We finish our PADI Open Water course and are set free to explore the underwater world at our leisure. Our certifications never expire and there is no one really inspecting our skills in the water when we’re out for pleasure unless our buddy is being particularly tuned in. Many divers assume that once they have passed this course they have accumulated all the knowledge and skill that they need to dive and that those skills they practiced in the pool and demonstrated once or twice in the ocean under the watchful eye of their instructor are best left in the course.
The Open Water course is really a license to learn
The course introduces basic skills and water comfort, but really we still have our training wheels on at this point. There are a couple things we can do to change this. First of all, be honest with yourself and your instructor about the level of comprehension you have regarding the skills. If you can perform them adequately, that’s great, but it is not much use to you down the line if you are not confident why you are being asked to perform certain skills or how they are actually applied while diving or in case of emergency. Secondly, skills that we do not use tend to get rusty with time. So, you may complete 100 dives after your course and add in certain specialty courses, but if you don’t practice the basic skills on a regular basis, you may not be able to do so should you have to. Obviously, you don’t want the first time you ever donating an air source outside of your class to be a time when it is actually needed years later. Practice with a buddy. Discuss a skill or skills you would like to practice during the dive in your pre-dive plan and make sure to do them. There can be some apprehension about this it seems, due to the idea that practicing skills takes the fun out of diving. A buddy team does not need to spend an entire dive practicing skills (although, this is not a terrible idea once in a while), instead agree on one or two to practice on your safety or decompression stop(s). Finally, additional training may sometimes be required to fully refine what you learn from an Open Water course. Courses such as the GUE Primer or Fundamentals provide excellent individual feedback, including video review, so that students can see where their skill set is at in contrast to where it could be.
The importance of basic skills
Why are basic skills, such as buoyancy and trim, out of gas drills, ascents, propulsion, et cetera as well as general awareness in the water so important? Hopefully this question does not even need to be asked. Aside from feeling confident and comfortable with your skills so that you can enjoy your dive, these skills should be squared away so that should problems arise a diver’s entire mental capacity is not taken up by thinking about these basics. These skills being well-developed in a diver means that should they an encounter unforeseen problem on a dive, it is much more manageable. Ultimately, a concrete grasp on foundational dive skills and a substantial level of comfort in the water equates to more enjoyment and more safety while we explore what lies beneath the surface.