BEST TIME FOR SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans
One of the downsides of having been diving for a while is that sometimes, it is easy to take the ocean’s wonders for granted – yes, the diving is still enjoyable but that sense of wide-eyed wonder is lost. The more you dive, the more cool things you see, the less you tend to be excited by the common, everyday stuff – which, if you take a step back and think about it, is pretty damn amazing. On any given scuba dive here in the Andamans, you can see well over a hundred species of marine life. Translate that to seeing 100 different animals in a national park, or 100 different birds in a morning walk.
The same thing happens with the Andamans. After going out for an evening walk with the dogs daily for nearly 10 years, it is easy to take the long stretch of quiet, untouched beach, the clear azure waters and all the interesting marine life in the low tide rock pools for granted. It’s human nature, after all.
Still, sometimes, it is nice to “see” things from fresh eyes. Rajdeep Bhattacharyya came to do his open water course with us, and has written a beautifully evocative post on his first experience at diving. It puts a smile on my face, and it reminds me of my own first dive (in a pool – where the feeling of weightlessness had me hooked to the sport instantly) and the first dive where I saw fish (dive #30, in Florida). So, with the author’s permission, here is a link: https://www.wingd.ca/swimming-fish-andaman/
Scuba Diving Courses Andaman: Learn Scuba Diving
For those interested in learning to dive, we offer the Open Water Course.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be an expert swimmer, or a daredevil adventurer in order to dive. Recreational diving is one of the safest sports around, and is suitable for everyone from the age of 10 to 65-plus. All you need is basic swimming capabilities, moderate fitness levels (ability to walk a kilometer or two without fatigue) and good health.
The Open Water course consists of 3 sections:
– Academic development: Here, you learn the theory of diving. This is covered in a mix of video, self-study and instructor briefings
– Confined water training: here, you master the essential skills of scuba, starting from the simple (breathing underwater) and working your way up to complex (removing/replacing your equipment underwater)
– Open water dives: now you get a chance to apply everything that you have learned by actually diving. We do 4 dives in the open water, where you repeat some of the skills that you learned earlier, and where you also get a chance to dive, enjoy yourself and soak in the wonders of the underwater world.
At the successful completion of this course, you receive a certification card from PADI or SSI, two of the largest diver training agencies in the world.
A quick word on these agencies: either of these cards will let you dive anywhere in the world – both are universally accepted (contrary to a popular misconception that one works better than the other). They are also interchangeable (you can start with one and switch to another, and each agency recognises the other’s cards). Regardless of which option you choose, you get a high-quality course. There are some minor differences in curriculum (more so at higher training levels), add-ons and pricing, and these, rather than brand, should form the basis of your decision. Our instructors will be happy to work with you in selecting the course that is just right for you – contact us for more info.
Typically, the Open Water course lasts 4 full days. However, we recognize that different people learn at different speeds – besides, you are on vacation and may want to spread out your training. So, the time to certification can be more or less. Two things are for sure: we will not rush you, and we will not compromise on your training.
The DIVEIndia approach: As with our diving, we believe in small groups and personalized attention for training. With our large staff of instructors, we are able to keep our classes small – usually 4:1 or better student:professional ratio – ensuring that you get all the personal attention that you need. Furthermore, as with all our courses, we go WELL beyond the bare minimum in terms of how skills are integrated, in terms of amount of in-water time you will get and also the degree of comfort and mastery that we impart before certifying someone.
Please keep in mind – just as all coaches, teachers and colleges are not the same, neither are all diving programs the same. We conduct what we consider to be one of the best Open Water training programs you will find in Asia (and even elsewhere): we have one of the most experienced teams of instructors in the region, we go well above the bare minimum in terms of standards and our goal is to actually make you a qualified diver, not just check off a set of skills and let you go. Think of the difference between learning a subject and learning to pass an exam – that sums up the DIVEIndia difference.
If you have any health-related concerns about learning to dive, please download the Medical Statement form which goes over a medical checklist. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions there, please get medical clearance from your doctor prior to reaching Havelock. You will need one separate clearance for every question to which you answer “yes.”
We highly recommend you club the Open Water Course with the Advanced Open Water Course.
The PADI Advanced Open Water course / SSI Advanced Adventurer (same rose, different names) consists of 5 dives: two are mandatory (Deep Dive and Underwater Navigation – Night is highly recommended), and for the remainder, you can choose from 15 options, including Night, Computer, Naturalist, Buoyancy, Wreck, Boat, Underwater Photography and lots more.
This is a practical course (emphasis on in-water training) and is meant to give you experience in diving under different conditions, as well as provide you with a deeper understanding of dive theory, planning and techniques.
And the reason we suggest clubbing the two courses is because it has the following benefits:
– you learn more and become a significantly better diver when you do both the OW and the Advanced
– you retain your skills longer, as you are better able to internalize the diving skills
– you are able to dive to 30m and thereby visit some of the best sites of the Andamans
– our Open + Advanced combo works out to be staggeringly good value
You do not need to commit to this in advance, but if possible, try to keep 2-3 days extra on hand after the course for this. Virtually every one who has done the combo has loved it.
Anyone who has done an Open Water or Advanced course with me knows that I feel that a dive computer is the single most important piece of equipment a diver should own. With a dive computer on your person, you have full control over your dive and are completely self-reliant – which is exactly what you, as a certified diver, should strive to be. A divemaster or more experienced buddy is good to have as an added layer of safety, but your safety is your responsibility and no one else’s.
Yes, it costs a little bit of money – but really, if you factor in the years of use you can get out of it, the annual cost is not that high. And having all the information not only improves your safety, but your confidence as well – and that means you are more likely to dive.
At this point, I can hear someone going “yes, but i can do this with a dive table as well”. Yes, you can, in theory. I did a dive yesterday – max depth 30m, total dive time 58min and at no point did we come anywhere close to our no decompression limits. If you were on tables, you would be out of the water in 24-25 min. Do you really want to pay thousands of dollars on vacation and then give up on >50% of your dive time? Let’s get real. Dive tables are obsolete for recreational divers and for good reason.
But I digress. Getting back to dive computers: until now, it really wasn’t cost effective to buy scuba gear, including computers, in India. However, times are changing. As those of you who are members of our Facebook group know, the scuba market in India has finally evolved to the point where manufacturers are taking it seriously, and now it is becoming increasingly cost effective for people to buy gear here.
So that led to me scouring the various price lists to see if there was a dive computer that could be a sensible alternative to the Suunto Zoop, one of the heavyweights in entry-level dive computer category – and this search led me to the Aqualung i300.
Before we start, a word on ‘entry level’ – that is not the same as ‘cheapest’. The idea is to find a computer which has sensible set of features ie, one which includes everything that is essential, and where you are neither paying extra for a bunch of optional bells-and-whistles, nor saving money by giving up on things that are important (be it features or usability).
The Aqualung i300 is an over-sized dive computer which has 4 modes: Air, Nitrox, Free and Gauge. The first 2 are for diving, the 3rd for skindiving/apnea and the last for use as a bottom timer when doing technical diving.
The first thing that jumped out at me was that the i300 has user-replaceable batteries. This is a heaven-sent. My personal computer, a Suunto D9TX, requires me to send it to Thailand every time the battery runs out – which means a couple of months without it. User-replaceable batteries are a ‘must have’, in my opinion.
The i300 also comes with a bunch of useful features: backlighting (for viewing in the dark), auto-detection of altitude and fresh water/sea water, the usual depth and time alarms & 2 unique alarms: a ‘Dive Time Remaining’ alarm (which can be set to beep to however many minutes before you hit your no-deco limit) and a nitrogen loading alarm (which can be set to beep when you hit 20%, 40%, 60% or 80% of your max nitrogen loading).
It gets credit for having a sensible Dive Plan mode – on many computers, including several Suunto models, accessing the Plan mode during a surface interval would only provide the bottom time based on the current surface interval. So if you were 30′ into the SI and wanted to get in the water after another 45′, there was no way to figure out how much bottom time you would get then – the Plan mode would only show you how much bottom time you had at that time. Thankfully, the i300 lets you add more surface time to the planning mode, which makes it actually useful for figuring out how long you have to wait or what your depth/time limits would be when you actually got into the water.
Two other neat features – it has a ‘Deep Stop’ option you can enable, if you want, and it also lets you specify the depth and duration of your safety stop.
In addition to the above, the Aqualung i300 also has all the other usual features – dive log mode, total number of dives logged, a conservative factor setting (which lets you make the computer more conservative), metric/imperial adjustments and the ability to sync with a computer with an optional cable (this lets you download your dives for review on a computer or online dive log software, and also lets you upgrade the firmware of the device if need be) and auto-on – although for some inexplicable reason, you actually have the ability to turn off the ‘auto-on’ function, if you so desire.
Lastly, the i300’s Free Diving mode is quite robust: not only does it includes things like a Countdown Timer (before you start your immersion), but the computer actually tracks your activities in Free Diving mode. So that means you can switch from Free Diving mode to one of the Diving modes (Air or Nitrox) at any time – many other computers, including several Suunto models, require a 24-48 hour waiting time before letting you switch modes.
All of this is well and good, but ultimately, the main purpose of a dive computer is to help you plan and execute your dives. How good is the i300 at this?
Let me take a step back and sign a paean to Suunto dive computers. They are one of the heavy-weights of the dive industry, and with good reason – sophisticated computer models, workhorse reliability and smart interfaces. However, the big knock against them has always been how overly conservative they are – they use a very advanced model called RGBM, which tries to predict and minimize silent bubble buildup in the body, but the downside to this is that your dive time is greatly reduced, especially on repetitive dives.
The i300 is made by Pelagic Systems – who also make dive computers for Oceanic, Mares and others, and who are one of the leaders in developing decompression algorithms. The i300 uses their PZ+ algorithm, which is a moderately conservative algorithm, slotting in between the liberal DSAT model (also created by Pelagic) and Suunto’s conservative RGBM model.
So in theory, this should give you more bottom time, especially on repetitive dives.
But hold on – isn’t it better to have a more conservative computer? I sort of agree with that – their extra conservative model is the reason we use Suuntos in our dive center, after all.
However, the decision-making for a dive center is going to be different from the decision-making for an individual: we have to take into account divers of all body types, fitness level, age groups, health levels and abilities. You only have to take into account yourself.
And the inescapable fact is that millions of people have been diving safely for years using variations of the Buhlmann model (which is the compartment-based model that you learn in Open Water and even Divemaster), of which the PZ+ is a derivative. So at what point is a computer conservative enough?
Suunto themselves recognizes it to some degree – on their higher end computers, such as the D9, they offered a setting which would let you make the computer less conservative.
Generally, my belief is this – unless you have a condition which requires you to be more conservative when it comes to DCS (age, fitness, overweight), the PZ+ algorithm is going to be more than adequate at keeping you safe – just be careful about watching your ascent rate, give yourself atleast an hour between dives and follow all the concepts of safe diving that you learn in Open Water, and you are good to go.
Over the past few days, I have taken the computer for a bunch of dives, along with my Suunto D9TX and a Suunto Zoop from the dive shop. To test how the computers responded to various diving situations and emergencies, not only did I do a day of regular diving, but I also took all 3 computers into decompression, and did a day of reverse profiles (a shallower dive first, a deeper dive second).
The computer behaved pretty much as i expected: on the first dive, I got a bottom time that was somewhere in between my D9TX (which has the reduced RGBM algorithm) and the Zoop (which has the full RGBM algorithm). The difference between all 3 computers was fairly small. On the second dive however, the i300 gave me a little bit more bottom time than the D9TX, and both gave me significantly more time than the Zoop – this is pretty much what I expected, given the algorithms.
The backlighting worked well, the tactile buttons were a pleasure to use, and all the automatic features of the computer worked precisely as they were supposed to. And the readout is very clear and easy to read, with all the essential information available at a single glance.
On the reverse profile day, the same held – all 3 computers gave readouts that were ‘sensible’, with similar bottom times as earlier.
On the decompression dive, there was a significant variation, however. I went down to past 40m and hung around till all 3 computers went into deco (no significant differences in bottom time here) and started to ascend once both computers were showing me 5′ of ascend time. As i ascended to a shallower depth and the controlling compartment changed, the Sunntos gave me credit for off-gassing on the faster compartment and the deco obligation cleared by the time i was at 15m. However, the i300 obstinately kept that deco clock ticking till I ascended to shallower than 10m.
This is a key difference – the Suuntos are designed for decompression diving (provided you are trained and qualified to know how to use them for this), whereas the i300 is strictly for recreational, no-deco dives (and it doesnt pay any attention to that ‘recreational deco’ nonsense) – So someone who is a technical diver or planning to become one may prefer a different computer. However, for the vast majority of recreational divers, this isn’t such an issue. You shouldn’t be going into deco anyway.
2 weeks ago, if you had asked me to recommend an entry-level computer, I would have blindly said Suunto Zoop/Vyper – why? Because i am a long-time Suunto user – and Suunto is also the brand that we use in the dive shop, with excellent results.
However, while the Zoop still makes sense for the dive center, I think that for an individual diver, the slightly less conservative algorithm of the i300 makes it a better buy, especially given that prices are comparable.
There are a couple of cheaper options out there, such as the various 1-button dive computers like the Mares Puck. However, going back to what i wrote earlier about the difference between ‘best entry level’ and ‘cheapest’ – single button interfaces are a pain in the rear. Given that the monetary savings would have been very modest, I ruled those out.
There are also more expensive options out there – what a greater price gets you is a smaller form factor (so you can wear it like a wrist watch – which is actually a really good thing: it goes with you whereever you go, so you are sorted if you make a last-minute decision to go diving somewhere), air integration via optional tank transmitter (so you can see how much air you have left, both in bars and time, based on your breathing rate), an in-built digital compass (that’s nice to have for serious divers and pros) and, at the highest end of the scale, the ability to switch gases between various nitrox and helium blends and rebreather modes (useful for technical divers).
All those features are nice to have, and if budget allows, by all means go for it. A Suunto D6 or equivalent is a great buy in that price range. But if you are a casual recreational diver who is not looking to spend a huge amount of money on unnecessary gear, the Aqualung i300 gets my vote as the first piece of scuba gear you should own.
Here is a new video on the Inchkett
Port Blair, March 28: Andaman’s oldest scuba diving center ‘DIVEIndia’ has been awarded India’s Favourite Adventure Tour Operator, based on a poll of over 7500 readers of Outlook Traveller magazine and website. Vandit Kalia, Managing Director of the company, was presented with a plaque and a certificate by Shri Parvez Diwan, Secretary of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India, at a function held in New Delhi.
The poll, validated by IPSOS, is an authoritative benchmark of consumer preferences in the areas of travel and tourism, including hotels, airlines and holiday destination and is part of an annual survey conducted by Outlook Traveler Magazine.
Commenting on the award, Kalia said, “This award goes to each and every person of the team, all of whom have quit corporate careers to pursue their passions – we strive to offer the highest quality scuba diving services and at the same time retain a personal touch, and being recognized by our guests for this is one of the most rewarding things for all of us, especially as it comes during our 10th year anniversary”.
DIVEIndia has been operating in the Andamans since 2003 and has established itself as one of the leading dive training agencies in India, offering training programs all the way from beginner to instructor. It celebrated its 10 anniversary in December 2013, and has plans to expand operations to cover all major Indian cities.
So far, muck diving has been synonymous with Lembeh in Sulawesi. Well, the Andamans is a geographical extension of the same region, and we – especially Vikas and Sayeed – have been exploring the macro realm quite intently, looking to expand the scope of what is available here.
During the season, we found a few “firsts” for the Andamans – electric clam, frogfish and devil stinger. And now that the off-season is slowly coming upon us, we have been doing some exploring… and this past week, we found the archetypical muck diving site: black sand, no rocks or coral, just lots of sea urchins and massive feather stars. And while here, 2 exciting new discoveries: ambonscorpionfish (!!!) and robust ghost pipefish!
With an average depth of 18m, and sloping down to 60m plus on one side, this site is accessible to all diver levels and we are also planning to do blue-water dives off from here, hoping to find hammerheads (fingers crossed). Will keep the world posted on what happens!
The site name is V16 for now, and it will be on our schedule of regular dive sites from next season.
So Vikas and I spent 3 days, sitting at the Port Blair port, waiting to get everything sorted so that we could lower our boat into the water (a process which, if one removes the waiting time, took an actual 20 minutes of effort). Yesterday morning, we woke up at 4:00am and headed over to the pier, departing Port Blair by 5, just at the crack of dawn.
Flat calm seas, beautiful lighting, a few sleepy gulls and Mako, purring along with her engines at mid-revs. A couple of bursts of speed got the speed up to well over 40knots and put big smiles on our face.
Today, Gregorio and his friends from Spain, who’ve been diving with us for the past 8-9 days, became the first divers to go on a dive trip on Mako – a sunrise dive at Johnny’s Gorge. Departing at 5am, we were there by 5:20am and had an amazing dive. A couple of the divers claimed this was their best dive ever (and these are people who have dived Galapagos and Sipadan, mind you), for the sheer wealth of fish life on the site.
So, this is what the future holds for DiveIndia this season — dawn dives, expedition trips to Barren Island, Invisible Banks, Campbell Shoal; extended range of day trip from Havelock to include North Button, Port Blair and Neil Island (including the drop-offs around Neil, where supposedly big sharks hang). These will be exclusive trips – 4-6 divers, 1 guide and 2 or 3 tanks, depending on where we go.
At the risk of sounding like we are tooting our own horn (we are, I admit, but I think we’ve earned it ), we can safely say this represents another evolution in what diving in the Andamans has to offer. The first was the new sites discovered by Johnny, Dixon and Jackson; the next was the North Safaris and now this.
As of now, we will be running day trips to virtually all sites visited by liveaboards, and a lot of other sites that they don’t know about (there’s that local expertise coming into play again). And you get to experience the magic of the Andamans as well…
Yep, it’s been a while since our last blog, but I think this one was worth it. We’ll be posting videos and clips online very soon as well.