The Try-Dive: You Can Teach Someone to Dive in (half) a Day
For a dive professional, the idea of a try-dive can be a stressful one. Taking someone underwater for the first time, keeping them safe, and making sure they also enjoy themselves, is not an easy thing. The try-dive does have its uses, however; it gives potential divers a taste of what it’s really like to dive,
without making them commit to a full course. From the perspective of a professional, this makes sense, as diving isn’t always for everyone, and it’s heartbreaking to see someone sign up for a full course and have to pack it in halfway through. But let’s start with the basics.
What is a ‘try-dive’?
A try-dive has different names under different agencies – for example, PADI calls it ‘Discover SCUBA Diving’, or ‘DSD’ for short, while for SSI it’s ‘Try-SCUBA’. The principle is the same across all certifying agencies, however; a try-dive is a short experience programme, which does not qualify its participants as independent divers, but gives them a brief taste of the underwater world on SCUBA. Usually, it’s a day or half a day, depending on the centre’s logistics, and in some parts of the world, involves an instructor or similarly qualified dive professional towing someone around underwater by the tank valve for 20 minutes.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It is possible to teach anyone to dive properly – without being pulled around like a giant, unwieldy balloon – in just a morning. As with most things SCUBA, it all starts with the briefing; if your briefing is engaging, detailed, and informative, everything under the water will go so much more smoothly. For someone to start to dive properly, they’re going to need constant communication under the water as well as on the surface, so they need to know what you expect them to do from start to finish. They need to know where they should be, and where you will be, throughout the whole dive. Think of what you need your try-divers to do under the water, and add to the standard repertoire of hand signals with some of your own: signals for ‘start kicking’, ‘lean forward’, ‘fins up’, ‘air in’, and ‘air out’, for
example, will all help once you’re under the surface. Let them know that you’ll be giving them constant feedback and instruction throughout the dive itself, and make sure they’ll be able to understand you when you do.
Your briefing can also detail the basics such as proper equalisation, and how to kick when using fins. Reminding new divers to properly block their nostrils through their mask – rather than just pinching the mask itself – will help to prevent ear problems on the way down, and being shown how to kick efficiently (i.e., no knees!) in fins is particularly vital for non-swimmers. You can also include a signal for correcting kicking underwater if you see that someone is bicycling their legs or bending their knees a lot.
Respond to your individual divers.
Everyone reacts differently to the idea of breathing underwater for the first time. For some try-divers it’s an exciting bucket-list venture, while others are trying out of curiosity, or simply because their friend or spouse is doing it. For one person it’s a way of conquering a certain fear, but for another, it’s just something to do on holiday. Whatever the reason, spending some time in shallow water helping your try-divers to relax will work wonders: telling them that this is what you’ll do first will help, too. Going through an introduction to breathing underwater on the surface and then again on knees in very shallow water will give you a chance to gauge reactions and spot and correct any problems before the dive – is anyone breathing through their nose? Is anyone underweighted? Is someone
If the latter is the case, dial things down a notch or take a new direction. Suggest swimming on the surface in a shallow, pool-like area with a fully inflated BCD. While fins are not the most comfortable to use on the surface, this gives a terrified try-diver a chance to practice breathing through a regulator while kicking at the same time, without the stress of being fully submerged. For some (particularly younger children), this might even be enough – everyone goes at their own pace and has their own set of limits.
Second time’s the charm
If possible, recommend that try-divers do two dives. It’s often the case that the first dive is a pretty stressful experience for everyone, as participants try to bring together everything they heard in the briefing and put it into practice underwater. Reassure them that they might spend a lot of time on the surface of the water during the first dive while they get the hang of buoyancy, and that it’s ok – as long as you’re in a quiet, safe area without a lot of boat traffic – while they become familiar with their equipment and new sensations underwater. By the time they get to the second dive, however, try-divers have usually got the hang of things, and the second dive is far more enjoyable all round. You can also adjust weighting for the second dive if you think it’s necessary.
None of this is to say that you won’t ever have to make physical contact with your new divers – in fact with any try-dive, it’s quite the opposite, and you should be holding your participants whenever you think they need it, particularly during skills, ascents, and descents. Once the dive is properly
underway, however, if they know what to expect, you should be able to let your divers go and have them follow along under their own steam. As long as you’re close enough to be able to make immediate physical contact, and ready to give constant instructions underwater, by lunchtime your try-divers will feel like they’ve really achieved something special by being in control of their own buoyancy.