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Have a scuba question? Just ask.

Will a wetsuit help a snorkeler float?

QUESTION: I live in Seattle, Wash., my gear has been in storage, and I need to have an inspection on my BCD, regulators, dive computer, dry suit but I really don't want to go to a shop that has some less than competent individual or outside source and have them mark up the inspections by a significant mark up. Can you help me please?

ANSWER: I wish I had the perfect answer for you, but I am not familiar with the dive shops in your area, nor do I know what brand(s) of gear you have. The best advice I can give you is to do some research on the local dive shops and form your own opinion. I can sympathize with you though ... I moved from Tennessee to California and learned that it can be a King's ransom to have gear serviced! I used to be a technician, so I do know what all is involved. The best advice I can give you is make SURE the facility is an authorized service center for the brands you own. If you don't mind telling me what brands you have I can ask a couple of Seattle based divers for their opinions ...    -- Carol Cotton

Will a wetsuit help a snorkeler float?

QUESTION: My question is a snorkel one -- we will be taking my 11 year old grandson to Hawaii in March. He can swim but doesn't float well. I wonder whether a shorty wetsuit will help him float enough to snorkel comfortably without a life jacket?

ANSWER: Does your grandson not float well in fresh water or salt water or both? No matter, a wetsuit will definitely help him float. I have only been to Hawaii once and that was to Kauai in July and we wore full wetsuits when we got in the water, but that was for scuba diving. On the surface a shorty might have been enough. Since salt water is denser that fresh water, he will be able to stay on the surface in the ocean easier than in a swimming pool.    -- Carol Cotton

Ears still plugged after diving

QUESTION: I took my open water dive certification this past weekend (finished two days ago). My ears are still plugged and I can't completely equalize them. Is this normal and how long does this last?

ANSWER: Concerning your ears ... More than likely they will be fine in a couple of days. A couple of things you can try are:

1. Mix 50% rubbing alcohol with 50% distilled white vinegar, put a small amount in both ears. These items are likely in your kitchen and bathroom already! This will help dry up any water that may still be in your ear canal, and it will kill any bacteria that might be lingering from the water where you certified. I keep a small squeeze bottle in my dive bag and I use it after every dive. It's a whole lot more effective and a whole lot cheaper than Aurocaine, Swim-Ear, or any over the counter ear drying agent! 

2. Take a decongestant. The problem might be that your Eustachean Tubes are a little swollen or tight from all the new activity of equalizing during two days of diving and they are not draining properly. 

There might be other reasons why your ears aren't equalizing properly yet, but I'd be more concerned if you had said only one was acting up. Give this a try and keep me updated, ok?    -- Carol Cotton

Safe depth for 12-year-old?

QUESTION: My son, who is currently 12, (he will be 13 in April.) has gone on several dives and has obtained his open water certification. He absolutely loves the water and diving. I don't dive at all, so I feel more comfortable about his diving with an instructor in a class situation. He is now going to be taking the class, Advanced Open Water Diver. I was wondering what is a safe depth for him to dive? My main focus is for him to be safe and dive with instructors, not obtaining his certification.

ANSWER: Let me begin by saying I wish I knew your son to give you a more accurate answer to your question. Each child differs so drastically in their physical and mental maturity levels, and that makes a big difference in what my answer would be. You are doing the right thing by allowing your child to enroll in the Advanced Scuba class. Statistically speaking, most accidents occur within the first ten dives, so by taking the Advanced class your son will be with a diving professional who will oversee his activities and help him become a better diver. He will be introduced to different aspects of diving that will help him in all of his dives in the future. ( Buoyancy, Navigation, Rescue, Night, Lift, Deep, are some areas that are commonly offered in the Advanced class) The more time a person spends on scuba, the better diver he/she will become. As with just about anything, proper training and lots of practice are extremely important. 

Have you talked to your son's instructor about your concerns? If not, you should. By letting them know your concerns, your son's instructor will likely hook your son up with other divers in the class whom he will be able to dive with after certification. I once had a 12 year old boy in class whose parents were both medically unable to scuba dive. He was in a class of 8 students (ranging in age from 12 - 65) where all of them learned of his situation and vowed to always invite him along. They all decided to enroll in the Advanced class together. For many years, if one of them came in to get a scuba tank, I knew one or more of the others from that class would be in to get a tank, too.That was many years ago and now that 12 year old is a marine biologist.

As for depth ... After completing the Advanced certification, your son will have a recommended maximum depth of 100 feet. I don't know where you live or where your son will likely be doing most of his dives, but if they will be in inland lakes or quarries, it's highly unlikely he'll want to dive that deep due to the extreme temperature differences between the surface and at depth. Until he turns 15 he will be limited to diving with an adult, but as a parent, you can extend those limitations to whatever you see fit. I've probably danced around your question, but as I said earlier, I wish I knew more about your son. Please feel free to email me anytime with your questions or concerns.    -- Carol Cotton

Dacor regulator adapter

QUESTION: I will be using a Dacor Viper regulator and wanted to use it with my "old" (pre 1999) Dacor BC and thought it would be an easy job to change the inflater hose on the Viper. Unfortunately the threads on the Viper LP port are too small for the old Dacor BC hose. Are adapters available to allow me to use the inflater hose from my old BC? Any help with this question would be much appreciated.

ANSWER: I've never used any Dacor gear, but I'm sure it's not too different from the brands I am certified to service. I asked Conrad if he was familiar with any Dacor adapters and he referred me to this website on LP Hose Adapters

High pressure and low pressure ports have been standardized so accidents are less likely to occur, so fittings of different sizes automatically indicate red flags. Your local dive shop should either have the adapters or perhaps they could order and install them for you.    -- Carol Cotton

Repetitive dive table question

QUESTION: What is the minimum surface interval required between a dive to 20 metres/70 foot for 29 minutes followed by a dive to 14 meters/50 feet for 39 minutes? Is this outside the scope of the rdp?

ANSWER: Interestingly, there are two drastically different answers to your question. We used PADI and NAUI as examples, and I am certain the answer would be different no matter what agency you check with. 

According to PADI ... the MINIMUM surface interval is 4 minutes. You'd exit the water after the first dive as an "N" diver. You'd need to be no more than an "M" diver to re-enter the water for your next dive to 50 feet for 29 minutes. 

According to NAUI ... the MINIMUM surface interval is 46 minutes. You'd exit the water after the first dive as an "F" diver. You'd need to be no more than an "E" diver to re-enter the water for your next dive to 50 feet for 29 minutes.

Conrad and I have discussed the major differences in the two agencies' dive tables MANY times. We both agree that we're glad most people use dive computers! Conrad actually wrote a blog entry about the differences in the two agencies' dive tables. Please feel free to read it when you have a few minutes. The entry may be found here.    -- Carol Cotton

Can a 10-year-old scuba dive?

QUESTION: My daughter turns ten in two weeks - Can she start her classroom training and pool training now and do her 4 checkout dives on the day she turns ten?

ANSWER: About your question ... Technically, your daughter cannot breathe off scuba until her 10th birthday. It might be possible for her to do the classroom part and the pool work that's swimming and snorkeling, but not scuba. Back when the minimum age was 12, I scheduled a class around a boy's 12th birthday. The boy was very mature for his age and I knew his family so I was willing to do that for them. Please be aware that the minimum age to become a certified diver was once 14 years of age, then dropped to 12 years, and now 10. There is much debate as to if this is advisable.

Checkout dives cannot all be done in one day. It takes two days, minimum, per standards. If you find someone willing to 'bend' the rules, I'd think long and hard about trusting your child with that person.

Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE teaching young people to scuba dive! I have taught well over a thousand people to dive and I've seen scuba change the lives of all of them. I've seen youngsters gain focus on their education, I've taught four teens who later became marine biologists, one who is now a shark doctor, five who are now underwater archaeologists, and that's to name a few. Overall, children are not mentally or physically mature enough to handle the physics or physiology material, nor are they physically ready to handle scuba tanks and weights. There are exceptions ... That's why as an instructor, I insist on meeting the youngster before they are allowed to register for my class.    -- Carol Cotton

Limits to repetitive diving?

QUESTION: Me and my brother are young in-shape guys and I was told that our body size and physical condition will probably help us use less oxygen. The lake we are diving in is shallow but goes to 70-80 feet deep in very few areas but most of the lake is around 45 feet deep. We really dont plan on going more than 45 feet until we get some more experience under our belts but we do plan on going A LOT. Our dives will most likely be from 30-40 min at a time. We go up to our lake almost every weekend for maybe Fri-Mon so 4 days. My question is: if I am within nitrogen and dive time limits can I go as much as I want to a day? I never will exceed the maximum dive times and make sure i rid myself of enough nitrogen for a dive but is there a common sense limit to diving each day or if I can go for 5 dives a day can I do that or is it dangerous?

ANSWER: Good questions! First of all, there's a lot of thoughts floating around about what body type uses the least amount of oxygen. Muscle uses more oxygen than some other tissues, so sometimes being muscular can work against you. That's not always the case, though. I know plenty of extremely fit people who use very little air. You will have to do some dives and closely monitor your tank pressure to know for sure how much you use. The worst thing you can do is dwell on it. You'll use more air of you do! The more you dive and the more comfortable you become underwater, the less air you will use. Many new divers use approximately .75 - 1.1 cubic feet of air per minute. Seasoned divers generally use between .35 and .6 cubic feet per minute. 

As for repetitive diving, lots of people go on dive vacations and do 4 - 6 dives per day. Many use Nitrox, but many use air, too. The types of diving you'll be doing should be fine, just always consult your dive tables. There are a lot of factors that play a part, too. Things such as staying well hydrated (water - not carbonated, caffeinated, sugary sodas) getting plenty of rest, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, limiting physical activity level after diving.  -- Carol Cotton

Contacts or special prescription glass mask?

QUESTION: I and my daughter wear glasses and contacts. Can we wear the contacts under water, or do we need to purchase special mask? And were would be the best outfit to purchase the mask?

ANSWER: Most people that I dive with wear disposable contacts. The main reason being ... If you have a mask with your prescription made, you still have to have a pair of glasses to take with you so you can see before and after the dive. Taking them with you during the dive might be required on some types of dives, and that's just more to take and keep up with. Let me do a Pros and Cons list:

PROs for Contacts:

  • They are relatively inexpensive 
  • You're not restricted to just one mask
  • If you're used to contacts, you wouldn't have to get used to something new
CONs for Contacts:
  • Might occasionally wash out of your eyes, but not common
  • Not as easy to make adjustments to your contacts without taking your mask off
  • When you flood your mask you'd have to be more careful when opening your eyes
PROs for Prescription Mask:
  • It will be your exact prescription (even bi or trifocals)
  • Insures nobody else will want to "borrow" or wear your mask
  • Can easily open your eyes if your mask were to flood
CONs for Prescription Mask:
  • Still need to have glasses along for before & after the dive
  • Should only choose split lens mask (it's next to impossible to change prescription in a single lens mask)
  • Prescription may change & mask would need to be refitted
  • Depending on prescription, the mask can become heavy
  • A prescription mask will probably cost you as much or more than a pair of glasses, given the price of the mask itself
There are more, but I'm sure you can tell what I'm a fan of. Of everyone I have taught, plus everyone else I know that scuba dives or snorkels, I'd say only 5-10% have prescription masks. According to my eye doctor (and he is a diver) the water pressure helps keep the contacts on your eyes, with the exception of rapid pressure changes (such as a strong current or fin kick directly in front of your face). This is only a problem if you have your mask off underwater. The biggest issue is chlorine or salt ruining the contacts. My eye doctor gave me a supply of daily wear contacts for when I go diving. I'm slightly far-sighted in one eye, so the contact makes reading gauges a whole lot easier!  -- Carol Cotton

Will dentures affect diving?

QUESTION: I may have to get dentures. Upper first, then bottoms. How will this affect my diving?

ANSWER: I've had several students over the years who have had dentures. There's no airspace involved, so there should be no problem.

The only time I've ever had a problem with a tooth is when I had infection inside the tooth, so the dentist treated it and put a temporary filling in. I was to go back 2 weeks later for the permanent one, but I failed to mention I'd be taking a cave diving class in between. The infection healed, the inflammation went down, therefore the air inside the tooth decreased, causing some minor aching. When I went diving the water pressure caused the tooth to hurt horribly! I continued to dive and the temporary filling was so soft that it allowed air to pass between it and my tooth, so the tooth was actually able to equalize, but slowly. Yes, I suffered some discomfort while descending and ascending, but I handled it. 

When to ascend, and how much air to leave in tanks

QUESTION: I am a recreational diver who just got my own gear for me and my brother. We have a lake house in Connecticut and will be using the gear in a fresh water lake. We havent been scuba diving in a while and have been reviewing DVD's and books along with the dive tables to refresh out memories. I am a little confused though on a few things and am hoping for some answers. So here they are:

1. When should I begin my ascent? I know I have to ascend due to maximum dive times but say i wanted to ascend earlier due to low air. My real question I guess would be at what PSI shouls I ascend at?

2. In regards to ascending, now that i have my own tanks I was told to leave some air in them to allow for refills. I have aluminum tanks, and lets say I ascend with 800 psi in the tank, will there still be enough air in the tanks for me to get them refilled?

ANSWER: 1. The main three things that control your dive are Time, Depth, and Tank Pressure. The deeper you dive the less time you can stay, due to a couple of factors -- your absorption of nitrogen, and the fact that you use air much faster at deeper depths due to compression. Basically, if you want longer dives, stay shallower. As for when you should begin your ascent ... Refer to your dive tables and see what your maximum allowable dive time is and plan your dive conservatively, by not  planning on staying the entire allowed time. Chances are your air won't last that long anyway, so that shouldn't be an issue. If you plan your bottom time based on air pressure, then I'd plan on using 1/3 of your gas on the beginning half of you dive, 1/3 of your air for the second half of your dive, and the remaining 1/3 for your safety stop and room for error.

2. That will be the standard practice. Ask your local dive shop what they prefer. Some say have anywhere between 300 - 500psi and you'll be fine. Leaving too little in your tank opens the door for rust and corrosion to form inside your tank. Never leave one empty. That's the worst thing for them. Of course, it's not quite as critical for aluminum as it is for steel, since aluminum won't rust. The other reason for leaving air in your tank is because your regulator system needs AT LEAST 150psi to even function. Obviously, the closer you get to 150 psi your regulator will not perform as well and in some cases will stop working. 

If you've not read our section on dive tables and use of air, you should. It's very good and contains a lot of valuable information.  -- Carol Cotton

US and European dive equipment compatible?

QUESTION: A friend of mine told me that she had received a BCD from some American friends but could not use it with her regulator bought here in Europe because of differences in the hoses. Is this correct?

My husband just started diving and noticed that the price of equipment is much cheaper in the States. I am going on a business trip to Florida in July and he wanted me to buy a regulator for him there. Do you think there will be a problem with buying a regulator in the states but the rest of his equipment here in Europe?

ANSWER: Thank you for your interest in our website and for your questions. As for a regulator not always fitting a BCD's inflator ... There's a few reasons why that may be. Some manufacturers make their equipment brand specific, while other are more universal. These days most manufacturers make an octopus/inflator combination, which has a specific sized connection. This is due to the fact that the devise serves more than one purpose and will deliver air to the diver when needed whereas a standard power inflator will not.  Using a combination inflator/octopus streamlines a diver's equipment, but some divers choose to have a seperate octopus and inflator. Each method requires a different hose. 

I am not certain about the connectors on non-USA gear, unfortunately, but I do remember customers coming in to have regulators serviced that were purchased abroad and those were metric, rather than imperial. People often travel with their own regulators and computers and rent BCDs to save weight and space in their luggage. I've not heard any of my friends complain who have done that.

Many dive computers are user programmable, so they can be changed between imperial and metric, but analog pressure and depth gauges obviously cannot be changed. If you are wanting to surprise your husband, you might want to contact the dive shop before you go in case they need to order pieces.

I'm sorry I cannot give you a more definite answer ... But I hope this helps!  -- Carol Cotton

Does nitrogen absorption make your body smell?

QUESTION: I just got my certification over the weekend. I did two twenty minute dives on Saturday with 20 minutes between them. On Sunday I did two dives with 20 minutes between them. So a total of four dives in two days. My question is, on the third day my body had a smell to it. Is this the nitrogen making its way out of the body. Just wondering if anyone has ever experienced this?

ANSWER: Congratulations of getting certified over the weekend! You've just opened up a whole new world to explore! Have fun and be safe!

As for the smell ... To our knowledge nitrogen is an odorless inert gas. I have a different idea as to what the smell is, though. Did you wear a wetsuit? Neoprene does have an odor, and if you were wearing a rental wetsuit I'm sure it was "well seasoned." Neoprene is a porous material that manages to hold things in. Even the best cleaner/sanitizer/deodorizer can only do so much. If you did not wear a wetsuit, please give me more details of where your were diving and what you were wearing and I'll see if I can figure this puzzle out!  -- Carol Cotton

Long dives in very shallow water?

QUESTION: Is it safe to shallow water dive in 10 to 15 feet of water and do no decompression stop? I have a shallow reef close to home and would love to spend the day diving it. Can I do multiple tanks as well?

ANSWER: Each agency's recommended allowable dive time varies. Below are two examples. 

According to NAUI, any dive shallower than 40 feet is considered a 40 foot dive. The maximum allowable dive time would be 130 minutes. After a surface interval of one hour you could go again for 29 minutes. 

According to PADI, any dive shallower that 30 feet is considered a 30 foot dive. Their recommendation is a maximum dive time of no more than 188 minutes. After a surface interval of one hour you could dive again for 153 minutes. That'S a LOT of dive time!!

I cannot imagine how you'd have to decompress if you're maximum depth is where decompression (or safety stop) is done.  -- Carol Cotton

Diving before and after flying

QUESTION: For my vacation I'll be flying from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia, around a 9 hour journey. Can you tell me a) how long I can't dive before and after the flight? Also, if I haven't been diving for more than a year, should I a refresher course? If so, is it mandatory? before go diving? it mandatory? Finally, can I go diving with my buddy without a dive master?

ANSWER: 1) Most certifying agencies recommend you do not fly within 24 hours after you've been diving. As for diving after flying ... Stay well hydrated before, during, and after your flight, (always, actually!) don't drink any alcoholic beverages during the flight and you should be fine. That is a common question, but in all actuality it takes a few hours after flying before you'd even be able to dive ... getting off the plane, gathering your luggage, going through customs, traveling to your destination, preparing dive gear, traveling to the dive site, etc. 

2) You said you've not been diving within the past year, but you didn't mention your experience level. I do recommend you at least get in a swimming pool or go on a shallow dive with a buddy to re-familiarize yourself with gear and skills. A refresher would be best, but it's not always possible to schedule one with short notice. For liability reasons, a lot of resorts are requiring a resort course (or familiarization dive with a dive master) before they will be allowed to dive, if it's been more than 6 - 12 months since their last dive. 

3) That totally depends on where you're diving. If you are going through a commercial dive business, then that is definitely up to them. If you are shore diving or going on your own, then there's no "dive police" to keep you from going. Ho wever, always stay within your experience/training level and be careful. Whenever possible dive with someone more experienced than yourself.

Best BC for work dives?

QUESTION: I occasionally do work dives, which involves rigging with shackles and cables in poor or zero visibility. What would be the best BCs to use? I don't like all the interference with front bladders. I also don't care for internal weight storage. I have been diving for 40 years, and enjoyed the years without the BC better, but I do appreciate the benefits. I use a wet suit, not a dry suit.

ANSWER: It sounds to me like you want and need a streamlined and functional BC. I'm sure there are lots of BCs on the market that would meet your requirements, but I'd suggest a Halcyon system ... They call it the "MC" for multifunction compensator. http://www.halcyon.net/mc/index.shtml  They offer a lot of options and several bladders with varying lift capacities. You can pick and choose what you want and you can add and remove options as needed. The system begins with a stainless steel backplate that's 6 pounds negative, so you don't have to wear as much weight, if any. The backplate includes a harness made of sturdy 2" wide nylon webbing and can easily be adjusted for exposure suit bulk. The webbing harness includes a few stainless steel D-rings so you can hang tools, lights or other accessories and keep your hands free to do work. The next option is the bladder. They offer bladders for single tank, double tanks, and for extra lift. Then there's a storage pouch that fits inside the backplate, so things like lift bags or safety markers are stowed away, but easily retrieved by reaching behind you. Other options include weight pockets, utility lift devices, lights, and more.  -- Carol Cotton

Dive buddy qualification

QUESTION: I am currently going down the PADI diving course route, and have discovered that PADI doesn't like you to go diving with another friend of same experience at the open water qualification stage on our own. What qualification do I need to get up to for it to be ok? My next course is taking me on the advanced open water. Will it be ok then?

ANSWER: Hmmm ... Interesting question! I am not a PADI instructor, but that really shouldn't matter. When I certify people to scuba dive I feel that I know them and their abilities well enough to trust them to make responsible and reasonable decisions -- which include choosing their own dive buddies. My theory is that I'd never certify someone who couldn't rescue me. Here's how I see it ... Many of my students take classes with friends or family in preparation for a dive trip or to share a wonderful hobby. I can't tell them they can't dive together ... That's what they're there for! Once a person is a certified scuba diver they accept the responsibility of being a safe and competent diver. I do agree that by taking more classes and diving frequently, divers ARE more comfortable and gain the experience and skills they need to dive in a wider range of scenerios. I do strongly believe that divers should dive within their own limits and comfort levels, so on that note, yes, you would benefit by diving with a buddy who is more experienced than you, but that can also get you in trouble if you try to step outside your own comfort zone.

What constitutes "Actual Dive Time"?

QUESTION: My local scuba shop owner has just told me the times, as shown in dive tables, indicate total dive time: beginning of descent to completion of ascent. I was under the impression that the times shown are the maximum allowable times permitted to stay at a certain depth that negates the need for a decompression stop. If the tables indicate a time of 8 minutes for a 40 metre dive, the duration of the dive would be: time to complete descent, max. 8 minutes at bottom, time to ascend and time to make a safety stop, if desired. (All dependent upon air of course). Much appreciated if you might shed some light. I do not want to risk a rapid ascent etc due to incorrect instruction being given out.

ANSWER: According to NAUI, Actual Dive Time is from the moment you begin your ascent to the moment you surface minus your safety stop at 15 feet. Dive tabes are designed to give you safe allowable dive times, assuming you stay at the maximum depth for the duration of the dive -- a square profile. Divers almost never stay at the maximum depth for the duration of a dive, so this helps in building in a safety margin. Dive computers give you more allowable dive time because they credit you back time for when you are shallower and ongassing less nitrogen. 

As for your dive scenario, your actual dive profile for 8 minutes at 40 metres would be:

  descent + dive + ascent - safety stop = 8 minutes.

You must count travel time as part of the dive because you don't always go straight down and up during a dive.

Dive computer battery replacement

QUESTION: I'm in process of replacing battery in my old U.S. Divers M2 AQUA LUNG dive computer. What is the best to use to seal the new battery in the computer case? Old stuff looks like clear silcone.

ANSWER: Thanks for your question. I wish I had better news. It's my understanding that this computer battery should only be replaced at the factory. I went to the Aqualung website and pulled the manual for a Monitor 2. Here's what it says about batteries: 2.13 LOW BATTERY WARNING The battery has a long life-span (see Technical data), but as it reaches a predetermined reserve of power the LOW warning will appear in the upper half of the display, only while at the surface. This indicates that the battery should be replaced soon. However, the reserve is such that the MONITOR will continue to function normally for some time. During normal use the battery should not be removed from the MONITOR as it is in continuous use. It should be removed only for replacement by an Authorized Distributor. Only an original MONITOR Lithium battery can be used as a replacement.

My recommendation is to contact Aqua Lung technical support department and ask them.

Manta riding picture

QUESTION: Why are you showing someone riding a manta on your page? This is irresponsible and disrespectful diving behavior. The number of people engaged in this activity is growing rapidly and it is up to all of us, veterans and professionals, to provide an example of respectful interaction and engagement. Protecting our delicate and profoundly needed underwater world goes beyond not touching coral and over fishing, it extends to our involvement with the oceans creatures. This type of picture encourages a sense of entitlement for those young (and old divers) viewing it - "he can do it, and I want to touch a manta" etc. When in reality, we should all just be grateful to have the opportunity to SEE such a beautiful sight! "Look don't touch" and "Leave nothing behind" should be every divers creed, and any site with photos such as yours should consider leading by example rather than catering to a destructive perspective of ownership and ignorance.

ANSWER: At the time the picture was taken, this was not considered an issue in the dive community. In the meantime we've learned a thing or two about respectful interaction with sealife. You are right. We took the picture down.

Can the mind cause DCI?

QUESTION: On an offshore project we sent two divers to 40 meters (133 feet) on scuba gear. Before the dive one of the divers told me "I know that I will get decommpersion sickness." They went down together and came back up after the proper decompression stop. After the dive, the diver who had been concerned did develop decompression sickness. My question: can a divers brain affect who gets decompression sikness?

ANSWER: Without knowing the length of the dive, the diving conditions, temperature of the water, the physical condition of the divers, and events surrounding the dive, it's impossible for me to properly analysed the dive. I will tell you this ... Anyone can suffer from DCS (Decompression Sickness), depending on these factors. If the man had suffered from DCS previously, then his chances of having it again are more likely than if he had never had it.

Yes, it is possible for the human brain to make a person believe they are suffering from DCS, as with many other conditions and illnesses. I have heard of cases where people have played mind games with divers and made them believe they were suffering from DCS. The people would tell them they look tired and their skin is splotchy. They'd tell them they are sluggish and keep rubbing an elbow (or other body part). They'd suggest that maybe the diver is Bent and recommend they breathe oxygen, all the while making these suggestions real in the diver's mind. A lawyer once told me of a case where several Dive Masters played a trick on a new Dive Master by telling him these things. They said it was part of his "initiation". The new Dive Master genuinely believed he was suffering from DCS. Not a nice joke to pull on a person, but it is proof that the power of suggestion is very strong, even with medical conditions.

Water getting in nose

QUESTION: I just started taking lessons and having problems not breathing through my nose when working on skill if you lose you mask. I can clear my mask fine but our instructor wants us to keep our masks off for 60 seconds and breath through the regulator. I am having a hard time not inhaling water through my nose. Any tips?

ANSWER: Yours is not an uncommon question. It's human reflex that's kicking in and telling you to breathe through your nose. All these years our parents have told us to breathe through our noses and now someone you probably just met is telling you otherwise! We are air breathing mammals and it's not natural for us to accept the fact that we can breathe underwater, but we certainly can do it with the use of scuba equipment! Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. When you are in the pool next time, try this ... 

  • Step One: Keep your mask off, put your regulator in your mouth, breathe five times through the regulator, then stick your face completely underwater and breathe a minimum of five more times through your regulator. The more you do this the more used to it you will become. 
  • Step Two: Once you have done this successfully, ask your instructor if you can sit on the bottom of the shallow end with your mask in your hand and breathe a few times. I know this sounds difficult, but every single time I've had a student with this problem, this procedure has solved the problem.
You can even practice the first step at home in your bath tub with a snorkel. Try leaning your head forward slightly. This will help keep your exhaled bubbles from gathering under your nose. If by chance the first procedure doesn't work right away, practice only breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose. Then try repeating step one. 

I feel confident you will master this. I can tell scuba is something you really want to do. It's mind over matter. 

Getting rid of musty dive gear smell

QUESTION: I just purchased a (gently) used BC, wetsuit and dive computer. The BC and the wetsuit smell a bit musty (from being stored for so long). Do you know of a good way to get the musty smell out?

ANSWER: Here's what I'd do ... Fill your bathtub with 4 - 6 inches of warm, but not hot, water. Add some liquid detergent (I always use Gain). Swish it around until it's well mixed, then put your completely dry wetsuit and BC into the tub. Swirl it around to make sure both items are thoroughly saturated with the soapy water. Then put weights on top of the wetsuit and BC so they stay submersed. If you don't have enough weights, use plastic buckets filled with a few bricks or rocks. I'd leave the wetsuit and BC in the tub until the water is completely cool, rinse them, then hang them up to dry. This technique works very well for urine, too.

Diving after flying

QUESTION: What happend if I dive after a flight?

ANSWER: Yours is an interesting question. Diving after flying isn't usually an issue, unless you've been drinking alcohol on the plane. Yes, technically, you have residual nitrogen in your body from flying, but by the time you land, get your luggage, travel to your destination, assemble dive gear, and enter the water, more often than not, at least a couple of hours have passed and the majority of nitrogen has left your body. The best rule to follow is treat the dive as a repetitive dive and be a bit more conservative. On many occasions I've arrived on a tropical island (by plane) and been in the water within hours. I don't want to miss any opportunities to be underwater!

My mask leaks!

QUESTION: I'm just beginning to learn to dive, but cannot focus on the lessons because my mask(s) leak. I'm older, and have deeper "smile" lines on my face that let water in. (I can't tell you how frustrated I am when the instructors look at me and tell me to not smile - hey, I'm drowning here and the LAST thing I'm doing is smiling.)

We have tried 5 different masks so far - big ones, small ones but each one begins leaking when I descend. They're just fine when I'm standing in the store without water. I have noticed the snorkel pulls my mask up, and the regulator also pushes up on my lips. We have tried tightening, loosening the mask, etc. with no good results. I'm fine if I pull my skin down while my mask is one and just sit at the bottom of the pool. However, the minute I move the water begins coming in. I cannot do an interchangeable snorkel/regulator procedure even swimming at the surface.

To say the least, I'm ready to give on on this altogether but my husband wants me to continue. I'm supposed to go for my first open water certification in the middle of July, but I'm not ready because of this issue.

Have you had other people with this type of experience, what other things can be done, and what brand mask(s) I should try?

ANSWER: Lots of people have trouble keeping water out of their masks. Honestly, everyone does at one time or another. New masks have to be broken in, just as a new pair of shoes does. Even the ones that 'fit perfectly' in the dive shop can require a settling-in period. I personally use (and recommend) the Scubapro "Frameless" mask. It feels like a large mask, but it's very low profile & low volume, which are very desirable features. The less water inside a mask, the less water you have to clear out.

I know your problem. Some people have deep smile lines and that always causes a mask to leak. Men with mustaches also have problems with masks leaking. There really is no good answer for stopping the leaking. Any time you change expression (regulator removal or replace, snorkel, smile, frown, etc.) is a potential time for a mask to leak.

How tight do you generally wear your mask? If you have a ring around your face after diving, then your mask is probably on too tight. That inner seal will not work properly if it's too tight, causing the mask to leak even more.

My advice?

  • 1. Get very comfortable clearing your mask. I know it may not be easy, but I promise, you will be ever so happy you did it.
  • 2. Give your mask a chance. Wear it in the shower and give it more time to form to fit your face properly.
  • 3. Loosen your mask strap up a bit to keep it from not sealing properly.
  • 4. Keep trying. Don't give up. I promise you, it's all worth it!
  • 5. See if there's a local group of female divers. If not, ask other females in your class if they'd be interested in starting a group. Ask your Instructor & Local dive shop to start one. Have them contact me and I'll tell them of our success. I assure you, hearing other women talking about diving and sharing experiences will help you and every other female who participates. 10+ years ago I started a group. They are 30+ member strong, and even though I just moved away, they still plan on meeing once a month, minimum, and we are all planning a dive trip for next June. They are some of the best friends I've ever had in my life.  

Expired tanks?

QUESTION: I am advised that U.S. Divers Aluminum tanks with DOT E6498 are no longer refillable, why?

ANSWER: I have not managed a dive shop in over two years, but I recognize the serial number of your tank as one that has been taken out of service. Some aluminum alloys used years ago actually broke down and caused cracks around the neck of the tank, resulting in the tank to fail. Occasionally, that failure would be that the tank would explode. I am attaching a pdf file with an aluminum cylinder advisory that I hope you will find useful. You might want to keep this list handy in case you ever consider buying an older used tank. Personally, I always buy steel cylinders. They will outlast aluminum tanks many times over, plus you'll need less weight.

Playing sports after diving?

QUESTION: My son is going on his first dive today (30 feet) and he said the instructor said that they should not engage in vigorous activity or sports for 12 hours after a dive (something about nitrogen). I spoke with a friend of mine and he said that he had heard that... but only for deep dives. I'm wondering if my son misunderstood the dive master or if there is a reason he can't dive this morning and play hockey tonight.

ANSWER: Good question! There's a lot more to your question than a simple yes or no answer. As an instructor, we have to cover all the bases and tell our students and their loved ones the potential hazards and risks. Nitrogen does build up in the human body after a scuba dive, more if more dives are made within a 24 hour period. The nitrogen our bodies absorbed can take 24 hours to fully leave our bodies, as nitrogen is more likely to collect in tissues that are slower to circulate.

It sounds to me like your son is young and physically fit. If he is doing his Beginning Scuba Diver certification dives, then he will likely do 2 dives to shallow depths and not for very long. 10 years ago when I was in my mid-30's, I'd spend the day teaching at the quarry, then go ride my mountain bike 12+ miles after dark, then go teach again the following day. I didn't suffer any damage as a result of doing that.

I am not telling you your son won't suffer any effects from playing soccer after diving, but I'm also not saying he will. I've seen young adults play tennis on a hot afternoon during surface intervals between dives, and I've seen people of all ages playing volleyball between dives. 

I'm sorry if I sound too vague, but I'm not your son's instructor. I hope this helps with your understanding the situation a bit better. Please feel free to check out our section on Diving Physiology and Diving Physics. There's a lot of excellent information about Decompression Sickness that should help with your question.

Hooded vests

QUESTION: I have just purchased a hooded exposure vest (we call them "hoodies with a chicken vest" in South Africa). We are going to do some diving in colder water and so need the extra protection.

Some articles say that air gets trapped inside the hood and can cause problems. To prevent this, I have heard some divers say they make a hole at the top of their hood to let out trapped air! What is you advice?

ANSWER: To answer your question ... I have several hoods. Some of them do not have vent holes at the top and some do. However, the ones that do actually have a thinner layer of neoprene glued to the inside of the hood. Each layer of the neoprene has three holes, but the holes are offest so water doesn't flow into the hood.

The only real problem I can see is if you exhale through your nose excessively and the air bubbles get trapped inside your hood. What happens is a large bubble of air forms inside your hood, but this is easily remedied by pushing down on the top of your hood with your hand.

I really don't see a difference, but some new divers say it's harder to equalize their ears with a hood on, while some say it's easier. I think ot's what you get used to.

How much weight?

QUESTION: I have almost always dove in salt water and use about 12 pounds on my weight belt. I weigh about 175 pounds. I will be doing some fresh water diving and wonder how much more weight should I start with?

ANSWER: Thank you for your interest in our website! In an attepmt to answer your question, there are a lot of variables in determining the amount of weights you need in fresh water vs saltwater. Generally, people need approximately 5 pounds less in freshwater than they'd use in saltwater IFF they are using the same gear configuration. Major considerations are exposure wear (type, thickness, and age) and type of tank.

As an Instructor, I usually tell people wearing 7mm rental wetsuits and an 80 cubic foot aluminum tank to begin with 10% of your body weight. For a person of your weight, I'd suggest starting with 18 pounds, to keep it even. If you're too negatively buoyant or wearing less neoprene, obviously you'd drop weights until you can sink with an empty BC after exhaling, but float at eye level with a full breath of air in your lungs.

If you will be using a steel tank ... depending on the size and brand ... You will wear less weights. As an example, a low pressure (2400psi) 80 cf tank is approximately 6 pounds negative, so a diver can automatically make an adjustment of 6 pounds of lead from his/her weightbelt.

When I dive in the ocean wearing a skin - 2mm wetsuit, I generally wear 6 - 8 pounds of lead. However, when I am wearing a 2mm wetsuit in fresh water with a steel 80cf tank, I don't wear any weights at all. Last August when Conrad and I dived Lake Tahoe I wore a 4/3 wetsuit. On the first day I used a low pressure (2400 psi) 95 cubic foot tank with no weights, hood or gloves and I was just about perfect. On the second day I added a hood and gloves and switched to a high pressure 130 cubic foot tank and was extremely negatively buoyant. I had no choice in that situation other than to switch tanks, but none were available. So, I made the best of the situation, went on the dive, added air to my BC, and had a wonderful dive! :-) 

I hope this helps! If you want to tell me more about your gear configuration (wetsuit, tank, BC, etc.) I will be glad to give you a more exact answer. I will tell you, all too often divers are over-weighted in most diving conditions. In turn, this affects their buoyancy and can greatly increase their air consumption.

Age requirement to become a certified scuba diver

QUESTION: Is there an age requirement to become a certified scuba diver? If so, how old?

ANSWER: Each certifying agency has their own standards with minimum ages for certification being set. As a NAUI instructor, we are allowed to teach children as young as 12 years of age. I believe PADI allows 10, but I am not certain. Most agencies offer very controlled basic pool sessions for children under the age of 12, but their minimum ages vary, as well. SSI offers "Scuba Rangers" while PADI offers the "SEALS" program.

Each instructor had the right to refuse to teach any person for any reason. For a year or two NAUI allowed 10 year olds, but I personally believe that is too young. Not many 10 year olds are responsible or mature enough to understand the possible repercussions if the don't "play by the rules".

Most agencies that offer certification for children under the age of 15 have strict guidelines that must be followed. Oftentimes the child must be accompanied by an instructor or a parent, and a maximum depth of 40 feet is mandatory. Essentially, the escort of the child is babysitting.

It is not uncommon for a child under the age of 15 to be required to attend more classroom and pool sessions than an adult. Personally, I have held several children back for another session just to make sure they know the material, and sometimes to give them more time to mature enough to be responsible divers.

How do divers feel about themselves after they get certified?

QUESTION: I'm an underwater camera operator, my job is about taking underwater videos for scuba divers who come Malaysia for holidays. At the same time I'm a film arts student completing my thesis research too. So I'm studying and researching on scuba divers' psychology and mentality and their behaviours; but please don't get me wrong here that I'm not studying how the divers could get panic, apprenhensive or what; I'm talking about how divers feel about themselves after they are being certified, e.g. do they feel proud of themselves, think that they are a level higher than the average public/friends because they are doing an extreme/high risk sport, so they feel more superior somewhat?

ANSWER: That's a difficult question to answer because everyone gets certified for their own reason, but the final outcome is the same ... We're all certified scuba divers. It is my opinion that people get certified for the following reasons:

  • Because they love water, travel, fish and are curious about what's below the surface.
  • For the adventure of it all.
  • For someone else.
  • Because that are adrenaline junkies.
  • To enhance their vacation/down time.
  • Jacques Cousteau definitely influenced many, as have shows on the Learning Channel and Discovery Channel.
  • To overcome personal fears.
  • For professional reasons.
As for what I see and what I hear from my students, I am certain they all feel very proud of themselves and better about themselves for becoming certified. Diving definitely takes people to a higher plain of existence from where they were. Whether or not I'd call it "feeling superior" That's not for me to say.

I tell you what ... I will write a blog entry about this and we will see what our readers have to say! If you will send me a list of questions you'd like to have answered, I will GLADLY post them and forward the responses to you!

Which Olympus underwater camera?

QUESTION: I'm researching and trying to decide between the Olympus 770 and Olympus 720. In January, I am traveling to Ecuador and am going to be snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands for 9 days. I also dive every now and again but it would unlikely that I would take my camera with me. I looked on your site and could only find the review for the 720 with the underwater casing and even by searching olympus 720, I couldn't find the review of just the 720. I'm trying to decide if I should get the 720 since I will likely be going to a maximum of 10-12 feet while snorkeling. Please email me back with what you think and also send me the review of the Olympus 720 if you can. Thanks!

ANSWER: Since both the 720SW and the 770SW are waterproof cameras, we combined the general and underwater reviews into one. So we wrote about the 720SW (see review of the 720) and the 770SW (See review of the 770).

If you won't take the camera diving, there is no real reason to get the 770SW as it is more expensive, so a camera that can handle 10 feet of water or so will be the better choice for snorkeling.

In the meantime, the 720SW has been replaced by the 790SW -- essentially an updated version of the 720SW. It has the same resolution, but is quicker and adds some new technologies such as face recognition, perfect shot, shadow adjustment, etc. We previewed the camera at our DigitalCameraRoundup.com site (See review of the Olympus Stylus 790SW).

Questions about scuba instructors

QUESTION: I am doing a survey. Can you tell me the following about a scuba instructor?

  • Job title:
  • Education required:
  • Where is this type of education available and how long does it take?
  • What kind of a degree, certification, or bonding is required?
  • Who employs this type of worker?
  • What is the most common geographical location for this type of job?
  • What is the average annual salary range?
  • What are the job prospects/stability of employment?
  • Describe the work that is done on this job.

    1. Job title: NAUI Scuba Instructor.

    2. Education required: Beginning Scuba, Advanced Scuba, 3 Specialties, (Nitrox, Drysuit, and Equipment Specialist are recommended) Advanced Rescue, First Aid, CPR, Oxgen Provider, Assistant Instructor, Dive Master.

    3. Where is this type of education available and how long does it take? -- Most NAUI Facilities Teach classes. Instructor classes, however, are harder to come by.

    4. What kind of a degree, certification, or bonding is required? -- No degree. See #2 (above) for required classes.

    5. Who employs this type of worker? -- Dive shops, Dive Resorts, Dive Boats, Live Aboards, Aquariums, and many are self-employed.

    6. What is the most common geographical location for this type of job? -- Anywhere in the world, especially near the oceans.

    7. What is the average annual salary range? -- That's impossible to say. It depends on how frequently classes are taught, how much the Instructor makes per student, how much he/she has in expenses, if the person is teaching fulltime or parttime. But as a guess, anywhere from $5,000.00 - $50,000.00 annually.

    8. What are the job prospects/stability of employment? -- As a self-employed Instructor, the sky is the limit. People everywhere want to learn to dive. In places like Florida where the market is saturated with Dive Shops and Instructors, a person will make less money, and the competition is very high.

    9. Describe the work that is done on this job. -- Again, the job duties vary greatly. Everything from instructing students to leading dives to maintaining dive gear to filling tanks to cleaning and maintaining dive boats to humoring clients. Most people who go to the Caribbean or other tropical areas are trained in other fields to supplement their income and attractiveness to the potential employer. Someone working on a Live Aboard would benefit from having training as a diesel mechanic, a chef, a boat captain, etc. -- Carol Cotton Walker

    Diving Safety

    QUESTION: I was delighted to read your well-thought-out article on Diving Safety. I have been an active diver for longer than I care to remember and I also happened to work as safety professional before I retired. Since I retired I have done some volunteer work at the Naval Undersea Museum Library here in Keyport, Washington. While I was there I did a little study of SCUBA safety statistics and found the major concern was that the exposure time was unknown, and at that time no one seemed to want to even estimate it. So I found it surprising that you mentioned a death rate in you article (one death per 200,000 dives). If you have a reference for those figures I would appreciate your telling me what it is. I truly believe that the raw data DAN provides annually is not useful without knowing more about the time spent u/w. For example it is not significant to know that accidents have increased if the amount of diving increased proportionally during the same time p! eriod. In other words, knowing accident rates can help us identify and focus on true safety issues and accident trends. Thanks for your concern with safety. - Jim

    ANSWER: I wrote that blog entry on scuba safety. Let me state right upfront, and maybe I should have made that clearer, that my thoughts were just that, thoughts on a topic based on what I believe in, what I've read and what I've seen. I DO have formal training in statistical analysis and actually did my doctoral thesis in part on the then-new use of computers for multivariate regression analysis and discriminant analysis and so on, but that was a long time ago.

    As is, the figures I used in my statement, "Unfortunately, that number is uncomfortably close to the roughly 150 people who die every year in the US from/while diving. But what does this really mean? The rate is about five deaths per million dives. So the chance is one in every 200,000 dives." are gleaned from a variety of dive books I have read, some Google searches, and mostly from "Diving Science" by Michael Strauss and Igor Aksenov, both MDs. On page 185 they state" Deaths from SCUBA diving accidents have remained level at approximately 100 per year even though the number of SCUBA divers has increased 10-fold over the past three decades." (Also, on page 27 they state, "About one injury requiring medical attention occurs for every 1,000 SCUBA dives," and on page 32: "Two or three case of decompressions sickness occur for ever 10,000 SCUBA dives. (in the US).)

    Now how did I get from that data to my statement? Like I said, I can not recall if I read it or computed it. I am certain, because I know how I write and think, that I did not simply guess or make it up. My likely thought process was this:

    "Diving Science" states that there are "an estimated 5 million certified SCUBA dives in the US..." I've read higher and much lower numbers, but let's assume it is 5 million. Let's say of those 5 million, half are somewhat active, and those half do an average of 12 dives a year, so that would be 30 million dives. If 150 people die from diving accidents, that would five deaths per million dives. If it's more like 100 deaths a year, then it'd be three deaths per million dives. If my assumption of half of all certified divers doing about a dozen dives a year is way off, then it is yet another number. If there are far fewer certified divers, the rate goes up, and so on.

    I also have no doubt that a dive is not a dive is not a dive. In other words, yes, bottomtime makes a difference, as well as gender (according to "Diving Science" the vast majority of diving deaths are males), age (foolishness/invincibility in youth vs. declining health at age), equipment, training and so on. - Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

    The Average Depth function

    QUESTION: I do most of my diving from local boats, and never log more than three dives in a day as a rule. I do not have a computer, but my dive watch (Casio sea pathfinder) has an average depth function. When filling out my log, computing pressure groups on a square dive, using max depth obviously puts me at a disadvantage for multiple dives and nitrogen loading. Is it safe to compute this using the average depth measurement from the dive? What is the purpose of the average depth function? -- Watchmanjc

    ANSWER: As a NAUI Instructor, I teach using the dive tables and following them to the letter, literally. I read somewhere where the Navy developed a rule of 120. This meant time plus depth added together must not exceed 120. Examples are 100 feet for 20 minutes, 60 feet for 60 minutes, etc. Global Underwater Explorers uses that same train of thought, although they add the use of 32% Nitrox. I am pretty sure they also use average depth as their guidelines, not maximum depth. I am certain you can find out more of their theories and practices by going directly to their website. www.gue.com

    As for using your watch's depth averaging feature, personally, I would not. But that's me. I'd use the depth averaging feature to help figure your air consumption rate and allowing that information to help you plan dives that require consideration of your air supply. Only you can say for sure what to do. It's your body, and scuba is all theory. There are no definites, unfortunately. I apologize if I have left your question unanswered, but there's a lot more to think about and consider than simply saying yes or no to your question. -- Carol Cotton Walker

    Can rental scuba gear make you sick?

    QUESTION: This is probably a silly question, Can you get sick from rental equipment? I was just certified yesterday, it is probably just coincidence, but the first weekend we did our pool dives I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and had a sinus/head cold for a week and a half. I was feeling better about mid last week and then yesterday we did our deep dive and now I have a terrible chest cold. I don't get sick often, but you know, my kids are back in school so it could be anything. I just thought the timing of these two colds were weird. I looked on line to see if I could find anything on cleaning regulators, but I haven't found anything. -- Vicki

    ANSWER: Greetings Vicki I'm sorry to hear you're not feeling well! Your question is not silly. I've been teaching scuba for 12+ years, and I've honestly not heard of anyone getting a cold from rental equipment, though I'm sure it's not unheard of. Most dive shops have enough chemicals (chlorine) in their pools to kill most any germ. I had a brother and sister in class one time and the brother came down with Mono ... Luckily his sister, nor anyone else got it. It's always a question when we teach sharing air.

    Dive shops should sanitize their rental equipment or at least hang it up till all danger of germs has past. You might want to ask them how they sanitize their equipment.

    Is there a common denominator (classmate) who has had a cold who was with you during pool session and dives? Might you be getting the cold germ from your school-age children? Colds take several days before their symptoms surface. I've read where we often get the cold germ on Fridays when our immune system is weakened from working all week, but we don't actually feel sick from it until Monday mornings. -- Carol Cotton Walker

    Depth limits for youths

    QUESTION:What in max depth a 12 year old dive?

    ANSWER: NAUI's standards allow a 12 year old to go to a max depth of 130 feet, but only with an adult. My class is structured in such a way that we recommend 60 max for all Beginning divers, 100 max for Advanced divers, and 130 for absolute maximum for all recreational/sport divers. -- Carol Cotton Walker

  • Scuba Questions?
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    Answered Questions
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  • How to keep water out of nose
  • Getting rid of gear smells
  • Diving after flying
  • My mask leaks!
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  • Sports after diving
  • Hooded vests
  • How much weight?
  • Age requirement
  • Scuba diver psychology
  • Which Olympus to get?
  • Scuba instructor questions
  • Diving safety
  • Average depth
  • Rental gear make you sick?
  • Depth limits for youths?
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