Friday, October 29, 2010

Tips to Stay Down Longer

Ah, endless scuba dives… No matter what type of scuba diving we do, it’s every scuba diver’s goal to remain underwater as long as possible. While we can’t become mer-people and breathe underwater forever (at least so far), there are some techniques and tools you can use to safely extend bottom time and stay down longer on each scuba dive.

Relax and breathe normally both on the surface and underwater. On descent, try to exhale all the air from your lungs and any tension from the rest of you. Get underwater quickly, where scuba equipment is more comfortable and easier to manage. Swim slowly and enjoy the scenery to make your air last longer. Scuba diving should not be a speed sport.

Fine-tune your weight system so that adjusting your buoyancy will be effortless. When weighted properly and holding a normal breath, you should float at eye level. Then when you relax and exhale completely, making sure you’ve emptied all the air out of both your BCD and your lungs, you should sink slowly below the surface.

When adjusting your buoyancy, go easy on your BCD inflator. Use short bursts of air, taking a few normal breaths between each burst to check your progress before adding more. Proper weighting reduces how much you need to add and release. Constantly adding and dumping air from your BCD because you're over-weighted will make a big dent in your air supply.

Practice the fin pivot and other neutral buoyancy techniques from the Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty course. When you can remain neutral with nearly no effort, you’re relaxed and your air will go a lot farther.

Save energy and decrease drag. Swim with your arms by your side and concentrate on slow smooth kick strokes originating at your hips. This peak performance buoyancy technique will keep you streamlined underwater and let your scuba fins do the work. This way, you’ll conserve more energy and use less air.

Breathe Enriched Air Nitrox instead of air. EANx contains less nitrogen and a higher concentration of oxygen. By using special enriched air dive tables or dive computers your scuba dives can last a lot longer, particularly at depths less than 100 feet.

Limit multitasking. If you’re trying to enjoy a scuba dive, take pictures and make notes to help you identify fish all at the same time, chances are good your air consumption will go up. Pick one activity to enjoy per scuba dive to get the most bottom time.

Stay shallower when you can. Since we’re under greater pressure the deeper we go, we use more air with each breath from our scuba tanks when we're deeper. By spending most of your scuba time at shallower depths, you extend your dive because your air supply lasts longer. Even hanging out a few feet above the group on a wall dive, for instance, can help you stay down longer.

Stay fit. Stop smoking and stay fit with a proper training program that includes cardiovascular and weight training exercise. When your respiratory and cardiovascular systems are in top form, your body works more efficiently and that translates to better air use and more bottom time.

This tip is originally from a PADI post on helpful tips to improve your diving.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Better Buoyancy Tips

If you’re doing it right, scuba diving is usually anything but strenuous, and experienced divers know that maintaining neutral buoyancy is the key to easy diving. Not only that, once your buoyancy control is good, learning other skills like underwater photography, fish identification and underwater navigation is a whole lot easier! The underwater environment will thank you as well, since good buoyancy control keeps you from crashing into the coral reef and other natural habitats you encounter.

A good place to start is with the right BCD since different models provide different amounts of lift. Coldwater scuba divers wear different wetsuits and more weight than tropical scuba divers and the BCD they wear need to be appropriate to the activity.

Wearing the right amount of weight is essential to achieving buoyancy superstar status. When weighted properly and holding a normal breath, you should float at eye level. Then you’ll be able to sink slowly below the surface feet first when you relax and fully exhale, making sure you’ve dumped all the air out of your BC as well as out of your lungs. If you’re using a full scuba tank when you do this check, then add 2.5kg/5lbs to offset the air you use up while diving. These types of peak performance buoyancy skills are the basis for easy scuba diving.

Note the word ‘slowly.’ If you sink like a stone then you’re wearing too much weight! On the other hand if you and your BCD are fully exhaled and your head’s still above water, try adding a few pounds.

Adjust your weight for what you’re wearing and where you’re scuba diving. The type of dry suit or wetsuit you have on will affect your buoyancy, and everyone’s more buoyant in saltwater versus fresh.

Get horizontal as soon as you can. Once underwater, you’ll start descending faster as the water pressure compresses your wetsuit, reducing your buoyancy. To counteract this, move into a swimming position as soon as you’re completely underwater. Add small amounts of air to your BCD so you descend slower and arrive near the bottom neutrally buoyant.

Remember your scuba tank will become lighter during the dive so make sure your descents are easy. If you have to struggle to get down, chances are you’ll have to work hard to stay down at the end of the dive and making a safety stop will be difficult if you’re too buoyant.

Wearing too much weight can be just as exhausting as wearing too little. If you’re constantly adding a bunch of air to your BC to stay off the bottom, then dumping it when you move a little shallower, you’re probably overweighted. On a multilevel dive you should be able to easily move between deeper and shallower depths without making drastic adjustments.

Add and subtract air from the BCD in small amounts, using short bursts of the inflator or brief dumps through the exhaust valve. Then relax and breathe normally while using a stable underwater landmark as a reference to see whether you’re still rising or falling before making more adjustments. A small amount of air either way can make a big difference.

For more subtle fine-tuning, try using breath control before reaching for your BCD inflator. You’ll find you can adjust your buoyancy by simply taking a deep breath or exhaling. In fact, when neutrally buoyant you’ll notice that you gently rise and fall with each breath; this is normal and natural. Remember, though, to never hold your breath.

Consider dedicating a scuba dive or two to mastering your buoyancy skills. The payoff can be remarkable, rewarding you with better air consumption, increased confidence and more energy. Like keeping your car between the lines on the road, obtaining neutral buoyancy becomes an automatic habit that occurs effortlessly once you get the hang of it.

This tip is originally from a PADI post on helpful tips to improve your diving.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sign up to Splash for Trash!

This handsome sculpture lives outside in Nye Beach, Oregon (suburb of Newport). It's a vivid reminder of just how much 'forgotten' plastic is in the ocean as it was created entirely from shore-collected plastic trash.

We've all heard about the floating plastic pile in the middle of the Pacific. As individuals it's going to be tough to make an impact. But we can start small by cleaning just a 1/2 mile stretch of coastline in West Seattle. Join us on September 25th - do something positive for the environment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happy Hour Value

Recently I was at a Happy Hour with my wife when we realized that it made a great metaphor. Everybody knows that Happy Hour portions cost less but you also get less - portions are half-sized and half-priced. That's acceptable if you just want to eat light or save money and are willing to make trade-offs between price and quality.

I saw a TV ad the same day from Wendy's which asked "Since when does Value mean getting Less?" Same concept. It's not a value simply because you're paying less to get less.

Sometimes low course tuition is explainable. Consumers are offered a bundled price of education plus equipment. One subsidizes the other. But what about courses that are simply offered for free or next to free? Not a special promotion, but a regular price designed to attract high volumes of students? These "Scuba Factories" often create students who are certified but not qualified since students aren't receiving full, proper training. The ol' adage "You Get What You Pay For" holds true even in the Scuba industry.

There is a difference in where you get your Scuba education. How do you find an Instructor who is committed to providing value and is more interested in training competent divers than amassing certifications for themselves? Ask your friends for recommendations or research reputations for yourself. Your safety is much too important to go with the lowest price. Choose best value instead.

BTW - we were at the Happy Hour by chance. It's always great to get a discount but we didn't choose the establishment because they were the cheapest. We chose them because of their tasty menu and great reputation. Similarly, most Scuba Instructors will give you a multi-course discount or other incentives if you continue your training with them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Redondo - Two Divesites in One!

I sometimes forget how lucky we are to have such diverse dive sites so accessible in the Seattle area. Redondo is one of those places with great facilities... across-the-street parking, easy entry access, short surface swims, Salty's restaurant when you're finished... but also two completely different dives conveniently organized along underwater lines. This makes for a great two-dive outing without having to move the car!

Today, my friends Dennis & Aimee joined me for a dive along the "Deep Line".

Ninety five feet max depth for 34 minutes, water temp 49 degrees. Under one of the boat wreckages, it was obvious that there was a Giant Pacific Octopus but we didn't stop to look as there were already some divers checking it out.

What impressed me most of all was the sheer number of shrimp! They were EVERYwhere. I did a REEF survey after the fact and wanted to select whatever comes after 'Abundant'! On our way back up the slope, Dennis found a Bay Pipefish, about 16" long. It was the first time I had seen one other than at the Seattle Aquarium. So it's always cool to see new things!

What else did we see?

Plumose anemones, both dungeness & red rock crabs, the bay pipefish, a fish-eating anemone, kelp crabs, sunflower and spiny pink seastars, copper rockfish and painted greenlings.

Second dive was max depth of 57 feet and just under an hour long. Dennis and I went without Aimee, who was having drysuit issues. It's no fun being wet in a drysuit. :-(

We found the line to the VW Bug - my first visit! In the past, I think I've hit the skinny line and followed it but it stops. A little deeper is a thicker line that connects all the items of interest - the VW Bug, piles of what appear to be streetlight covers, boat wreckages, etc.

What did we see this time?

This time we saw two Giant Pacific Octopusses - one under the passenger side of the VW and another under a boat. We also saw a cute lineup of five penpoint gunnels under the driver's side. I had never seen a buffalo sculpin at this site but we did find one individual and Dennis got some great dramatic photos of it. Definitely would go again.

Check out a comprehensive dive site guide at The Perfect Dive. Please note that photos are from that site and are the property of Jeremy Chevalier.

Got a dive experience to share?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Great new addition to Edmonds Underwater Park

Yesterday Meghan & I did a Naturalist dive as part of her AOW certification at Edmonds Underwater Park (now technically known as "Bruce Higgins Underwater Trails"). The weather was blustery, lots of surface-driven waves but calm underwater - we ended up having a fantastic dive: 42 feet max depth for 60 minutes, water temp of 50 degrees.

There is a new addition to the park as of a week or so ago - a 100'L x 20'W x 19'D barge that lies just a few feet to the west of the Triumph. It was sunk without much fanfare other than Edmonds locals saw the "big crane barge" helping but it down. Lots of mussels on the sides but squeaky clean on top and inside. It's marked by two 55 gallon blue drums. We decended on the white ball with the dive flag on it which was inline between those drums. This put us right on the Triumph. Boy had it deteriorated since the last time I saw it a few years ago. But it's a magnet for Lingcod and Rockfish which makes it still appealing.

The new barge has large openings on top which reveal rooms the whole depth of the structure. I think this would be a good opportunity for a wreck class but we didn't come prepared for penetration so we just looked over the lip of the rooms. If you want to penetrate - and it's oh so appealing - make sure you have proper training and equipment. Soon there will be silt inside which will make for a low viz, overhead environment which isn't appropriate for beginners or for anyone without a line to the exit. The barge itself is propped off the bottom by a couple of feet. Something about permitting that didn't allow them to put the barge directly on the bottom. Certainly not safe for going under the structure but fun to peek underneath - we saw the giant lips of a Lingcod wondering what the heck we were shining our light at!

Since it was a naturalist dive, we saw Kelp Greenling, Lingcod, Painted Greenling, Longfin Gunnel, Penpoint Gunnel, Black Rockfish, Copper Rockfish, Quillback Rockfish, Cabezon, Kelp Surfperch, Pile Perch, Shiner Surfperch, Striped Seaperch, Tube-Snout, Coonstripe Shrimp, Dungeness Crab, Northern Kelp Crab, Red Rock Crab, Lacy Bryozoan, Fish-eating Anemone, Plumose Anemone, Sunflower Star, White-lined Dirona, Northern Feather Duster Worm, Hooded Nudibranch, Clown Dorid and a Shaggy Mouse Nudibranch. 27 species in total!

Very nice dive. Made for a much more interesting REEF survey than Seacrest Cove 2. Must remember that the long surface swim is well worth it - and there is plenty of great structure on Jetty Way on the way in so you don't have to spend all your time on the new barge or Triumph. Hope you can make it there soon!

Thanks Meghan for being a great dive buddy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Convenience & Value

Recently I was talking with another PADI Pro about the Advanced Open Water program, its intent, conduct and marketing. We agreed that students who hold this rating aren't necessarily experienced divers but that the course was that opportunity for a student to gain more experience under an Instructor's direct supervision.

We talked about pricing. The 'going rate' in Seattle seems to be about $150, some Instructors charging more, some far less. But the programs are not nearly identical in value. The lowest price offerings often include specialties that are easy to teach rather than popular and in some cases, the Instructor is trying to push so many people through the course that they don't even get in the water with students, leaving their Staff to do that.

Many Instructors choose not to conduct a night dive because it's logistically challenging and anxiety can be high. But isn't that the role of an Instructor that wants to teach? Other Instructors use the boat adventure dive as one of the electives. Boat ettiquette and procedures are important but not knowing these isn't necessarily a safety issue. Night diving is often the only option during the winter workweek in Seattle. Students should be encouraged to experience it rather than forgo 5/7ths (71%) of their winter diving opportunities.

When researching an Instructor to take your Advanced Open Water course from, be sure to interview them about whether they'll be getting in the water with you, how many other students will be joining you, what adventure dives they'll conduct and why you'd benefit from those chosen.