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We’re a PADI 5 STAR DIVE CENTRE!

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Hello everyone!
We are pleased to announce that effective immediately, we have become a PADI 5-STAR DIVE CENTER, and are going to be offering exclusively PADI training for recreational diving (although if you have already booked an SSI course with us, don’t worry – we will complete that course with you).
As many of you know, we have been a SSI Platinum Instructor Training Facility since 2009 and a SSI Dive Center since 2005 – back then, we were a small dive center struggling to establish ourselves and the Andamans on the diving map, and the flexibility and support SSI Thailand, led by their head, Gary Hawkes, showed us was an immense help as we grew to where we are.    And we’d like to think that we have since then contributed in our own way to helping SSI develop a presence in the country.   So this was a decision that took us a long time to reach.
In the end, the decision to go PADI was driven by the question that drives every aspect of our operations:   how can we offer the best training to our divers?
Over the past decade, the training curriculum of the two agencies have converged fairly significantly, both in terms of training and also costs.  It no longer made any sense for us to offer 2 agencies, and deal with the complications of 2 separate sets of paperwork, processes and instructor rosters.     Streamlining to one agency helps us standardise and improve the efficiency our own course processes, in terms of structuring water sessions, classroom time and skills development.    Also when all instructors are working from the same baseline in terms of course structure, we are better able to disseminate our institutionalised best practices for each of those courses.      Lastly, it also helps us to manage the complexity of conducting training across 5 different locations (2 in the Andamans, 3 in mainland India).
Ultimately, we felt that the structure of the most recent version of the PADI courses allowed us to cater to the needs of our student divers more effectively, and also matched our own internal philosophy of what it takes to train someone as a qualified diver (and not just a certified diver), and we decided the time had come to make the switch.
One other benefit of this is that we will now be offering PADI Instructor Development Courses as well, for those of you who want to become instructors.   As the largest diver training agency in the world, the PADI instructor rating is probably the most coveted and professionally useful of recreational instructor ratings, and we look forward to providing this training to our divers.   More details on this coming soon as well.
PADI has made a tremendous commitment to developing the scuba diving industry in India by focusing on improving quality standards and creating more environmentally AWARE divers, and we are very excited to work with them and help shape the future of the industry into one where more and more people adopt it as a lifestyle (and not just a one-and-done program served as part of a package tour) and also become ambassadors for the ocean and its marine life.

6 Adventure Sports you cant miss in the Andamans

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6 Adventure sports you can’t miss in the Andmans
I may be biased, but in my opinion, the 2 best things to do in the Andamans are dive and then relax on the beach with a nice book.   That sums up the island experience that makes these islands so magical – the easy-paced lifestyle, the greenery and the lack of nightclubs, bars and other bastions of “modern civilization”.
That said, we are willing to accept the possibility that some people – strange as it may seem – will not be satisfied by this, and are actually looking for things to do which keep them busy and also let them explore the islands in more detail.  Fair point – i am congenitally incapable of sitting still when i am on holiday, and the idea of spending my entire vacation loafing by the beach or poolside doesnt work for me either.    So here are some suggestions on a few things for the intrepid island explorer to do in the Andamans.
1.   Scuba diving: 
Ok, we are kinda belaboring the obvious here, but for good reason.    There are very few places in the world which have a similar amount of bio-mass on the reefs, thanks to the fact that there isnt a lot of large-scale trawling here.   Enjoy it while it lasts, because there aren’t many places in the world which offer this.   And diving is an activity which has many levels – ranging from easy guided intro dives for beginners, to more immersive programs for people more interested in the underwater world (and willing to commit the time to the sport).    So really, if you are coming all this way, do take advantage of this and dive.     Do keep in mind that diving is not a commodity activity – just as 2 colleges arent the same and the quality of professors has a great effect on a student’s experience there, not all dive centers are created equally.   Do your research (and this is true not just for the Andamans but everywhere in the world).       Diving can be done in Havelock (the best established dive destination in the region), Neil or Port Blair.
2.  Snorkel:
Snorkeling is often considered the “lesser” cousin of diving, mainly because it isnt as immersive – you are on the surface, looking down at fish, where on scuba, you are down there surrounded by the fish.  That’s a fair point.  On the other hand, diving is equipment intensive and somewhat limiting in terms of schedule, whereas snorkeling is something you can do almost anywhere there is a beach and at any time that is convenient.   You don’t need a lot of gear either – just mask, snorkel and fins (these can be had for very cheap, but we recommend getting slightly nicer gear from established manufacturers like Aqualung and Mares – they will last longer and be of better quality).     Snorkeling can be done in Havelock, Neil or Port Blair.
3.  Kayaking:
This activity is still in its infancy, but Tanaz Noble, of Andaman Kayak Tours, runs very high quality kayaking trips in Havelock.  A national-level kayaker, who has done 100km solo kayaking trips, this is a labor of love for her, much as diving is for us, and it shows!    Kayaking provides a very peaceful way to explore the coast of Havelock, without the noise of a boat engine marring the experience.  And obviously, it is good exercise as well (although you do not need to be super-fit to do this – reasonable fitness is more than sufficient).     The kayaking trips combine the kayaking activity with either snorkelling or exploring the mangroves:  the latter is a great way to see some of bird and reptile species of the islands.
4.  Skindiving:

This is the hottest new underwater sport in the world and lets you explore the underwater realm without any specialized equipment.   As the name implies, it is breath-hold diving:  going down and exploring the underwater world in one breathe, surfacing, recovering and repeating.    Participants of the sport call it the most zen-like experience they have had, truly close to flying and with the added bonus of utter silence, without any intrusive bubbles.   It does require a little more fitness, swimming skills and commitment than scuba – but then, nothing good is ever really easy, right?     Diveindia offers skin diving classes in season in Havelock, the first center in India to do so.

Video Credit: Andrey Sokolov

5.  Jungle Hikes:
At this point, we start to point you to the fact that there is a LOT more to the Andamans than Havelock and Neil.    The entire North Andamans awaits – Rangat, Mayabunder, Diglipur.   The last is home to Saddle Peak, the tallest peak in the Andamans and an excellent hiking destination (and very good birding as well).   And as an added bonus – you won’t see a single package tourist being driven around from beach to beach in a car, either.     There are shorter jungle walks available in Havelock and Port Blair (Mount Harriet and Chidiya Tapu) as well.   One thing all these walks have in common:   the amazing, prime-growth rainforest that you will be walking in, with birds and reptiles to be spotted.
6.  Cycling:
If you are in Havelock, consider doing your daily traveling on the island by bicycle.   From Village #3, the roads go 9km towards Radhanagar Beach, 9km towards Kalapathar and 3km towards the jetty.   So all easy cycling distances, and all of them are flat, except for the last 5km stretch towards Radhanagar, which has a few short climbs (you can always push your bike up the steep sections – they arent that long).   Get some exercise, soak in the fresh air, and explore the island in a more leisurely manner, rather than whizzing by on car:   where’s the downside, again?   Bicycles are easily available for rent in Havelock.

Inter-tidal walks

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Left by the tide, right by your feet

Sunny days by the beach are best spent taking a cooling dip in the sea. Wait for the tide to rise and once there is enough water to swim in, make a dash for it. Even better if you have a mask and snorkel to take with you. Now that is what most would say.  But, have you ever waited for the tide to recede before getting into the sea?

What could there possibly be to do or see when there is practically no water, you ask? The short answer to that would be –prepare to be amazed. 

The ‘inter-tidal zone’ is that stretch of the ocean that can go from being fully submerged during a high tide, to holding as less as one foot of water at low tides. The receding water gradually begins to expose the hidden ‘rocky shore’ ecosystem- a magical world waiting to be explored.

Left by the tide, right by your feet

Credit: Gunnhild

It was a sunny and clear day here at DIVEIndia. Sharmila and I had just rounded up an army of nine kids who had been eagerly waiting to head out for a low tide walk. We had promised them that we would spend all afternoon looking for crazy critters of the sea.

The moment we set foot on the beach, the first questions began coming in. Touching the wet sand, one of the kids asked “Wasn’t the water up till here in the morning?”

Another wondered “Where did all those rocks come from?”, followed by “What made all the water disappear?

We talked about the moon and tides and what makes the pretty patterns in the sand. We spoke about how the intertidal zone is a place of extreme environments. How animals and plants found in this stretch of the sea have adapted to extreme fluctuations in water levels, water temperature, oxygen and salt.

We hopped across the rocks and waded through the shallow pools that formed in between, looking for any sign of movement- something crawling here, something darting there and sometimes, something slithering under our feet. Each time one of us spotted something, there would be an excited “Oh my, what is that?!” and within no time there would be circle of curious kids squatting around the critter that was just spotted.

Blog DIVEIndia Sharmila Mondal

Credit: Sharmila Monda

A common sentiment shared by all who have come on these walks with us, kids and adults alike, has been absolute surprise and amazement at how full of life this intertidal space actually is. All we have to do is squat, wait and something beautifully bizarre will emerge right before our eyes. From crabs, wormsand snails to many species of coral, sponges, juvenile fish and marine plants. We’re also keeping an eye out for the occasional mantis shrimp, octopus and sea snake too!

Natasha Jeyasingh

Spider Conch. Credit: Natasha Jeyasingh

Intertidal walks have also been a great space for conversations about conservation. Looking at the stunning architecture of the rocky sandy shore, yet finding vast tracts of dead coral. Seeing hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling about carrying their homes made of shells lying on the beach, while walking past a wide variety of plastic trash.

Hermit crab blending in with washed up coral. Image courtesy -Natasha Jeyasingh

Hermit crab blending in with washed up coral. Credit: Natasha Jeyasingh

Everyone leaves with a renewed sense of awe, while  also realising how degradation is slowly setting in and wondering what can be done to understand and conserve these beautiful places.

For starters,  as visitors to these beautiful seashore ecosystems, it’s time we start gathering more knowledge than we do shells. 🙂

We now offer a variety of marine ecology programs, both diving (covering reefs, surveys, fish identification and more) and non-diving (covering not just the reefs but also mangroves and coastal eco-systems).    These can be taken as stand-alone options or combined with diving packages.    Please contact us for more information on these programs.

Review: Aqualung Pro HD and Apeks ATX40 Regulator

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Earlier, I had talked about the benefits of owning your own scuba gear, Here, i would like to start by discussing a BCD and a regulator that I have a lot of personal experience with, and which I think are fantastic value for money: the Aqualung Pro HD and the Apeks ATX40 regulator.

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR

AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD – SHORT REVIEW

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD is a personal favorite of mine.  I owned the previous version of this (Seaquest Pro HD, before they were re-branded) for several years and found it an extremely comfortable jacket-style BCD.     The air pockets have some structure to them, so the air bubbles doesnt move all over the place (as in some other BCDs) and robust tank support and structure in the back means that the tank stays firmly put, without rolling from side to side.

 

This BCD has integrated weights and one feature i consider near-essental – trim pockets.   These are weight pockets located around your shoulders:  by storing 1-2 kg there, you can move the center of your buoyancy higher up, which allows you to get a better, neutral trim (in other words, you can hold any body position you want – horizontal or inclined – without any issues).    This system of distributed weights (2 integrated weight pockets and 2 trim pockets) gives you more ditch options:   if you are diving in cold water where you need to plan for the contingency of dropping weights, this gives you more options as compared to a weight belt (which is all or nothing).

 

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD uses a high-denier fabric, which is more robust, more abrasion-proof and less likely to fade or look raggedy over time.    Lastly, the BCD comes with more than enough lift to handle cold water diving as well (13kg of lift for a size M).     And it has more than enough D-rings and attachment points to hold all your accessories.
As I mentioned earlier, I used to own this many, many years ago and sold it because i was diving with a tech harness only.     In terms of price/performance, this is probably one of the best BCDs in the market today, period.
AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR – SHORT REVIEW

I am a creature of habit when it comes to scuba.   I don’t chase the latest technology or the fanciest bit of kit (which usually is finicky and more expensive to maintain).    I have been diving with the same Cressi Master Frogs for nearly 2 decades.   And I have been using Apeks regulators for almost 25 years.    Apeks makes very high-end regulators as well, if you want the latest in breathing rates, materials, light weight, etc. etc.     And they make bomb-proof, ultra-reliable workhorse mid-end regulators that simply work, work, work without any fuss.      I’ve always owned their mid-end line, as that’s where I feel the best value lists – my TX50 has gone down to 94m, has been to the Dorea, has done nearly a 1000 dives in cold water (<10C) and has gone embarrassingly long durations between servicing, and yet has performed reliably.   4000-something dives without any issues.
The Apeks ATX40 is the modern day equivalent of my venerable regulator.    It doesnt have the highest-end features and technology (honestly, I dont even know what they are – we are talking regulators, which are basically pressure-assisted springs whose designs haven’t changed for decades).     However, what it does have is the following:
– A very robust design
– Very easy to breathe at all depths you are likely to go to as a recreational diver (and then some)
– Cold water suitable
– Adjustable flow rate controls for surface/underwater (to prevent free flows)
– Comfortable mouthpiece
Again, if you want higher-end regulators, we have them for sale.   But really, other than trying to save a couple of hundred grams in weight, there is very little in the way of actual, tangible performance benefits that you will notice in real-world diving.
Another price/performance leader, and another one that I have a LOT of experience with, and recommend highly.

We have this combo available at a very good price, with your choice of instrumentation – SPG only, SPG+depth gauge or air-integrated computer. And as always, we have further discounts for our diving alumni. Please contact us for more information and pricing.

The Benefits of Owning Your Own Scuba Gear

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Some 90s rock band had a song which went “Dont know what you’ve got, till its gone”.  Scuba gear works the other way – you often don’t realize what you are missing when you rent gear, until you actually buy your own BCD and regulator.

 

Let’s start with weighting and trim:  Different BCDs have different flotation characteristics. So every time you rent a different brand of BCD, your weighting will need adjustment, as will your trim (where you place those weights). Having your own rig (and matching wetsuit) means that once you dial in your weight amount and positioning to get the ideal trim, you are good to go for all future dives.   Benefit:  More comfort, more streamlining, better air consumption and a more enjoyable experience.

 

Now let’s talk about familiarity and how useful it can be during an emergency. For whatever reason, you have lost your buoyancy and are floating up, legs up. Quick – do you know where the emergency pull dump on your rental BCD is located? Is it on the left or the right hip? Front or back? Or will you have to waste a few seconds in flipping yourself into a vertical orientation and then raising your inflator hose before you are able to purge your gear? What about an air emergency? Where is your octopus stowed? Front pocket? Upper right shoulder? In an octo holder across your chest? All of this affects how quickly you can deploy it in an out-of-air situation and in a real live situation, those extra couple of seconds of fumbling can make the difference between a safe resolution or a panic incident.

 

Familiarity isn’t just for emergencies either – when you dive with the same BCD all the time, you get familiar with how much air the inflators and deflators add/remove. So no more of the “add some air, realize it was too much and then let some out” dance that everyone does. How about donning the BCD in the water or removing the clips – your hand automatically goes where the strap is or the clips are, and you can focus on where the boat is, what your buddy is doing, etc. The less mental attention you devote to your gear, the more mental bandwidth you have to be aware of your situation, your buddy and also to look out for that manta or whaleshark. Never underestimate the importance of muscle memory.

 

Lastly, let’s talk costs. No, this stuff isn’t cheap and we wont pretend it is.   However, when you go on a dive holiday, gear rental can often run a couple of hundred dollars a week. Many places have shore dives and if you have your own gear, you can rent a tank for $10 and go diving with your buddy. Rent gear and that could be $50 more. In other words, do 3-4 trips and your gear has paid for itself – and you get all the benefits above.   With proper care, your gear should last you a very long time. Amortized over the lifespan of the gear, a BCD/reg set can cost you less than Rs 200 per dive. That’s pretty good economics!
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

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BEST TIME FOR SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS

Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Let’s start by clarifying something – rain doesnt matter so much for diving. Yes, it can affect visibility at shallow depths, but this only happens when there is extended rainfall here (which doesnt happen often, even in the monsoons – we usually get short showers). Furthermore, most of our dive sites are off shore and once you descend to the dive depths, conditions arent affected so much. Tides play a much bigger role in affecting underwater visibility and that changes from week to week – so the range of visibility remains more or less the same all year long, whether it is raining or sunny.
What matters more is wind. When it is too windy, the seas are rough and we cannot go out to the open sea (or sometimes, we can go out but decide not to, in order to be safe:  our standard isnt “can we dive in this”, but “if something were to go wrong, can we manage the situation safely for everyone in this”). However, even when it does get rough, we have a bunch of sites that are accessible all year long as they are sheltered from prevailing winds – what we cannot do is visit our remote, highlight sites like Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon’s Pinnacle and Jackson’s Bar. This doesnt affect beginners so much, but does affect certified divers.
Traditionally, this is what the weather holds over the course of the year:

 

January-May period is when the seas are the calmest (especially March-May, when the sea is sometimes to calm that it resembles a mirror) and surface conditions are best for diving.

 

June – August is the rainy season. This is different from the mainland monsoons, and consists of wet periods (when it is cloudy all day and there are frequent, brief showers) and dry periods (when it is sunny and calm for several days or even weeks). During some of this time, we are able to visit all our highlight sites and at other times, we are restricted to the nearby, sheltered sites.   While the diving is usually fantastic due to fish spawning in the warmer water, odds are higher that we will be limited to our nearer sites. However, the weather is usually very pleasant at this time, the package tourists are away and the island reverts back to a sleepy, idyllic paradise.

 

September-November is what we call the “new season” – during this time, the south-westerly winds are starting to die down, but there are still regular showers and occasionally, the winds do pick up. At this time, the diving is absolutely fantastic (a lot of fish spawn in the rainy season, so there is a lot of bio-mass on the reefs) and the sites are at their absolute best. The flip side, of course, is the slightly higher risk that winds may play spoilsport and limit us to nearer sites.  Also, currents can be stronger at this time.

 

December is a bit of a transition time – the terrestrial weather is lovely, sometimes there are showers and the winds can be moderately strong.
Of course, with weather patterns changing over the past 5-6 years, things are a little more blurry now. Over the past 3-4 years, we’ve had very calm conditions in June, with low wind and limited rain. We’ve also had rough conditions in Jan/Feb. At this point,

 

What does this mean?

 

FOR BEGINNERS: It doesnt matter when you come. We have sites that are accessible all year long, even in a storm, and the conditions of these sites usually do not vary that much whether it is on or off-season. In season, things are sunny and the islands are busier – in the off-season, it is quieter, things are more relaxed and the weather is actually very pleasant. And because the rain takes the form of brief showers, you can actually explore the islands without any issues).

 

FOR EXPERIENCED DIVERS: Based on the recent weather trends over the past 5-6 years, we’ll say that March/April/May offer the best chances of calm conditions,  followed by January/February, followed by September-December.     Conditions in June, July and August can vary – if you are lucky, you’ll get superb diving with just 2-3 people on the boat, and if you are unlucky, you’ll be limited to our nearer sites (which are very nice, but probably a step or so behind our highlight, open-sea sites).
Of course, the weather being what it is, there are no guarantees but hopefully, this will help provide some information in helping you plan your trip to the Andamans.
what does scuba diving feel like

What does scuba diving feel like?

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What does scuba diving feel like?
A beginners view.

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 Articles

Deep Sea Diving India

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Deep Sea Diving in India

with

DIVE INDIA at Havelock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Scuba diving, or ‘deep sea diving’ as it is popularly known in these parts, is a sport consisting of exploring the underwater world using Self-Containing Underwater Breathing Apparatus (S.C.U.B.A.). At the recreational/sport level, it is conducted from depths ranging from 5m to 40m.    Beginners can experience the thrill and excitement of deep sea diving by doing an Intro to Scuba program, whereby they get a guided dive with a dive professional up to depths of 12m. Those interested in a richer/more extensive scuba diving experience can do the Open Water certification course, a 4-day program which trains them as scuba divers and includes atleast 4 open water dives in the ocean.
Diveindia is the pioneer of scuba diving, in the Andamans, India’s largest scuba diver training center and India’s first scuba diving instructor training facility. Our highly-experienced team (which includes 2 full-time instructor trainers on the staff) has developed a unique training curriculum which takes the standard Open Water course taught across the world and builds upon it to provide one of the best beginner certification programs you will find in Asia. We also conduct daily deep sea diving programs for beginners who just want to try scuba diving and experience breathing underwater – catering to all skill, fitness and comfort levels (including nervous divers!).
If done properly, diving is an extremely safe sport and we take great pride in not just meeting but exceeding international safety standards when it comes to diving safety.

Come experience Deep Sea Diving in India at Havlock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands with DIVE INDIA

 

Teaching kinesthetic awareness – for instructors

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Teaching kinesthetic awareness

Posted by Vandit Kalia |

Every instructor is familiar with this scenario: take 10 students and teach them the same Open Water course, and 6-7 will be competent, 2-3 will be excellent and 1-2 will be at the cusp of acceptability – they may meet all the skill requirements, but the instructor knows in his/her heart that this student is not yet ready to dive independently.
There could be many reasons for this, but a common (and often-ignored) cause, and the subject of this article, is kinesthetic awareness (or K-Factor, to coin a sexy phrase) or lack thereof.
A student’s first immersion in water leads to a lack of physical coordination – gravity, balance and force don’t work the way they are used to. The weight shift that they use on land for balance correction only causes them to topple over. Using their arms for balance doesn’t help. Their body simply doesn’t behave the way they expect.
Most students start adapting very soon – I typically see a big improvement about half-way through the confined water session, and then on each additional dive. In fact, this continues all the way through to Advanced Open Water (which leads to my article on when to do the Advanced Course, but that is a separate topic). Slowly, they realize that doing A and X leads to C and Z underwater, and not B & Y, and their brain starts to build the neuro-muscular patterns needed to replicate this. This process is very similar to the way you learn to play a racket stroke, golf swing, basketball shot, etc. etc. In other words, the student starts to gain a new set of kinesthetic awareness for the underwater world. When this happens, it is as if a switch has come on – they slow down and stop fighting the water, their movements become deliberate, their buoyancy improves and they no longer resemble puppies on speed underwater.
But what about the small percentage of students who simply continue to fight it and simply don’t gain that K-Factor?
Let me go off on a seeming tangent now and talk about a dive industry secret that you don’t know, or whose implications you have not considered. The secret is this: the role of most dive agencies is not to product highly-qualified divers, but to make diving accessible to as many people as possible while maintaining acceptable levels of safety.
And for the record, while this approach is far from perfect, I am not saying it is inherently a bad thing. If you want to ski, do you need to be an expert skier who can handle black diamonds before being let out on the slope? Of course not. You merely need to learn the basics and then you go forth and ski, and continue to develop skills (this aspect – of continued skill development – is often ignored by the doom’n’gloom brigade who rend their garments and beat their chests at the state of diving today).
In a similar vein, diving courses tend to focus on teaching the basic, specific skills needed to dive safely – how to clear your mask, how to share air, how to achieve neutral buoyancy, etc. After that, you go forth and continue to develop those skills and have a bunch of fun in the process.
Using Bloom’s taxonomy, the focus in entry-level training courses is on getting up to the Comprehension level in the Cognitive domain, and Mechanism stage in the Psychomotor domain. Sure, a conscientious instructor might go up one or two stages higher in each of these domains, and also perhaps up to the Valuing stage in the Affective domain, but strictly speaking, it is possible for a student to get certified if they merely achieve the above-mentioned two stages.
Leaving jargon aside, what does this mean in reality? It means that if the student is able to understand dive theory to the point of being able to pass the exam (Comprehension) and able to satisfactorily perform a set of complex tasks (Mechanism), then he is ready to be certified – which, as we all know, is not the same as being qualified.
Oh come on, Vinnie, you are such a pessimistic cynic, you say. My students do a lot better than that, and are able to apply the information I have taught them to new situations [Application and Adaptation], you claim.
Sure. A lot of instructors do ensure that their students are able to integrate what they’ve learned, and actually master the motor skills they were taught, to the point that they can apply them with some situation-specific modifications as needed. However, my point is that due to the focus of the dive industry in making sure diving is accessible to as many people as possible, teaching standards of most agencies are focused on achieving basic competency and safety, that’s all.
So now let’s go back to our student diver who has successfully completed all the skills but hasn’t stopped fighting the water yet.
Any instructor who cares about producing qualified divers (and sadly, this breed is not as common as you would think, given that scuba is a passion-driven sport) will not just hand out a C-card to this student. However, this where the support system provided by the agencies tends to fall apart.
While experienced instructors usually develop, through trial and error, their own set of exercises to help such a student achieve aqua-zen, newer instructors are often left to their own devices in such cases. Some of them give up on the student. Others just say eff it and certify the student, to ensure that they get their salary commission or meet their targets. Yet others waste time repeating buoyancy drills or mask clearing drills or whatever, sometimes frustrating the student to the point where they are put off diving for good.
Not surprisingly, as there is nothing in any Open Water curriculum I have seen that even discusses this problem, let alone give tips on how to solve it.
As such, I’d like to address this gap by suggesting a few tips of my own for teaching kinesthetic awareness to students – and do note, these tips are by no means exhaustive, there is some overlap between the concepts in them, and there are plenty of other ways to teach this as well. These are simply tricks that have worked for me and instructors I have taught/worked with.

1/ Start by making sure kinesthetic awareness is the issue, not something else
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But accurate diagnosis of the problem is often harder than it seems. As instructors, we all know what the critical attributes for a particular skill are, and how to pinpoint skill mistakes by checking the critical attributes. But when a student is fighting the water, it is harder to figure out if it is a matter of nervousness/fear of the water, lack of the K-factor, or a specific lack of knowledge on how to perform a specific skill. To complicate things, nervousness can be increased by the lack of K-Factor, and vice versa. While there are some things that can indicate a likely reason, they are not reliable and my goal with this article is not to handhold anyone (or provide guidelines which can be mis-interpreted as rules), so I am not going to get into specifics – suffice to say, simply by knowing the possibilities, you can start the process of eliminating them by observing and chatting with the student.

2/ Allow the student to struggle a little
Yes, that is correct. A lot of instructors will pile on with a bunch of instructions, signals, exercises, etc. right at the beginning. I suggest the opposite approach – let the student struggle a little with flappy hands, moving around a lot, etc. and then start to work on specific exercises to correct them. Now, the trick is to only let them struggle only a little – too much, and they start to build in bad habits or get discouraged. And needless to say, the struggle should be purely with motor skills, not mental or physical stress. The benefit of this is that the student has a first-hand experience to draw upon when you explain how to correct the problem.
For example, when I teach confined water, I initially do a short underwater swimming without any briefing on buoyancy, use of the BCD or lungs. We just go for a swim. Then I give each student one specific thing to try on the next swim. And so on.

3/ One thing at a time
It is very easy to overload someone with a low K-factor by giving them a complicated briefing with multiple sub-skills. For that reason, it is best to work in small steps and give them one thing to focus on. Give them time to experiment and truly absorb what happens when they try that one thing you have told them to work on. Once they get the hang of this, then go to the next one.
Hovering and neutral buoyancy is a skill where people with poor K-factor usually struggle: so usually I start by having them focus on one thing only – using their lungs to inhale/exhale and see what happens. They are encouraged to experiment with different breathing patterns in an effort to imprint upon their brain the relationship between breathing and buoyancy. At this point, everything else is secondary. Once they get this, then we go further.
Usually, each step in this process is related to the errors that have led to the struggling.

4/ Work on breathing and balance
The best way to learn proprioception (another fancy word for K-factor) this is to simply spend time in the water and feeling how your body reacts. I usually tell the students to let their body
do whatever
it wants, and just focus on relaxing and breathing. As you can see, this is an application of point #3 above – i.e., one step at a time.

5/ Complex to simple works well sometimes
Usually, the best way to teach things is to keep it simply and slowly add complexity. In principle, this is correct. However, take a particular Task X, which consists of sub-steps (or critical attributes, if you will) of A, B, C and D. Each of these is a simple task, which, when done in succession, accomplished the complex Task X.
By breaking X up into A, B, C and D, you are effectively simplifying the task. At that point, you can add complexity to when teaching sub-step A. And separately to B, C and D as well. Then, when you put them all together without the added complexity, each sub-step becomes easier to perform and the overall Task X ends up being overlearned.
Case in point: for the first few sessions, I over-weight my students and have them learn to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy while overweighted in shallow water. Then, once this is mastered, the extra weights come off – so the added complexity of swimming while neutrally buoyancy is off-set by the simplication caused by proper weighting and greater depths.
Obviously, this has to be used selectively – and generally, it is effective only if it meshes with the overall geshtalt of your teaching style and progression. So dont go rushing in and making everything complicated right from the get-go. But if done right, especially for certain specific skills and within the proper framework of your overall teaching progression, it is a very powerful technique.

6/ Reduce pressure – allow student to practice on their own
There is a difference between a student not understanding what he needs to do, and a student not being able to perform the skill. With K-Factor issues, lack of understanding is not the problem – it is the ability to perform that is. In such cases, it helps to give the student time to work at their own pace, without the added pressure of someone watching and evaluating them.
I am often surprised by how much of a difference 5-10 minutes of solo practice can accomplish, yet many instructors – fed by an agency-fuelled diet of always needing to supervise and control – find it hard to leave the student alone. Find a safe place in confined water for the student to practice, give them 1-3 simple and specific things to work on and leave them alone for a while: you might be surprised by the improvements in a short term.

7/ Give them time
Sadly, there is no shortcut here. You cannot teach K-Factor, the students have to acquire it themselves. And nothing beats time. Obviously, there are limitations on time imposed by external factors, and there, each dive center has its own policy. I would encourage instructors to ensure an environment which minimizes time-related stress for the student – and by time-related stress, I include cost-related stress as well: i.e., “If I don’t learn it now, I will lose $X or have to pay $Y for more training”.

I realize not every dive center can operate this way, but our approach is we charge a student a certain fee to teach them to dive – and that takes whatever time it takes. This isn’t as extreme as it sounds: with most students, even those with fairly poor K-Factors, it only requires a few additional sessions, including perhaps some solo practice time, for them to gain competency. And realistically, a student who has such poor K-Factor that he need substantially more time is probably not ready to be certified at this point of time anyway.

8/ Non-scuba skills work
Snorkeling, skin-diving and even swimming sessions are a good way to build K-Factor. And as an added bonus, a lot of this practice can be done outside training time.
The Total Immersion swimming books and videos have a couple of good drills on teaching balance – these are primarily geared towards swimmers, but I have found that the same balance drills are actually very helpful for students with acute K-Factor issues. Because practising these drills do not require scuba gear, the student can work on their water balance in a pool or beach-side, between training sessions or even after certification.

9/ Teach relaxation
Try this – unclench your stomach and your glute muscles. When you do, your whole body relaxes. In martial arts, when doing chi-flow exercises, relaxing/tightening the core is one of the basic exercises for developing chi flow. On a more prosaic level, it is impossible to be stressed, struggle and to retain air in your lungs when your stomach and butt muscles are relaxed. When a student focuses on this aspect, he is too busy to struggle in the water – in the meantime, his subconscious brain is busy learning proprioception and re-wiring his neural system accordingly.

10/ Patience and communication
As an instructor, it can sometimes get frustrating. You pride yourself on the thoroughness and efficiency of your teaching, and of how good your typical student looks in the water when done. And now you have someone who simply refuses to absorb your training. Even the most patient of instructors will have a few “COME ON ALREADY” moments. I have to admit, I have.
However, in such cases, it helps to realize that if you are frustrated, the student is doubly so. He is seeing you looking graceful in the water (as an instructor, you DO look graceful in the water, right?), he is seeing the other students doing the same thing a lot more easily – and you can be sure, he is frustrated by his own struggles.
This can make him stressed, which leads to clenched stomach/core and greater air retention in the lungs, which in turn leads to greater struggles. This can also lead to finding excuses – this isn’t working, I don’t have enough weight, etc. etc.
As an instructor, you need to find the right balance between being encouraging and positive, and at the same time, not wasting too much time entertaining false excuses.How you deal with it varies depending on you, the student, the dynamic between the two of you and the situation, and can range from gentle encouragement to firm instructions and even tough love. Regardless of how you choose to handle it, use empathy (not sympathy, mind you – the two are different) to understand what the student is feeling and figure out the best way to get them to improve.