4 Tips for the Once A Year Scuba Diver

Female Scuba Diver Giving OK Sign

Surveys estimating the number of active divers worldwide range from 6 and 10 million, with over half from the United States. A couple of years ago, DEMA did a survey of 24,000 scuba divers. Without giving a definition of the term “active”, approximately 77% of the divers considered themselves active divers. Of those “active”, 11% had not been diving in over a year. You could say that in the United States, only about 65% of those who call themselves scuba divers are active. Both of the active and inactive groups have what is loosely termed “Once A Year Divers”.

These are divers who still love diving, however, only dive while on vacation. When it comes to leisure time, The United States is way behind its peers. Two weeks of vacation is the most common, with many people taking one week in the summer and the other around the Christmas/ New Years holidays. Most divers learn to dive in warm waters and confine their diving to those conditions. For those not living near the warm water diving areas, their active love for diving is limited to one maybe two trips a year. Still if you fall into the “once a year” group, there are ways you can get the most out of your limited diving.

Be Dive Fit

by Ilse Reijs and Jan-Noud Hutten Creative commons

Before I moved to a tropical climate, I was a avid skier for many years both Nordic and Alpine. It was four or five weekend trips each season and a week long vacation. A snowstorm would see me out beating the snowplows to the fresh snow in the roads. Every year, about three months before the start of ski season, the ski publications would start having articles on getting physically fit for the ski season. We do not see that level of fitness awareness in scuba diving. Yes there are the occasional fitness article and a few websites geared toward physical fitness for divers, but the focus of the industry is telling beginners you do not need to be more than average fitness. Face it, average fitness is very low. The simple fact is that the better your fitness, the more effectively you use your air. Since your air supply is limited in scuba diving, it makes sense that being physically fit means longer dives. Also, being fit will reduce the stress of diving. Remember those heavy tanks?

It is best to have a year long general fitness plan, but if you don’t at least improve your fitness the months leading to your dives. One of the most common acronym in fitness is FITT which can be broken down as:

  • Frequency: 5+ days/week for moderate activity, 3-4 days/week for vigorous activity
  • Intensity: Moderate activity that is somewhat hard and elevates the heart rate above resting levels. Vigorous activity that is hard and elevates the heart rate above that for moderate levels, but you should not be breathless. An example of moderate physical activity is brisk walking; an example of vigorous physical activity is running.
  • Time: Moderate – At least 30 minutes each session (you can break this into three 10-minute or two 15-minute sessions); Vigorous – 20-30 minutes per session. Begin each session with a warm-up and finish with a cool-down.
  • Type: Activities that use large muscle groups (that is, arms, legs) such as walking, cycling, dancing, or swimming

The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (US) has a free PDF on fitness that is a great place to start. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) challenge has a set of goals to complete over 8 weeks, that can be a good motivator. The United Kingdom’s NHS Choices has a nice 12 week plan Fitness plan. The DAN website has a number of interesting article on the effect of exercise on DCI, that every diver should review.

Refresh and Prep

Like the old sitcom “Cheers” theme song, your local dive shop should be a place where everybody knows your name. Drop in once a month or so and see what is new. Many dive shops will have a local club where divers get together for dives and social events. If there is a BSAC in your area, you really need to be a member. Even if your certification is from elsewhere, you are still welcomed. The benefits of being associated with a local club can keep you focused and possibility give you extra diving opportunities. Many times a diver who only dives once a year can benefit with a refresher before starting on your vacation. PADI’s ReActivate was designed to get inactive divers back into the water. If you do not want to go to that extreme, at least do a pool session and practice your basic skills a few times.

Consider A Liveaboard For Your Once a Year Dive Trip

Once considered the bailiwick of advanced dive addicts, Liveaboards can provide an immersive dive vacation to divers of all skill levels. Some Liveaboards have itineraries design for advance divers, however, the majority of them have routes that are sited for everyone. The entire focus is on diving and it is a great way to expand your dive experiences and refine your skills.

If you are traveling with non-divers, this might not be too acceptable to them. Still, in some destinations, you can reserve a liveaboard for two or three nights. Thailand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia seem to have the majority of these liveaboards. These trips are long enough to get in a reasonable number of dives in remarkable diving locations, while still short enough that your travel companions will not mutiny.

Just Go Dive

Swiss Federation of Underwater Sports estimates that 250,000 people in Switzerland hold a scuba-diving license. A market survey three years ago revealed that 20% of the divers dive at least 10 different times a year and 10% dive weekly Year Round. In fact, more divers are active in the winter than the summer as the visibility is much better and more consistent during a dive. Also while the water is colder in the winter, it is all around the same temperature. This leads to the question, why are you a once a year diver?

Ice Diving anyone?           By Bill Pfeiffer [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
If the initial response is that there is no diving near me, the question is are you sure? You might not have the crystal clear warm waters of the Caribbean near your home, but are there possibly other options. Even if you do not want the extremes of cold water or ice diving, there might be other alternatives near you even if seasonal.

Expand your area of search, is there destinations that have diving that can be dived on a long weekend? There may be enough opportunities to provide a longer dive season for you or maybe even a year round solution. Drawing on the knowledge of your local dive shop and a local dive club may show you places that you never knew were possible.

It Is All Up To You

If you are happy as a “once a year” diver, then by all means follow the tips above that apply to you and get the most out of your vacation. If you like to dive more often, then look at expanding your skills to be comfortable with other diving options. If you have your own gear and a local dive buddy, you might even want to find your own dive site. Just remember to stay within your limits.