CopyRight @ 1997
In this page, I will try to primarily include tips that I have
not commonly heard or that might serve in unusual conditions.
Some of these are clearly tips for beginners that should be taught in a beginner class, but sometimes they just get skipped.
Most of the tips are just about things that any diver, beginner or experienced, might encounter in California or elsewhere.
Realize, diving has its inherent hazards, but if you know what you are doing, stay in good physical condition and if you always think, it is a pretty safe sport that is incredibly rewarding.
It is often cold water in California, especially above the Channel Islands. It takes a lot of gear and some determination to dive the cold water. Taking a boat to Anacapa or Catalina will provide warmer water and diving of incredible beauty. For the diver that wants the exotic or good hunting though, a trip to the outer islands is the way to go. Trips to the outer islands are long and often rough. It can be tough diving, but it is well worth it for the beauty and excitement. Any diver that can dive with their California gear and conditions, can go to almost any sea in the world and be extremely comfortable.
For new divers... you will be told about mask fit, but the instructor may not practice what they preach. Make sure they do. Your mask must fit well and seal well. If it doesn't, get together with the instructor and get the problem fixed up. A leaky mask can make beginner class tasks near impossible.
Also for new divers... most people starting out diving have a hard time clearing their ears. It will come with time and practice, but you must learn it well or you will just not be able to dive comfortably. Snorkeling is a good way to practice ear clearing.
Another for new divers... If you are a smaller person, don't let them fix you up with an Aluminum 80 tank. get then to give you an AL 63 or at least an AL 70. If you have too big of a tank, definitely unneeded in a class, you will have to spend all your time struggling with it.
Another thought for new divers, if you are renting a wetsuit, it the suit is a bit loose that should not usually be critical. You might get a bit cold. If, on the other hand, the suit is too tight, that could be trouble. You then have to fight it to swim and even to breath. I've done one rescue for this reason and seen a couple of dives end from that reason too. While cold is not the biggest problem, If you get a hood that is too loose or even has a pocket on top of your head, you may well get a headache or other cold water problem.
Conditions Conditions Conditions. Observe and think about the conditions. Winds, currents and waves. Where are the rocks and the land? Which way can you bail out? Who might be able to help you?
Know when to get out. Know when to not go in at all. No matter how far you have driven or how long you've waited for the spring diving, if you get to the shore and it is rough, unless you are sure you know what you are doing, you probably should try another day
Want Lobster? Swim far, swim fast, grab hard.
Only take the game that you are going to eat and then treat it special.
Try to follow the "Tidepool Rule". If you flip a rock, turn it back.
Orient yourself with your compass. There are a variety of ways to do this. Learn a method that works for you and always do it. If there is land in sight, as there almost always is in California, what direction is it? You should be able to picture in you minds eye, your compass and where it is pointing, in relation to the land or the boat or both.
Get sleep. On a nice sunny day, when sight seeing on some colorful reef, it is not quite as important. If you plan to do any dives that are more physically challenging, a bit of extra sleep can make a big difference. It can also make seasickness less of a problem.
Drink lots of fluids before diving, especially if you are planning some grueling diving. It reduces the risk of a decompression problem and combats hypothermia. On boats, I bring a large bottle of water that I guzzle just before starting the day of diving. Slightly warmed water is not a bad idea either. Something with electrolytes like Gatorade might be better. Just don't forget and put it somewhere to chill like I once did. Suddenly, you will find that your core temperature is missing. Of course, all of this applies primarily if you are not in a dry suit.
On two occasions, when I have had to rescue people that got too far out and could not get back, I spotted the person because of their orange vest. I probably could not have seen them at that distance otherwise. In both cases, the afternoon wind contributed to the problem.
The best piece of safety equipment is one of the cheapest. The "Scuba Tuba" or "Scuba Sausage" is a long, brightly colored plastic bag, that can be blown up and used for floatation or to hold up so you can be seen. This is a fantastic safety device.
While panic is the best way to get killed while diving, I do consider it permissible, perhaps even appropriate.... after you're done drowning. There is no way to look stupider than getting pulled out of the water, dead, with your weight belt on. Weight belts are cheap. When in minor trouble on the surface, it is the easiest and most effective way to make things manageable. When you are in serious trouble, it is the best and pretty much only, last resort you have. When you are in risk of losing consciousness, worry about getting to the surface first, other issues later. Also, if you are having trouble on the surface, but it is not too serious, you can consider dropping the weights off of your belt to save the cost of the belt itself. Weights are cheaper than the belts. To do this, your belt must be setup properly, a buddy can be helpful here and you will need some presence of mind.
In a kelp bed or rocky reef area, small guns and pole spears are excellent for taking some tasty fish. But these spears don't pack that much punch and may not even stun a fish. Pin your fish to the rocks or get a hold of it immediately. Some of the nicest fish have been unnecessarily lost due to the fish getting off of the spear. And then it is probably wasted.
When doing rock entries, you should usually start swimming as soon as possible. You can hold onto the bottom kelp to pull out with and to stop waves from pushing you back in.
When in a place like Begg Rock, with rough conditions on a reef with vertical faces, watch out for the vertical surge. When you get next to a steep reef face when there are waves, there will be violent local currents and a vertical surge. The problem is that when the surge pushes you up, it will feel as though you have lost buoyancy control and you are heading for the surface uncontrollably. If you fight this, you will get nervous and tired and you might even get a helicopter trip, as I have seen before. If you recognize what is happening, you can deal with it like it was a normal surge and not fight it. Backing off the reef just a few feet will dramatically lessen the effect.
So you are a bit deep to do a free ascent if you can avoid it and your regulator is rapidly drowning you with water. This is uncommon, but it happened to me and someone told me a cure. So it must have happened to someone else. Push the purge to get air, do not just suck. The water is being passed by the diaphragm as you suck. The purge button will not do this... Go to the surface.
Another time that a buddy is nice is if a shark shows up. They say that in the U.S. you are more likely to be struck by lightening than bitten by a shark. I figure that the odds must change if you go in the ocean. If you dive the north or central coast of California, the odds change considerably. Sharks don't like getting hurt. A wounded seal is dangerous to anyone and anything. A shark's method of attack is generally to bite their prey and then let it bleed to death. This is true for divers as well. So if a diver is attacked by a shark, they are likely to be injured and bleeding, but not dead. If someone is there to get them out of the water, they have a much better chance of survival. Get a real sexy scar that way...
If the visibility is so low that you hit the bottom unexpectedly (this is usually only a problem when free diving), put something in your hand, like an abalone iron or pole spear, that will slide through your hand when you reach the bottom... See Santa Cruz diving.
Research shows some simple facts about reef ecology. It's all about MTV. Worse than Music Television, in biology it stands for Micro-Topographical Variation. It is what is pretty much the single most important factor controlling the density and diversity of any reef community. All this means is that if there are lots of holes and shelves in a reef, then lots of fish and other critters can make a living there. In the Santa Barbara area where the kelp grows without rock, there is about 2 pounds of fish per acre. In a rocky reef area, even without kelp, there is more like 35 pounds of fish per acre. Even a large rock reef may have few holes useful to fish in it though.
When just tooling along, sight seeing, a good thing to think about is making fish houses. You may occasionally notice a hole between two rocks, that is just big enough to set a small flat rock across. There are lots of other times when you will just notice a hole that looks like it could easily have a top. Put something on it. This can significantly increase habitat for the reef fish and other wee beasties. It is also a fun activity during a casual dive.