you have, and thus the more relaxing and enjoyable you will find scuba diving. It is not a particularly strenuous activity but there may be times when a high level of exertion is required. Being overweight for example is not healthy irrespective of the consideration of diving, but in itself it should not prevent you from being an active scuba diver. (I have to say that as I am overweight!). The important thing is to know your limitations. If you are clinically obese, your doctor may have something to say about that, and may suggest that you loose weight before attempting a course. I stress again that weight is not a preventer but a delimiter, and the fitter you are the more you will enjoy diving. And I have seem some pretty big fellows in wet suits that make them look like whales when underwater.

Am I too old to learn?
Without knowing your age and condition, the answer is No!. Age per se has nothing to do with it. But general fitness and health is important. The dive medical examination will highlight any problems. If you feel comfortable in the water and confident of passing a course, go for it. You may feel more comfortable doing a ‘Try Dive' session first if you are not sure. That of course applies to anyone. Don't let anyone put you off diving just because you may be over sixty or whatever.

I'm a pregnant myopic teenager with a mild history of epilepsy and asthma, and an attitude problem. Can I learn to dive?
I would prefer not. Lets take each one of these factors in turn. Being a woman is certainly no problem and although women need to consider a few medical situations, these are certainly not a limiting factor. Being pregnant is a problem. Don't even consider doing a course whilst pregnant. There is some confusion at the laymen's end as to what problems actually exist if diving whilst pregnant. Even the medical experts can't agree. But I guarantee that every one would say -  don't take the risk. A dive course can wait till after the happy event. Having eyesight difficulties is no hindrance. Masks can be fitted with prescription lenses. Do not dive whilst wearing contact lenses. (The new ‘long term' lenses may be okay - I have no idea. Check with your optician.) The problem with contact lenses is loosing them if your mask fills with water. Epilepsy is a problem and will more than likely prevent you from diving depending on its frequency and severity. This is entirely up to your physician. There was a thought that any history of asthma would automatically fail a divers medical but again it depends on severity and frequency. 

I have a history of mild asthma but have been told that I will not receive a fitness to dive certificate. I really want to dive even if I am restricted in some way. Should I disclose my condition ?
Of course you must disclose any history of illnesses as requested by your doctor, and asthma is important. But it may not restrict your diving. Your doctor will advise what is best for your safety. There is no one simple answer to the question. You may even want to receive a second opinion from an experienced hyperbaric-trained doctor.

I don't wish to become a scuba diver but wouldn't mind learning how to snorkel dive?
No problems. To many it may seem unnecessary to take lessons for snorkel diving. After all, all you need is a mask, snorkel and a pair of fins and off you go. But there is more to it than that. Like any activity, the more knowledge you have the more enjoyment you gain. And there is also the safety factor. All dive training associations now have a Snorkel Course standard. You will learn the use of the equipment (how to clear a snorkel for example), the art of free-diving using minimum energy expenditure, what to be aware of in-water conditions, marine life (particularly the nasties) and basic physiology. The enjoyment from the knowledged gained from instruction in marine life is justification enough to do a course. Don't be too complacent about snorkel or free-diving. Just because it looks easy doesn't mean that there is nothing to learn. And remember that more people get themselves into danger, sometimes tragically, whilst snorkelling than scuba diving. 

Do I have the option when I can do the training?
Each school has set times and durations. Scuba courses can run over several days ‘full time' or may be spread out over several weeks on a part-time evening and weekend basis. Some courses include accommodation for the full course or perhaps for a weekend or two whilst doing the sea dives. Each dive school has a number of different options; there is sure to be a program that suits your available time. The cost may be a reflection on the type of course itinerary that you choose. 

Just what is a ‘try dive'?
The ‘try dive' concept was initially marketed in Queensland where a great many tourists wanted to experience the Great Barrier Reef, and yet were not qualified to dive. It also gave interested non-divers an opportunity to see if they enjoyed the exciting activity of scuba diving. Many people who were perhaps not confident in their swimming ability, or maybe had fears of putting their head underwater, had the opportunity to ‘try' a dive before actually doing a full course. The concept has spread to other states of Australia as it provides a wonderful opportunity to see and experience what recreational scuba diving is all about without the commitment to a full course. The ‘Discover Scuba Experience',or 'try dive' session, varies depending on the diveschool, but will always consist of some brief theory training, practical equipment training, and then a fully supervised ‘hand-hold' dive. Safety considerations for the novice is considered a priority, as it is with all training, so a ‘try dive' becomes a safe way to determine if you wish to proceed with training. The professional dive school should not overly encourage you to proceed - that is always a personal choice. Needless to say, a try dive session in Queensland may give you an opportunity to dive the Great Barrier Reef, but rest assured that a try dive in virtually any environment is a wonderful experience. And of course you need no equipment - other than a towel and swim costume - as all equipment is supplied in the course. The cost varies depending on exactly what is offered. Costs can vary from $30 to $85 depending on the number of dives offered, and the equipment included in the cost. Some shops offer full refund on the ‘try dive' if a full course is subsequently taken.‘Try diving' can be cheaper in tropical waters as there is generally no need to hire a wet suit, and the dive operators are geared-up for tourist interest. On the other hand, there will be a cost component for joining a dive boat travelling out to the reef. 

How do I know that my instructor is a fully qualified professional?
Simply ask to see the instructor's identification card or certificate issued by the dive instruction association. Make sure he or she is fully qualified to Instructor Level or higher (not Assistant Instructor or Dive Master). Make sure that the dive training association is one of those listed in this book and that the instructor is training you to that standard. (The instructor may be certified to more than one standard). The certificate you receive on passing the course must be one that is issued by one of the recognised dive instruction associations. On some courses, particularly those with a large class, the Instructor may be assisted by another Instructor, or Assistant Instructor or Dive Master. This is fine, so long as the senior instructor is indeed qualified as an Instructor, and that he or she is available at all times. Having said all this, you should also look toward your instincts. If you feel comfortable with the instructor, if he or she acts professionally toward you as a student, if they demonstrate confidence and knowledge in a quite determined manner without a ‘know-all' attitude, you may have found a suitable instructor. Needless to say, personal referrals are also a good guide. Perhaps you know someone who has already done a course with the particular dive school and instructor. 

I live in Melbourne and want to dive the Great Barrier Reef.  Should I do a scuba course whilst I am on holidays.?
No reason why not, but you should be aware of a few points. Most coastal towns and resorts, particularly in Queensland, have fully qualified instructors available, either at an independent dive shop, or at a resort. These are difficult to evaluate from a distance and often the decision will be made for you once you select your resort. Even so, find out as much as you can about the course beforehand; and if you do have a choice of instructor whilst on holiday , make the same enquiries as I have previously suggested. It is also important to consider two major points. Firstly, your time is precious, particularly on holiday. If you were to learn diving whilst ‘at home' you would them be qualified whilst on holiday and could make the most of your time and enjoy more dives on The Reef. Secondly, if you do learn to dive ‘up north' in warm tropical waters, you need to advise your dive master when you first dive in temperate (cooler) waters back home, as the conditions are not the same. Just wearing a bulky wetsuit is enough to put some divers off their mark. You will not have to be retrained, but you may need some guidance. Talk to the divemaster. I should also mention that if you are trained in temperate waters, you will have no problems in tropical seas - in fact, the freedom you experience will be exhilarating. 

I have heard stories of male dive instructors coming on to women in the class and giving them undue attention. I don't want to be hassled.
There are male instructors who demonstrate more than a reasonable amount of macho bravado and some whose motivation may be directed by a high level of testosterone. I have known some instructors to regard each class as a new concubine. These fools are, fortunately, few and far between. If you, as a female (and indeed, as a male), feel uncomfortable with undue attention, you have every right to speak your mind and make it clear that you are here to learn scuba diving. If unwarranted attention is persistent, you have the right to take it up with the dive association with which the instructor is affiliated. These associations speak freely of quality control and ethical standards. If an instructor seems to be stepping out of line, make it clear first to the antagonist, then to the instructor's school manager, and then, if no satisfaction is received, with the relevant training association. This applies of course not only to matters of unwarranted sexual harassment, but also to anything that appears not to be ethical or correct. The one good thing about competition and commercial motivation is that if a school or instructor gets a bad reputation, they will get less business. That in itself should keep the instructor on the path to righteousness. 

How closely do the dive training associations monitor their instructors?
The immediate answer is, not frequently enough. But one must consider that the training associations have costs to consider, and it is impossible to have inspectors checking randomly on instructors. From the point of view of knowledge, dive instructors must attend various instructor update examinations -the infrastructure of these varies between associations. Generally, a fully qualified instructor will know  his or her stuff. Part of instructor training and examinations involves teaching, so a qualified instructor should be able to impart knowledge in a professional manner. Where the difficulty often lies is in monitoring the behaviour off the instructor, and the standards of the school. Knowing what to teach, and knowing how to teach, does not necessarily mean that the full subject matter is actually taught. Of course, it generally is, as most instructors take pride in their work. The point is that the dive training associations cannot be present at each and every course. This leaves the associations acting only on complaints - a management by  crisis situation of you like. One measure of a dive training association is the willingness to investigate a complaint in a professional and thorough manner. If a flippant attitude is taken by the executive of the dive training association, then you may have recourse to take a complaint further - maybe the Small Claims Tribunal, or maybe an Equal Opportunity Board. Having said this, it should be stressed that the reason for establishing the dive training associations in the first place is to ensure a high standard of instruction. Okay, I appreciate that financial gain is also a motive, but  if an association drops its standard, it will become uncompetitive and any financial gain will be diminished. A good dive training association will not let the macho male instructor through the system in the first place.

How can I find out more about scuba diving? 
There are plenty of books and magazines on the market but the best way to find out more about diving is to talk to divers. Find out where divers are likely to congregate for a dive and simply have a chat with them. Tell them you are interested in diving and you are sure to get an enthusiastic response. Subscribe to one or more of the Australian dive magazines - Sportdiving, or Scuba Diver,  and keep a look out for any trade shows or dive festivals. Get to know your local dive shop operator. If they are worthy of their position they will only be too happy to advise on all aspects of the sport. Check out the books on the Oceans Enterprises website. The book Dive Australia by yours truly is a good start. 

I'm still not too sure. What if I run out of air?
The very reason you do a scuba course is to learn, amongst many other things, how not to run out of air. If you are correctly trained and follow normal diving practices, and you have the appropriate equipment in good working order and nothing untoward happens on a dive, you will not run out of air. Equipment malfunction is rare, and even if you do, there are several procedures that will ensure your safety. These are taught, indeed stressed, during your basic scuba course. 

I really do want to dive - what do I do now ?
You probably know a few scuba divers already. Talk to them about their dive instruction experiences, particularly if they completed a recent course. Obtain their comments, and if they are satisfied, consider using the same dive shop or instructor. Personal recommendation, particularly from a diver who has been recently certified but has been active in the interim, is invaluable. If there has been some dissatisfaction for whatever reason, determine the grievance, evaluate its relevance and if in doubt talk to the dive shop or particular instructor about the problem. You needed name names - after all you are just making a sensible enquiry. If you are not satisfied, try somewhere else. If you have no friends to talk to about diving, approach your most convenient dive shop and have a talk to the staff. Make sure you talk to a person qualified as an instructor which may well be the proprietor or shop assistant. See a listing of dive shops and schools in Peter Stone's Dive Australia as a guide to the dive shop nearest you, or see the Yellow Pages, or Telstra's Internet directory. Don't be afraid to approach several shops until you feel comfortable with a particular one. Prior to making the final decision it is a good idea to meet the instructor that will take the class that you are interested in. This may not always be possible as many well qualified scuba instructors have other non-related jobs, but you should be able to ‘see them in action' on a current course. You will need to evaluate the course offered, and you will quite naturally consider the cost of the course. Obtain precise details as to just what is offered. Make a specific note of the actual sea dives that are offered. The majority of the dives offered must be from a boat (as distinct from diving from a jetty or from shore). Finally, if you have any doubts at all about a particular course, or even any general enquires, contact the appropriate dive training association. Once you have made up your mind, approach the dive training school, pay your deposit, pick up your medical forms, do your medical, and turn up on the date and time required.

Will I need to purchase anything before the course ?
Maybe, but generally no. It depends on the inclusions of the dive course. You may need to hire some gear but that is arranged at each appropriate session, and you should know that by now. You may prefer to buy a wet suit (rather than use a suit provided by the dive school, if indeed they have them) particularly if you are learning in a colder temperate climate. Wet suits must fit comfortably and although a good school will have a range of suit sizes, only you can determine if you are not of a ‘standard size'. If in doubt speak with the dive shop. You may also like to buy your own mask and snorkel, and perhaps fins which can always be used just for snorkelling even if you do not pass the certification. The mask in particular is important as it must be comfortable and closefitting. (At least one dive school requires all students to have their own mask, snorkel and fins. They provide everything else. This cuts the course cost marginally, and the purchase is never a waste). You will of course need to have a pen and writing paper for the theory sessions. Other than that, the dive school will advise.

Will I have to buy all my equipment from the same dive shop after I finish my course?
Certainly not. You will no doubt be encouraged to buy your gear from the same dive shop where you did the course but you can shop around. I strongly recommend however that you buy equipment from a professional dive shop which provides a guarantee for its equipment throughs the appropriate manufacturer and distributor. After sales service is vitally important with most dive gear. Remember, you life depends on it. If you can't afford to buy a full kit immediately, consider renting equipment whenever you need it. Aim for the more ‘personal' items first, like the wet suit and mask. These must fit comfortably and although they may be hired from most professional dive shops, you are better off with your own. You would probably want to buy your own snorkel, fins and weight-belt also just for the convenience. Next consider a regulator and a suitable combo set consisting of at least an air contents gauge and a depth gauge. You will also need a divers watch (which cannot usually be hired) or at least a dive timer of some sort. Next purchase would be the buoyancy compensation vest. Leave the air tank to last. (I know many regular divers who do not own a tank simply because it is more convenient to hire one. They don't have to outlay initial cash and don't have to worry about annual inspections.) The dive computer and camera gear can come later. The important thing is to feel comfortable in the water, and that is best done with your own gear.

Can I buy second hand equipment?
Most definitely yes. Newspaper are full of classified adverts for used gear. But remember the saying, buyer beware. Have an experienced diver check out any equipment, and ensure that the regulator has been recently serviced, or have it serviced even if it ‘appears to work okay'. Air tanks must never be purchased if they are out of test. There are also several  dive shops who have second-hand gear.  Don't be penny pinching. Good equipment is absolutely necessary. Your life depends on it.

What exactly happens on a scuba diving course?
In general there are five phases of a course. Phase One -  there is an introduction talk covering the course itself and diving in general, more to get you enthused than anything else. The initial pool session will also involve swimming and basic in-water procedures, more to test your confidence than anything else. Phase Two involves theory sessions in a class-room environment, accompanied perhaps by video and audio-visual presentations depending on the sophistication of the course. During these sessions which will amount to about four to six hours in total you will cover the theory of scuba diving. This involves a knowledge of the basic physics of diving and what happens to your body under pressure; a basic understanding of the medical ramifications of diving including first aid and safety practices; an in-depth look at the equipment used and how it is used; and dive planning and practice. Most divers find these theory sessions just as enjoyable as the practical pool and sea sessions as they provide the opportunity to ask questions and dismiss the many myths associated with the sport. Some courses may briefly cover specific aspects of the scuba diving such as marine animals (you will most certainly learn about the nasties and how to avoid them), or perhaps photography. These sessions are just to maintain your interest however. Specialty courses are offered for more detailed instruction. Phase Three is the practical sessions, usually held in a swimming pool, but any calm water of varying shallow depth may be suitable. This is where you get wet, and go downunder for the first time on full scuba kit in a totally protected environment. Practical pool sessions are fun but don't take the sessions too lightly - you may miss an important point. You will learn about the use of all standard equipment; dive procedure ; safety and rescue. Phases Two and Three are interspersed. Phase Four covers the sea dives where you actually conduct several dives from a boat, jetty, or shore. Preferably all three with the emphasis on boat diving. Phase Five concerns the evaluation of the potential diver and involves periodic theory testing and practical evaluations. 

What happens if I just don't like it after the first few sessions?
It is rare indeed that a person gives up because they don't enjoy the training, but if there is some aspect of the course that you cannot understand or perform, instructors will take it step by step and not proceed until you are confident. There is some flexibility in course structure to handle this. On the other hand, if you have a genuine reason for dropping out of the course, perhaps for medical, family or business reasons, most dive schools are reasonable enough that they will consider your personal situation and refund part of your money. If time or personal circumstances are the problem, consider deferring the course until it is more convenient. It is important to remember that if you are not happy with continuing the course, for whatever reason, speak up.  Remember Rule Three above. 

Are there dive clubs where I can have social contact with other divers?
Yes, and it is a good idea to join a club, particularly in the early stages of your diving career. Dive clubs provide the opportunity to meet with other divers both on organised dives and socially. Most dive schools (dive shops) have associated dive clubs. Some may be rather large and less intimate and 'social' than you may prefer but you have a choice. There are still many private dive clubs around (in that they are not associated with a dive shop). You usually find out about these from friends but you may like to contact one of the diver associations.

What can I do if I am totally dissatisfied with my dive school or dive shop?
First talk with the dive shop proprietor or your instructor. Direct confrontation and communication overcomes most problems before they get out of hand. If still not satisfied, you have two directions depending on the severity of the complaint. Contact the appropriate dive training association if it is a dive training matter. There may also be a dive industry trade group in the state. Remember that the dive industry is very much aware of the need to be self regulated and to act in a totally responsible matter. Your query will be investigated and acted upon accordingly. If of course you are still dissatisfied even after communicating with the appropriate group, the normal avenues of commercial law apply, usually commencing with a visit to the state Consumer Protection offices.

Am I guaranteed of being awarded the certificate? 
Fortunately - no. It would be a most unfortunate situation if certification was handed out to all and sundry irrespective of ability. The failure rate is low but you do need to show competence in the theory and practical sessions. If for some reason the instructor believes that you haven't quite got what it takes to complete the course, he or she may suggest that you do not proceed. But that is a rare situation indeed and would only occur after the instructor made every attempt through patience and attention to ensure that it was beyond your grasp. It can and does happen, particularly if the student is not confident in the first place. But don't give up too easily. It is assuring to know that an instructor will tell you if there is a problem in you continuing the course. You certainly don't want to waste your time but more important, the student needs to have the confidence in the instructor so that when you do pass, you know you are indeed capable of being ‘a scuba diver'. It is a most irresponsible instructor who passes a student and provides certification if they are not capable of performing in a competent and safe manner. 

Am I legally a scuba diver once I pass the course? 
At the time of writing there is no legal definition of  a scuba diver. Generally, there is nothing that can prevent you from scuba diving if you have not been qualified. Likewise you can use old and dangerous gear, dive in a surging sea, ignore tide tables and shipping warnings and put your life and that of others at risk. Unlike ballooning, hang-gliding and ultra-light aircraft flying, recreational scuba diving has not required government legislation except where it occurs in the ‘workplace' - that meaans basically where you have paid for a service. Maybe this is because the scuba diving industry is a responsible body of people, well controlled with a high standard of instruction and safe procedure practices. Lets keep it that way. If you act irresponsibly (by ignoring the rules above) you not only put your own well-being at risk but also that of thousands of recreational divers and the dive industry as well. What is controlled strictly is the commercial aspects of diving, particularly of those offering charter boat services. In general, if you are not certified as a scuba diver you will not be permitted to engage in any scuba diving involving some aspect of commerce, be it the hire of equipment, the use of a charter boat, or an organised dive or dive tour. It should be said that simply having a card indicating that you are certified does not require the commercial operator to accept you as a diver. There may be other factors that ring alarm bells in the mind of the commercial operator. 

What then does it mean to be certified ?
Certification at the successful completion of the course means that you will be registered with the appropriate diver training association and will be permitted to participate in, or perform certain activities relevant to the training received on the course. Certification is recognised within the industry, by dive shops, dive boats, resorts and all relevant businesses. For example, a basic Scuba Course will permit you to participate in most scuba dives conducted by a shop, dive boat or resort; will allow you to hire scuba gear including an air tank; and will allow you to have an air tank filled. You can also of course participate in any private dives. Some conducted dives may be of such a level (of difficulty) that they may require special training, such as Deep Diving, or perhaps an Advanced level of training. Certification from one of Australia's recognised dive training associations is generally accepted anywhere in the world. 

Can I go off and do my own thing once certified?
Of course, but I need to temper that with some advise. Let me give the appropriate analogy of a car driver's licence. You will appreciate that once you have the licence you are permitted to drive subject to certain provisional requirements. And certainly, you are defined as a car driver. Yet only the foolish would think that you have adequate skills to cover all circumstances. In effect, once you have the car licence you are only just beginning to drive, to gain experience and knowledge, each step increasing your personal safety, the safety of others, and adding to your enjoyment of driving. So it is with scuba diving. Your certification makes you a diver - no doubt of that. But you are a very inexperienced diver who has much to learn about the sea environment. (And indeed that is all part of the fun.) You would be much better off diving with more experienced divers who can provide further guidance and instruction if necessary. Many inexperienced divers continue to dive with the dive school instructor or at least dive school dive leaders. Most dive schools have regular scheduled dive trips which you are now qualified to participate, and many schools have dive clubs for further diving and social benefits. A further word of warning if I may. Even if you are fully qualified, do not dive in unfamiliar waters without a ‘local' experienced diver on hand.

Once qualified, can I get a job as a diver?
That of course depends on the job. As a diver, and as you gain experience, you will gain knowledge that would be useful in a number of professions. You may be training as a marine biologist for example, or want to extend your photographic career into the underwater environment.  But generally, the Open Water Diver qualification is only the start of several stepping stones toward a career as a diver (or where diving is part of your professional activity). You may have aspirations of being a divemaster  at a resort for example. If so, you will need to progress on to an Advanced Diver course, a Rescue Diver Course and a Divemaster Course. From there you could go on to Instruction. Careers in the forces, police, ports and harbours, search and rescue, the oil industry and dozens of other career possibilities generally require further extensive training under the respective organisation's own direction. If planning a career in diving, become familiar with the demands of the career, the pre-requisites and qualifications required; and note the requirements of the Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme.

How far can I go with further qualifications?
As far as you like right up to Master Instructor and beyond to even an Examiner of Instructors if you like. Of course it all depends on dedication and skills and whereas there may be some limit to the actual qualification you receive, there is no limit to the extent of learning. Diving is such a diverse activity opening up a number of fascinating specialities. I became very interested in shipwrecks. My studies and diving led me to becoming fairly knowledgeable on the subject which gave me great satisfaction. I extended my land photography interests into underwater photography opening up a whole new meaning to light and composition. Others take an interest in the fascinating world of marine life giving immense satisfaction in coming to terms with a completely new environment. Some prefer wreck diving, others prefer coral reefs, or freshwater diving. In all these fields the diver can either study privately at his/her leisure or do one of a dozen specialty courses encompassing specific diving techniques (like Deep Diving), or specialist fields of knowledge (such as Marine Science). 

I understand that some dive operators place a limitation on your diving even if you are fully qualified. 
This may well be so, and depends on the circumstances and location. I know of  some dive operators in Queensland who place a depth limit of  twelve metres  on the diver. This may appear restrictive but is done to increase the safety standard. It is generally not a restriction as the dive sites offer all that you could wish for within the 12 m limit - and it increases your bottom time anyway. The bottom line is - the divemaster has full responsibility for his or her charges and has the right to increase the safety factor by whatever means. Any specific ‘rules' or ‘limitations' should be advised by the divemaster before departure. Dive operators to the wreck of the Yongala require evidence of experience as well as qualification, and set a minimum of dives prior to diving the famous wreck. This was introduced predominantly because many holiday divers were being trained in Queensland and then heading out to the wreck. Some operators are known to limit deep penetration dives (into the submarines of Victoria or long caves in New South Wales for example) to those who have had Advanced or specialist dive training. And as indicated elsewhere, the freshwater caves of Mt Gambier definitely require further training before a permit is awarded to dive. This is one of the few legal requirements for further specialist dive training in Australia.

But some of the limitations seem too restrictive.
That may appear so. Some restrictions may be seen to be at odds with the rights of the diver to enjoy his or her sport to the limit, and not infrequently divemasters have been criticised for not allowing some specific dive procedures, like penetration, whilst divers are under their charge. Firstly, the divemaster has every legal right to determine the dive plan. The divemaster is in an unenviable position  as he or she must balance up the risk factor with commercial viability and the needs of the diver. In so doing, the divemaster must not only consider the diver's safety as paramount, but also the future viability of the dive industry. Consider what happened at the Coroner's Inquest for the diver lost on a Victorian wreck. The Coroner placed a large portion of the blame on the divemaster, even though the diver in question was experienced. It is the divemaster who is in the hot seat when something goes wrong. So in protecting the diver's butt, the divemaster is also looking after his own - and so it should be, for if the standards of the divemasters drop, there is a great possibility that state or federal government bodies will clamp down on specific dive sites and prevent diving all together. Remember it is easier for a government to simply ban something, rather than lay down rules to reduce the risk factor. If there are a spate of incidents on a particular site,  irrespective of whose fault it may be (even if nature's fault), there will assuredly be restrictions. It is better that the sport diving industry lays down the restrictions in the first place, to prevent any further tragedy, and to prevent the government from making decisions on our behalf. By all means question your divemaster - in that way, you, the diver, will learn. But at all times listen, and respect his or her decisions. 

This is all very well, but I understand there are indeed laws that govern how we are to dive.
Yes, there are laws, and there are standards. Standards Australia is drawing up a standard to cover divers in the workplace - DR00219. The standard becomes law when it is adopted by the respective state governments. Queensland already has appropriate laws. These are called  ‘Workplace' standards and are applicable to anyone in "the workplace". The workplace is the pjysical environment where a ‘worker', ie a paid professional, opertaes. Due to Work Cover situations, specific laws must be raised to determine the practice of those in the workplace. These apply predominantly to the ‘worker', ie the dive master or the charter boat operator. But even the recreational diver who enters the workplace must also be covered by certain practices. These are fairly straight forward and being safety considerate,  should not impinge on the enjoyment of the dive.  The laws or standards applicable to a recreational diver in the workplace predominantly concern your training and expereince and health. 

But if I dive with a charter boat operator, I am not in my workplace. I just want to enjoy a dive without all thes hassles.
Firstly, the standards are not meant to delimit your enjoyment. On the contrary. If they improve your safety and give your peace of mind that those who are looking after you must show a duty of care to you, then you should have no difficulty enjoying the dive. Secondly, the dive site may not be your workplace, but is the divemasters workplace (if the person is accepting a fee for services of course), and as such you must follow the rules for the workplace. It is like visiting a construction site - you still have to wear a helmet don't you?

I have heard about basic equipment that allows you to dive with air supplied from the surface. Do I need training for this.?
Most definitely. Surface supplied equipment is used extensively by abalone divers and is commonly called ‘hookah' equipment. The physical concepts are exactly the same as for scuba diving with the exception that the diver is supplied air from the surface ‘on demand' using a normal regulator, thus eliminating the need for a scuba tank on the diver's back. There are advantages and disadvantages to hookah. The obvious advantage is that the diver is tethered to the surface (this may be a disadvantage in some situations), and the air is constant - so long as the surface compressor keeps working, you won't run out of air. The disadvantage is predominantly that you need a person on the surface at all times to tend to the compressor and for general safety.  Because it is possible to stay down for a long time, because you have ‘unlimited' air supply, there can be a tendency to overstay your welcome, and at anything over ten metres that can be dangerous. Hookah diving requires additional skills, but these can be readily gained once the diver is trained in the use of scuba. 

But what about these sport units I have heard about that seem so simple and can be put on the back of a boat and  don't need a compressor?
Innovation is the master of necessity - or a quick buck as the case may be. Beware of any  ‘sporting' unit that ‘can be used by all members of the family', that involves going underwater. Do not - repeat do not - use any ‘special' device that is not supported by a professional dive shop. I have seen adverts for ‘diver helmets' that look like plastic buckets with a window, that claim to allow diving at ‘shallow depth'.  (This was an original concept two centuries ago - we have move on from then). I have seen equipment that is designed to pump air down from the surface in a long tube by working your legs, underwater, like a bicycle. The latter gear may have been thought ingenious by the inventor but they forgot about the practicalities. If you stop ‘pedalling' your air supply stops - so what happens if you get the cramps. This particular piece of equipment was advertised to be shown on the Beyond 2000 program many years ago but the feature was dropped when the dangers were realised. The device was actually legally banned in some states. The bottom line is, there is no easy simple way for ‘the whole family' to jump overboard, admire the underwater world - and survive. If that is what you want, stick to snorkelling. If you stick your head underwater and breath air under pressure, you need training. It is as simple as that. Your life depends on it. 

Does the open water course teach you how to use mixed gases or rebreather equipment?
No. These are covered in speciality courses. The Open Water Course covers the use of compressed air in scuba tanks using a regulator for supply. Maybe in the future other forms of breathing underwater will be the norm, and the old scuba gear will only be found in a museum. But that day is a long way off, if indeed it ever comes.

How many others can I expect on a course?
It's hard to say. Ask the dive shop. General practice indicates that a ratio of one instructor  to ten divers is acceptable - the less the better.

Okay, I've signed up - what now?
The first important requirement is to do an appropriate medical examination that will identify and indicate any problems that may prevent you from taking up scuba diving. Your doctor will be looking specifically at your breathing systems, sinus and ears, and general fitness. It is important that you take the medical examination with a doctor qualified in some aspects of hyperbaric or 'underwater medicine' or at least has an understanding of what is required in the act of diving under (water) pressure. Your dive school will provide a list of local doctors and may also provide the relevant form that the doctor must complete. Although there is some misunderstanding as to whether a medical examination is necessary prior to commencing a dive course, or prior to final certification, a responsible dive school will insist on such a medical examination and will only commence dive instruction if the medical practitioner certifies the patient as being "fit to scuba dive". And of course it is in your best interests to do a medical examination also. The medical examiner will be specifically seeking any problems with your breathing and lungs, and ears. What the doctor is looking for is a healthy body which he can be reasonably assured will stand up to the alien environment of changing pressure and moderate exertion. If you have any queries on the matter of diving medical examinations contact the South Pacific Underwater Medical Society.

I've passed the medical examination and am about to start the course. What do I need to do in preparation? 
The short answer may be - nothing, but usually some preparation is required. You must ensure that you have the course dates committed firmly in your diary and that you have allowed yourself some time in your busy work and social calendar for private home study. Your will have to do some reading at home to supplement your class theory session, and will have to work out a few basic arithmetic exercises during the course. Although sometimes it is unavoidable, missing a theory or practical session can be annoying to both yourself and the instructor. All schools will allow you to make up the time at a later session but it can be disruptive to what are usually very carefully prepared schedules. Missing one session may result in a delay of your final certification till the next scheduled course. Most schools however have some flexibility. You may also like to prepare yourself for the first pool session by swimming and maybe a few exercises just to get you better in trim. The first pool session will be a physical swim and ‘in- water' evaluation. It is not difficult and there is no stop- watch placed on you. All that the instructor wants to determine is if you can swim and how you cope with being in water. You may also like to read the dive instruction manual recomm-ended for the particular course. There are many general texts on the market but you would be best advised to read the instruction manual for the dive association that is about to train you. Some schools may provide the manual beforehand so you do some preliminary reading.

What is the cost of equipment to hire?
It varies of course from shop to shop, but as a guide only, the following are the prices charged by a large professional dive shop servicing the northern New South Wales coast. Full set of gear for a charter boat dive, which consists of tank, regulator, BCD, weight belt, wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins and boots is $30. It is an extra $15 if no joining one of the dive shops charter boats.  (Note - most divers will have at least their own mask and snorkel, and usually fins and boots.) This is an excellent package for a visiting diver, particularly an overseas or interstate tourist just wanting the occasional dive. Just a tank and reg would be $20; tank and weight belt $15, tank $10. They offer hoods and gloves at no charge. A torch is $10, and a Sea and Sea Camera, including film, is $50. With hire service like this, it makes it easy for the light traveller to tour the country and yet have an occasional dive. A major Victorian dive shop rents a tank at $15, a regulator and gauges at $20, wetsuit $20, or ‘the lot' at $65.00. (Discount for club members). Several shops provide all equipment for $50, providing you dive with them.


When can I teach my own kids to dive? 
As per Golden Rule Two, don't teach your kids yourself unless you are a fully qualified instructor. Dive associations lay down the minimum ages for Scuba Diving students  but it is important also to consider the physical and mental attribute of the child. The child must be able to adequately lift a scuba tank and kit up on his/her own. (There are various sizes of air tanks so this should not be a problem). More important however is the matter of general attitude and shall we say maturity. Whatever you do, don't push or entice in any way, particularly a child, to take up the sport. See Golden Rule Three. 

I understand they use computers now in diving, but I am totally computer illiterate.
Computers are used in equipment that show depth and duration of the dive. Don't worry - you need have absolutely no knowledge of the workings of computers.

What's this technical diving stuff?
Well you may ask, for it is the ‘new rage' with many experienced divers. Sydney diver, photographer and explorer Mark  Spencer suggests that it is the use of skills ‘to meet those challenges that lie beyond the normal parameters of recreational diving'. The US cave diving guru, the late Sheck Exley defines it more precisely as ‘a discipline that uses special methods and equipment to improve diver safety and performance, enabling the user to conduct dives in environments and perform tasks beyond the scope of recreational diving'. Gary Gentile, another US based ‘technical' diver suggests that ‘tech' stands for ‘both technique and technology - the acquisition of esoteric knowledge in the use of state-of-the-art equipment'. He continues to suggest that ‘a new generation of explorers has arrived in the guise of the technical diver'. There you have it. All ‘definitions' serve to give some idea of the level of diving that a ‘technical' diver engages. Basically, it is the discipline of using the latest equipment - not fads and new-improved BCs, but equipment at the forefront of undersea technology. In Australia, this predominantly means the use of alternative breathing mixtures, and breathing equipment, such as Nitrox, Trimix and other ‘mixed gases', and rebreather systems. Whereas some divers no doubt get a deserved thrill out of using the latest equipment, others see ‘technical' diving as a further means to an end. Gary Gentile suggests that most technical divers are wither wreck enthusiasts or cave diverse - they wish to go deeper to see the wrecks (or stay longer), or wish to penetrate further. The technical diver tends to be a very skilled scuba diver, which generally means that you don't finish an open water course and then go straight into a technical diving course using mixed gases - but you could. Commensurate with the use of new equipment however is the development of associated skills such as deep diving and cave penetration. Those divers ‘developing' the concepts of technical diving now are paving the way for, perhaps, a more general use of specific technical equipment (read also gases) for the recreational diver of the future.

I have completed a Scuba Diver course in Queensland, and now want to dive in Melbourne. Will it be the same?
The diving conditions are different between tropical and rtemperate waters. Diving in a thick 7mm suit is a totally different experience requiring modified skills from that diving in tropical waters wearing bikinis or a ‘Sports Suit'. In such circumstances, tell the dive shop and dive leader exactly your situation. Don't be afraid of doing a ‘check-out' dive first with the dive leader. Your safety depends on it. 

I use diving in my work - do I need special qualifications?
If your diving is part of your ‘work place' then the answer is yes. Each state of Australia has its own workplace health and safety regulations, administered by a department such as Industrial Relations and WorkCare (the names vary for each state). Construction and rig divers, and abalone divers, most definitely need special workplace cover. Their employers will know the rules. Where there is some doubt, and maybe controversy, is that of the self-employed scuba diver who uses diving as part of his or her work. An example is a photographer who sells work as a predominant means of making a living; or perhaps an underwater film crew; or even a self-employed marine consultant. These people may be required to complete an Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme. It is, for example, a contentious issue as to whether I, as an an author of a book about scuba diving, and therefore one who dives to ostensibly check out diving sites, should be further qualified. Nobody has managed to answer that question. If it came to a point of law, it would have to established that my ‘workplace' is under the sea - and not 15 hours a day at a computer! The important thing is to be sure of your own situation, particularly when it comes to insurance. 

Do dive boat operators have to be certified in any way.
Most definitely yes. Anyone taking passengers on board a boat, for whatever reason, must be qualified according to the appropriate state maritime legislation, and the boat must be in survey to a level appropriate for the purpose of the charter and the relevant waters. It is illegal for a anyone to charge for services even if it is a member of a dive club with a boat who charges a set amount for a dive. There is of course no problem with a group of divers chipping in for fuel but that's where it ends. I repeat - all dive and charter boats used commercially with paying passengers, i.e. divers, require a survey authorised by the appropriate Marine Survey Board which, inter alia, refers to the number of passengers allowed, and the area in which the boat may operate. Divers who pay for a service on an unsurveyed, or inappropriately surveyed boat, may find legal implications should there be an accident. Moreover, divers who use illegal boats are in effect contributing to unsafe and illegal practices and are depriving those professional boat operators, who have done the right thing, of continuing their business in a legal, ethical and safety conscious manner.

I am a qualified diver but I haven't dived for a few years. What should I do?
Dive certification is granted for a lifetime, and hence it is all too easy to drag the old regulator out of the cupboard, dust off the cobwebs from the deteriorating dive suit and head off for a dive after a few years. You may get away with it, and although diving is like riding a bike - you will never forget how, it is a wise diver who assesses the situation and seeks experienced company on that first dive after an appreciable period. Whatever you do, tell your divemaster. Don't assume that all is the same. It is, paradoxically, the experienced sensible diver who will seek assistance from the divemaster after an absence of diving. And another brief warning. Make sure you clean out your vest as a number of nasty bacteria can congregate if the vest has not been used. Clean the bag, hoses and fittings with a strong disinfectant of the type used for baby care. Most dive operators have the facility for a qualified diver to ‘brush up' on his or her skills. This generally means taking an ‘Introductory' or ‘Check-out' dive where you are supervised on (perhaps) a one to one ration. There is nothing demoralising about having a young divemaster take you through your paces again even if it was his bum that was constantly wet for other reasons when you first took the plunge.  And remember that you may also have to show a current medical certificate.

I've been diving for twenty years and started when there was no alphabet soup - no PADI, NAUI or FAUI - the Disney characters of diving.  With no C-card how can I join a charter boat? 
There should be no problem as the onus is on the divemaster to establish ‘capability' of diving in the workplace. Such determination is usually established by the showing of a dive card, but it does not have to be this way. (I understand in Queensland it is mandatory to have at least an Open Water Card). Perhaps the best thing to do would be to get a good instructor to take you through your paces and for you to be examined - theory and practice - and get an Open Water card. It can save a lot of hassles. You would not need to do a full five-day course for example. But to get the qualification, you will need to be properly examined. Failing that, no card does not necessarily mean no dive. The onus is on you to prove your current skills - not the fact that you were a test pilot for Draegar just after the war.  If you have been a regular scuba diver, then you will have kept a log book like all good divers do. This may well be your passport for charter boat diving. I heard that some years ago Ron Taylor was refused an airfill in Queensland because he was not qualified. So he bought the compressor.

What do I need to go on a boat dive?
Generally - your equipment, your qualification card - and be on time. The amount of equipment that you need to bring depends on what you own and what is available for hire. Always check with the dive operator well before the departure as hire equipment is not generally stored aboard the boat. One dive operator lists the following points in his brochure. 
All divers must:
 - have and show proof of their diving qualifications when requested;
 - have and wear a buoyancy compensating vest on all dives;
 - have a cylinder contents gauge, depth gauge and a means of timing your dive;
 - have an octopus regulator for all dives;
 - have an efficient torch and a Cyalume light stick for all night dives;
 - have all equipment in good working order.
The same dive operator also requests that if the diver has not dived previously with the operator, or is not known by the operator, the diver is restricted to within 20 m depth unless under supervision. This particular dive operator is a professional - he communicates, wants people to enjoy themselves - and wants them to come back alive and well. The better dive operators have a promotion kit that explains what you need to bring on a dive. 

A night dive? What could you possibly see at night?
Everything. The ocean comes alive at night. Not that it is particularly dormant during the day but many marine species ‘come out' at night, particularly the invertebrates. It is a thrilling experience and requires no special training except for the learning of a few basic procedures. The only additional equipment required is a good torch - preferably two. You will probably take a small torch on a normal day dive (to peer into nooks and crannies) but you should have a good powerful torch for an enjoyable night dive. 

What is an octopus regulator?
This is just an amusing name for an extra demand regulator coming off your air tank, the whole contraption generally called an octopus rig - although if we ever get to the stage where we have eight libnes coming out, then is the time to give the game away!!.  It is becoming mandatory for recreational sport dives in the workplace (one where you pay for the dive) as it increases diver safety. If your main regulator second-stage malfunctions, you have a back-up. And if your buddy has a problem with air supply you can share your air and return to the surface. 

Why buddy dive? There seems to be a lot of talk lately about diving on your own.
Solo diving is a controversial issue, and this is not the place to enter the debate. A diver can decide to go solo only when he or she has the experience to make the decision. Buddy diving increases the safety aspect of the dive as you have a partner who can help out if needs be. This will be discussed during your course. When diving with a dive operator (ie in the workplace), the usual requirement is that you must with a buddy. And remember, when diving with a dive operator (on a charter boat perhaps) you must follow the dive masters instructions. If you want to ‘do your own thing' you had better check with the divemaster first. You have no right to insist on a solo dive if in the workplace, and indeed, it is no doubt illegal to solo dive in the workplace. 

Do all charter boats have oxygen on board?
No, and you could ask why not. Oxygen should be standard equipment on any dive charter boat - and someone on board should know how to administer it under emergency conditions. I am sure it will become a prerequisite in time.

What other safety precautions should I look for in a dive charter boat?
There is nothing more important than the maritime skills and local knowledge of the  boat skipper, and the maturity, skills and local knowledge of the divemaster. (They may of course be one and the same person, depending on the intention of the divemaster to dive with the group). Their skills is something that the casual tourist cannot readily determine, but their professional manner and attention to detail, safety briefings and the individual diver's needs is paramount. We have mentioned oxygen on board. You could also make sure that there are additional, full, air tanks  just in case a rescue is required. Needless to say, it is assumed that the dive boat is fully surveyed according to the marine laws of the state. Any boat, even privately owned, must be fully surveyed for the service offered, if used commercially - ie, if you hand over your money. 

What about dive boats leaving divers behind on the reefs - like the Lonergans?
I thought someone would ask that. A most important question. Firstly, there is no valid reason whatsoever for this to happen. Secondly, you have the opportunity to ensure that it doesn't happen. During the first six months of 1998, no less than five divers were left behind by dive charter boats on the Great Barrier Reef. You have probably only heard of two of these - the ‘mysterious' disappearance of Tom Lonergan and his wife Eileen. They made press headlines, as, unlike the other three, they were never rescued. It was on 25 January 1998 that the Lonergans joined a charter boat for a trip out of Port Douglas to St. Crispin Reef. The fact that the couple was not reported missing for more than forty-eight hours is a travesty - the search for the missing divers did not commence until 63 hours after they should have returned on board.  Apart from the tragedy of it all, the media had a field day and it was not long before Eileen's diary was found, and a ‘suicide pact' was mentioned. Over the next few months, items of diving gear including a tank, vest and slate, were washed up on shore, all identified as belonging to the Lonergans. The National Search and Rescue Organisation (AusSAR) reported no trace of the couple despite flying 58 sorties over 8629 square nautical miles of the Coral Sea. Excuses were made of course, and an inquiry held which makes for fascinating reading in itself, and shows how easy it is to slip up on what should be standard procedure. Put all the emotion, innuendo and supposition aside, and consider this. The Code of Practice for Recreational Diving insists that a count be made of divers going in and coming out of the water, and that a roster is kept. A count is clearly insufficient, as has clearly been proven. It is important that the NAMES of each diver be clearly logged, on a sheet (that can be retained), recording at least their entry and exit times. This must be the responsibility of the divemaster. Other responsible operators may also decide to record maximum depth attained, and also air consumption (based on retained air in the tank). By recording the name of the diver, there is a dramatic increase in safety potential over a simple head count. You can ensure that this procedure is adopted simply by asking the question, and making sure it happens. It could be suggested that on a boat with a small number of divers, say six or so, the name recording may not be necessary, but I do not believe this. The recording of the name encourages discipline by the divemaster. It also provides a record of dive time duration (and interval time between dives)  to cross check with the diver wanting a further (repetitive) dive. (This should be the divers responsibility however). The diver however cannot control the premature departure of the dive boat, but he or she can ensure that the highest safety potential procedures are followed.  Make sure that your NAME is recorded. And just to be on the safe side, particularly on a boat with a large number of divers, befriend someone on board if you don't know anyone and make sure that you look out for each other after the dive. That person should not be your dive buddy. Finally, just remember that your safety is your responsibility, and whereas you must at times rely on others, you have every right to ensure the highest safety potential for your life and that of others. If in doubt - ask.
Back to the Lonergans. Even if the unfortunate idea that they had entered into a suicide pact was true, and that they purposely ‘disappeared', it does not make one iota of difference to the responsibility of the dive operator. Their disappearance should have been noted immediately their dive time was up. And how would the dive master know when their time was up? Because he or she had recorded the entry time on the dive log. Being alerted a matter of minutes after the expected end of a dive is better than discovering a problem when back at port. And just as a matter of interest, check this out. Divers with this dive charter that took the Lonergans out were asked to remove their shoes before boarding, to protect the decking of the boat, a common and acceptable practice. These shoes were waiting for the divers on the jetty when they returned. And guess what. When the divers departed the jetty, there were two pairs of shoes left (and other items). Even this did not alert anyone.

What then can I expect of a competent dive boat operator?
The requirements are laid down in the relevant Code of Practice for boat operators; the actual document varies between the states. Ask to see a copy of the WorkCare procedures in place. 

 I, Peter Stone, take full reponsibility for the information provided above, most of which comes from my book Dive Australia, and I stress that it is done so in good faith, with the aim of increasing your understanding of recreational scuba diving and personal safety appreciation. The passing of time ensures improvements in equipment and appropriate techniques, and in prices and service changes, some of which I may not have kept up with. I am not an instructor and have no affiliation with any dive shop, dive school or training association. My only claim is that I have been a recreational diver, and for a time a professional diver in that I earnt a living using my diving, writing and photography skills,  for the past thirty-five years. I welcome comment and criticism so email me if you think something is not kosha, or if you wish to add something. 
Oceans Enterprises, 303 Commercial Road, Yarram, Vic 3971, Australia.