I think most of us who fly frequently have been guilty of not giving 100% attention to the safety video or the bored looking stewardess who is just going through the motions. Of course you should listen but the information is the same every time round and you probably know it off by heart if you’re a keen traveller.
With scuba diving it’s a little bit different. Whereas life jackets are always located under your seat in an aeroplane and oxygen masks will always drop down in an emergency, procedures change significantly from dive site to dive site. Your dive might be different to anything you have done before, even if you are on the plus side of 50 immersions.
These changes include; depth, current, points of interest, danger areas, dive site topography, emergency procedures for that particular area, regulations… the list goes on. For example: our dive out at Levenbank is an advanced deep drift dive and it is imperative to listen to the guide’s advice about what to do if your ears won’t clear and how to stay with the group during a strong current. This would be a much different briefing to the gentle slope of Magic Reef (and easier reef where we do many of the night dives) and, here, different procedures would be in place. Diving in Zanzibar is diverse and exciting.
A dive briefing isn’t the time to go looking for mask defog, adjust weights on your weight belt or continue a conversation.
The following general points are covered in a dive briefing:
Dive site name
Useful to know if you keep a log and if you are making many dives in the same area.
A good dive site description will acclimatise the diver to depth, surroundings and any points of interest. Sometimes wildlife can be anticipated at certain locations. This is all good for you to know if you become separated from the group and you need to find your way back up to the surface.
Dive guide’s role, communication devices and how divers can recognize them underwater
Everybody looks pretty much the same underwater. This you suddenly realise when 2 groups cross paths and you don’t know who to follow. Happens all the time! Isolate and remember a piece if gear you guide is wearing. The guide will mention any audio devices she will be using.
Entry and exit techniques
This topic is always very varied from dive resort to dive resort. Some entries are back roll, some giant stride. Some exits require you to remove all equipment in the water and some just the fins if it’s easy to climb a ladder. You want to reduce effort and avoid problems on the surface so, regardless of technique, you always enter with a BCD full of air, mouth piece in to stop a free flow and finger tips to the mask. Check weights are secure also.
It’s always good to get a quick review of BCD function if it’s been a while. The guide should explain where they will be in the water and whether you will surface together or in buddy groups.
If you’re lost the standard procedure is to wait one minute and then head up to the surface. Look up as you go and go slowly.
Signal review specific to the dive
We all know the basic hand signals. Sometimes guides ask you to give air pressure differently and make sure you have checked the gauges for familiarity. There are also specific hand signals to specific marine life which might be useful to know.
Roster and buddy check
Everybody has seen the movie ‘Open Water’ right? Always dive with a buddy and check that if you are on a large boat that the dive operation has a roster on board. Don’t get left behind!
You should be made aware of how delicate the aquatic life is. Misali Marine Park in Zanzibar, for example, has 42 hard coral species and over 400 fish species. Coral is an animal and takes a year to grow an inch. We don’t want our dives to break many years of growth with fins or to try to touch the animals.
Predive safety check
Check the BCD inflates and where all the dump valves are. Check the weight system is on and secure. Check the clips on your buddy’s BCD – you want to be able to remove the BCD quickly in an emergency. Check the air is on and check your buddy’s quick release spare air hose.
Finally, enjoy your dive!