Safely Scuba Diving in Curaçao
Are you planning a dive vacation to Curaçao? If you are, then these 10 essential tips for how to dive safely in Curaçao need to be considered, noted and included in your overall dive vacation plan.
The first thing to know about dive safety is that it is “strongly recommended and highly encouraged” that divers have dive insurance. While it is generally considered a relatively safe activity when done correctly (statistically safer than other sports), as with most underwater activities, scuba diving does entail some risks. As such, it is important to keep in mind certain rules if you plan on going on a dive.
Plan your dives.
Regardless of how experienced you are, planning your dive (and sticking to your plan) is crucial if you want to have a safe and more importantly, fun diving experience. Before going on a dive, make sure you take note of factors such as weather conditions, the strength of underwater currents, and even marine life you may encounter on your dive.
It’s also important that you are familiar with all the pertinent emergency procedures, and agree with your dive buddy on maximum depth, maximum bottom time, and how you’ll navigate the dive site. Keep in mind that planning your dive should also cover what you should do after your dive (such as debriefing and gear storage).
Dive Planning Tip: Consult the Curaçao Diving Guide and Interactive Map. This essential guide, to over 70 world class diving sites along the southern coastline of Curaçao, allows you to easily plan your Curaçao diving adventure that will add an additional margin of safety to your diving vacation.
Make sure you are fit to dive.
While diving is a low impact activity, it does require a certain level of physical fitness. Even if you’re an experienced certified diver, it’s best that you’re in generally good shape to lessen the chances of overexertion.
That said, even if you’re generally physically healthy, it’s important for your own personal safety that you feel one hundred percent before a dive. This means being properly rested the night before, not being hungover, and being properly hydrated (as it’s harder to equalise if you’re not properly hydrated). It is also important to seek medical advice first if you have a pre-existing condition (even something as negligible as a cold).
This is the most important rule in scuba diving, and it bears repeating. Holding your breath while scuba diving can be fatal. The air in a diver’s lungs contracts as the diver descends, and expands as the diver ascends. This means air must have a way to safely escape your body at all times, otherwise the constantly expanding/contracting air can seriously damage your lungs and lead to air bubbles escaping into the bloodstream.
Therefore, to increase your own personal dive safety and to avoid the unlikely event of decompression sickness or illness, breathe continuously and never ever hold your breath.
Apply the rule of thirds to your air-supply management.
Applying the rule of thirds is simple. Basically, you designate a third of your air supply for your descent, another thirds for your return journey, and the remaining third as an emergency reserve. Obviously, this can and should be adjusted to the nature of your dive, but the point is you always leave a third of your total air supply as an emergency reserve.
The emergency reserve, designated not only for you but for your dive buddy as well, safely reduces any margin for error and can significantly increase your enjoyment due to dive stress reduction.
Diver Education Tip: If you want to glide effortlessly, use less air and ascend, descend or hover almost as if by thought, then we suggest that you consider enrolling in the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course. Excellent buoyancy control is what defines skilled scuba divers, and this course will take the skills you already have and elevate them to the next level.
Do not panic.
Panicking not only affects your focus, it also affects your breathing, which can lead to serious injuries or even death. This is why it is important to stay relaxed at all times, and approach each problem you encounter while diving calmly–control your knee jerk impulses, and try to think through the problem.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and prevention is always better than cure. To prevent unexpected problems from surfacing (no pun intended) during your dive, it’s important to implement proper planning, and maintain proper breathing. Moreover, it is important to always communicate with your dive buddy and/or dive instructor.
Dive Safety Tip: Consider taking the PADI Rescue Diver course and the Emergency First Response course. These courses will change the way you dive – in the best possible way. HOW? Because you will learn to safely identify and fix minor issues before they become big problems, gain a lot of confidence and have serious fun along the way. These essential skills ultimately will increase your margin for dive safety.
Make sure you equalize early and often.
Another factor that divers must consider is how the pressure changes as they make their descent. It is vital to equalize early and often as you make your descent to prevent bursting an eardrum. Don’t wait until you feel discomfort–immediately equalize if you feel a slight pressure difference. Bursting an eardrum underwater can cause you to become disoriented and drown.
This tip ties in with the second tip on this guide (make sure you’re fit to dive), as it might be difficult to equalize if you’re currently experiencing an illness.
Don't dive beyond your limits.
Not diving beyond your limits doesn’t only mean not going beyond your planned maximum depth, it also means you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, attempt to do something underwater that you haven’t trained, planned, or prepared for. Moreover, you shouldn’t attempt a dive that’s beyond your certification level, regardless of how experienced you and your dive buddies are.
This tip also applies to when you just don’t feel like diving even when conditions are seemingly perfect and you’ve planned your dive ahead of time.
Dive Safety Tip: Consider refreshing your scuba skills if you have not been diving for 18 (eighteen) months or more. WHY? A good diver should be able to use their own judgement to determine whether or not they would benefit from a thorough refresher program, or just need an easy check-dive to get themselves back into the water. If you’ve been out of the water for any length of time then some form of refresher is eminently sensible. Doing a refresher course gives you the chance to safely rehearse all the required skills. After the skill rehearsal you start thinking as a diver again! For the diver having changed his dive gear, these sessions allow you to build confidence in the use of your newly acquired gear while practicing with your instructor.
Always have a buddy with you.
Even if you’re a certified solo-diver, it’s important to always have a dive buddy with you. This way, you have someone to help you in the event of emergencies such as an out-of-gas situation, an entanglement, or an equipment malfunction.
Of course, there’s no point in having a dive buddy if you’re not able to communicate properly with them. Be sure to run through basic diving signals and emergency protocols with your dive buddy before going on a dive.
Double check your gear.
Before going on a dive, it is important to check if all of your scuba gear is working and/or are in good condition. You have to always double check your gear regardless of how well you maintain them. This goes for your essentials, such as your regulator and your BCD, as well as your accessories, such as your dive watch (if you’re looking for a durable and easy-to-use dive watch, check out this list of some of the best Seiko dive watches).
It is vital to ascend slowly and safely on every dive to prevent decompression sickness. As a general rule of thumb, always ascend no faster than 30 feet per minute (or no faster than your smallest bubble), and always perform a 3 to 5-minute safety stop at 15 feet at the end of every dive (deeper, technical dives usually require deeper and longer safety stops). This way, your body gets enough time to release excess the built-up nitrogen in your system, and the air in your lungs don’t expand too fast.
Make sure to read up on the Curaçao decompression chamber in the unlikely event that you suspect decompression sickness or illness while diving in Curaçao.
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Written by Aryan Jalan, a Content Marketer at DIVEIN.com and a guest contributor for Dive Curaçao.
Header photo, courtesy of Gail Johnson Photography.