Are You An Experienced Scuba Diver? 5 Ways to Self-Assess
Experience is the toughest teacher because it gives the test first and the lesson afterwards. So, are you an experienced scuba diver? And how can you self-assess your skills?
What qualifies as experience?
There is no ranking system or point scoring in scuba diving, and measuring success is not in terms of how much more experience you have than another diver. Experience is relative. This is why it’s important to get to a level where you can self-assess. This comes with confidence in your abilities to handle situations that arise.
How do you get experience?
Gaining scuba diving experience is all about trying to make your next dive better than your last. It’s also about the kind of diving that you do. For example, if you do your first 20 dives in bad visibility, in cold water, in a dry suit, you are going to feel much more comfortable transitioning to tropical, warm water diving. Likewise, if you start with 20 tropical dives, there will be a much bigger learning curve when you begin to cold-water dive.
How do you measure experience?
It’s hard to track your performance in scuba diving, because only one of the five pillars of scuba diving is truly measurable. Scuba diving performance is not based on:
- Scoring points
- Who is the fastest
- Who is the strongest
In fact, it can be somewhat subjective. So, how can you measure your performance and experience?
The five pillars of scuba diving
The five pillars include indicators that you can track to self-assess your level of performance and get to a place where you are happy with your own diving.
Buoyancy control is, without a doubt, the key fundamental of scuba diving. Simply put, it’s the ability to maintain positive buoyancy on the surface, and neutral buoyancy throughout a dive. So, what are the indicators of great natural buoyancy?
- You use your lungs as your primary buoyancy adjusters over your BCD
- You use the exact minimum amount of weight that you need. Overweighting is a very common problem with new divers that think they need more weight than they do.
Breathing is the only measurable pillar of scuba diving because you have a gauge on your regulator and can measure your consumption. With some basic math from your dive computer from the profile of the dive you just did, you can easily calculate your RMV, or respiratory minute volume. This is the amount of gas that you are passing in and out of your lungs. It is important to work on bringing your RMV down so you are breathing in the most efficient manner.
When looking at your RMV, make note of the conditions that you had on that specific dive, because conditions affect how you breathe. For example, if you’re swimming in a strong current, you are going to breathe more.
Trim is best measured by being the most hydrodynamic shape in the water possible. So, as you move through the water column, you are in the most efficient position. Trim starts with minimizing drag, but how does one do that?
- Tidy your equipment configuration. When you have tools hanging off of you, you are going to create more drag.
- Fix your water posture. You should have your head in a neutral position, slightly up. Your shoulders, chest, torso, hips and knees should all be in flat alignment. Arms should either be tucked in, folded in front of you, or out in front.
One great tip is to have your scuba diving buddy take a video of you on a dive with an underwater camera. As a beginner diver, it’s hard to know what you look like when you dive, and seeing yourself from another perspective can help you see where you need to make improvements.
In the meantime, check out our tips on how to make the best of an insta-buddy experience and find great regular diving partners.
Propulsion is efficiency of movement, so in other words, fin kicking. The key is getting just the right amount of kick you need from every fin cycle, and no more. Having good propulsion does not mean being the fastest swimmer, but rather only having to go a short distance and expelling a small amount of energy to get there.
Propulsion ties in with trim because if your body is in an efficient position, each kick is going to have less resistance and you will get more out of it. As a new diver, it is important to focus on the basics. Avoid bicycle kicking and instead get a strong flutter kick going. You can even experiment with frog kicks if you are comfortable!
In the context of diving, organization starts at home with gear configuration and making sure you never forget anything. Some other examples of scuba diving organization include:
- Using checklists when you pack
- Doing checks after you get your gear set up
- Protecting all of your equipment
- Knowing the functions of your dive computer
The best thing about these skills is that there is no limit to how much you can develop them. Remember that diving is supposed to be fun. As long as you are diving safely, and not harming yourself, others, or the environment, go for it! Because the only way to gain experience is to actually go diving. There is plenty of local diving out there that you can check out to work on your skills and make yourself a better diver. If you feel you are doing well in your self-assessment, you may want to consider what it takes to become a technical diver.