I went scuba diving yesterday. I normally dive in and around Sydney, which is coolish temperate water (20℃ yesterday, ranges are 16–23℃ over the year) and provision of dive guides for everyone on the boat is fairly standard at least with the shops I dive with. It’s quite common to meet people with 20 to 30 dives experience who have never dived only with a buddy.
Andrew and I were thrown in the deep end with Queensland diving. We learned to dive in Thailand, which many people don’t recommend (because the diving is comparatively easy) but I do recommend (because… the diving is comparatively easy, so you don’t get scared off as much). We then did a single dive in Sydney and then Advanced Open Water and then a liveaboard off Cairns, on which every diver was expected to self-guide.
And ever since then I’ve preferred it. Reasons:
- Yesterday, I dived in a group. I got kicked in the face with fins twice, and kneed in the head once. I also think I kneed someone else in the head or back. Divers have a restricted field of vision and are somewhat awkward about turning. Tangles are hard to avoid.
- Yesterday, our group was eight people. We were queuing to see anything interesting. If that interesting thing was in motion, the last six people didn’t get to see it.
- Queues go double if half the divers have cameras with them. (Some photogs believe they should go last, since they will look for so long. Some believe they should get first look, so as not to have other divers in the shot.)
- I try not to get too uptight about purist diver sentiments, in which you must do the hardest reasonably accessible dives and diving style in order to be considered safe or respectable and so on, but I have enjoyed forcing my underwater (landmark based) navigation to improve by not following a site expert around.
- Some dive guides (not yesterday’s) are really bad at their job. They won’t turn back when someone’s air is low-ish, they get lost themselves. (Divemasters are often backpackers, not necessarily local experts.) Sometimes their air consumption is worse than mine. There’s nothing less fun than chasing down Speedy the Dive Guide to say you’ve reached the agreed air mark, and to use another 10% of your original air in the chase.
- It’s rare that they communicate the details of the dive plan. “We’ll look at the sharks,” is one thing. I dive tables, not computers, and I need to know that there will be a loop back past the boat in time for my timed dive ending (I usually run out of time before air, on air tables). And I hate the practice many dive guides have of reviewing everyone’s air about three quarters of the way into the dive and signalling to people to re-buddy with air matches. My buddy is my spare air, I want to have talked with them before the dive at the very least, and to have the same buddy throughout the dive, not to be paired with Air Matched Random Diver.
Sometimes a guide is unavoidable, for example, in the Similan Islands there are so many boats around, each launching multiple dinghies with outboard motors. And groups aren’t such a nuisance in the tropics, as the vastly improved visibility means that you aren’t all on top of each other. But generally speaking I’m happy diving in pairs.