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Vandit Kalia

Dive Site: The Slope

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DIVE Site: The Slope

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 18 meters | 12 meters, depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 7-10 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: The Slope

The Slope is one of our favourite shallow dive sites because we’ve known and befriended its residents for many years now. In terms of proximity, Slope is the Wall’s closest neighbour but despite the nearness, the topography could not be more different. Imagine the Slope to look like an amphitheatre with parallel ridges placed like cascading rows of seats gently sloping downwards. The ridges are mostly sandy but interspersed every now and then with large boulders of corals. This is a fairly large dive site and needs to be dived more than once to see all of it. On the flipside, there is a lot that you can see here, even without covering the whole extent of it.

The sandy patches are great places to look for echinoderms (sea stars, cushion stars, brittle stars, sea cucumbers), molluscs and crustaceans. The boulders are where you see clouds of damselfish, fusiliers and cardinalfish. Reef fish are in good diversity and abundance here. Groupers keep territories around here and you can observe this behaviour unfold as you swim over the rocks.
We consider the Slope to be shrimp central. Look here for banded boxer shrimps, Durban dancing shrimps, ambon shrimps, marbled shrimps, glass shrimps, cleaner shrimps and several more. Forgot to mention how this site is also a great place to look for pipefish, scorpionfish, anemonefish, boxfish, giant clams, wrasses, barrel sponges, gorgonians and sea whips. There is the occasional sea turtle, Kuhl’s sting ray, Buford’s crocodile flathead and banded sea krait spotted here as well. To paint the water blue and silver, there are red-toothed triggers and mackerel always passing by.

As we shallow up towards the end of the dive, we pay a quick visit to the submerged pillars of a floating white lighthouse which is home to oysters, peacock mantis shrimps, schooling batfish and different species of lionfish. We like to end our dive at the shallowest ridge which lies at approximately 5 meters deep, best enjoyed during your safety stop!

If you are coming to us to fun dive, do your open water, advanced, underwater naturalist or deep specialities…we can take you to the wall 🙂

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: The Slope, Andamans

Dive Site: The Wall

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Dive Site: The Wall

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 30 meters | 18 meters | 12 meters, depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 12-15 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: The Wall

This is a dive site for all seasons, all conditions and all diver levels.

The wall is located very close to Havelock Island and takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to by boat from DIVEIndia. It is one of the first dive sites to be discovered around Havelock back in 2004. We love the Wall because of its crazy topography, very unlike any of our other dive sites in the same vicinity.

We descend down to a ridge that lies between 10-12 meters below the surface. The ridge is a mix of coral rocks and sandy beds. Here we look for schooling, territorial or camouflaging reef fish, octopus, cuttlefish and squids, a host of macroinvertebrates, while also hoping to bump into the harem of Napolean wrasses resident at the wall.

The magical drop-off begins almost immediately, the moment you swim east of the ridge. The wall runs parallel to the ridge for about 80 meters and culminates at a cliff-like edge. We swim along the wall, admiring the scene like an art gallery with a variety of coral, hydroid trees, oysters, feather stars and small caves on display. Depending on the direction of the current and how strong it is, we either make our way back along the wall to where we started or we continue to the other shallower side of the ridge while we look for big groupers, snappers, sweetlips, parrotfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, moray eels, lionfish and enormous scorpionfish. But first, we spend a few moments at the cliff because that’s where the big-eye trevallies, giant trevallies and barracudas come in to hunt the schooling fusiliers, scads and mackerel, especially when the visibility is low. A sight to behold!

The wall is great if you are into big, schooling fish but also for those with an eye for macro life, be it molluscs like nudibranchs and snails, crustaceans such as commensal shrimps and crabs, crinoids or polychaete worms. If we are lucky, we might find an ornate ghost pipefish lurking behind one the feather stars along the wall!

December to March marks the octopus mating season here in Havelock, increasing the probability of finding octopuses in action-hunting, courting or mating. We like to give these guys some space so we can see their natural behaviours unfold.

If you are coming to us to fun dive, do your open water, advanced, underwater naturalist or deep specialities…we can take you to the wall 🙂

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: The Wall, Andamans

Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse

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DIVE Site: Peel, Lighthouse

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 meters
AVERAGE DEPTH: 8-10 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse

We discovered this dive site not too long ago, when stormy weather prevented us from venturing out to our sites further out. Our dive team’s fearless leader at the time, Vikas Nairi, decided to explore the seas for reefs that are closer and storm protected. That is how this beautiful patch of reef was found, sitting quietly around a floating red lighthouse ten minutes outside of DIVEIndia.

This reef is circular, surrounded by sand on all sides. It experiences some of the strongest currents we’ve felt, during tide changes around new and full moons. Some of the biggest barrel sponges, fan coral, soft coral and hydroid trees we’ve seen close to Havelock have also been here, thanks to these infrequent strong currents.

Just like with our dive site the Slope, we swim through the pillars of the floating lighthouse to look for beautiful feather duster worms, cowries, slugs, moray eels, lionfish, puffers, crustaceans and schooling fish in the blue.

This dive site is great for long shallow dives as well as drift dives depending on the current affairs.

The sand patch around the reef is a common resting site for Kuhl’s sting rays. In search of sting rays we often come across nudibranchs, flounders and a good diversity of beautiful goby-shrimp partnerships.

The owners of the Full Moon Café contributed their age-old cycle and scooter to this dive site some years ago, as artificial structures to support more reef life. We’ll take you there 🙂

Irrespective of the dive conditions, currents and visibility-wise, there is always a lot to see and experience, for certified divers of all levels as well as folks still learning to dive.

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse, Andamans

PADI Dive Master Courses in India – All You Need to Know

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PADI Dive master courses in India – Cost, Career opportunities in Scuba Diving

Divemaster is the first professional certification level.   In many ways, it is arguably ethe most important step you will take as well – it is at this stage that you learn professional-level diving theory and techniques, as well as start to develop the various personal attributes that go with being a dive pro:  judgement, ethics, decision-making and more.  In short, this is where you develop the foundations of becoming a good dive pro.     In higher courses, you learn more about teaching, risk management and other aspects – but as with anything else, unless your foundations are strong, you are going to be limited.  The deeper the roots, the higher the reach, as a friend of mine likes to say.    For example, our PADI Divemaster programs are focused on creating qualified dive professionals who are ready to hit the ground running – they are a great match for people looking to become a part of the industry and not necessarily a great fit for people who are looking for a cheap way to do a bunch of dives, hang out on the beach and chill out (although there is a big part of that in a dive professional’s lifestyle anyway 🙂
And of course, if you are going to go pro, we strongly feel that it makes sense to do so with PADI, the world’s largest diver training agency, which has nearly an 80% market share in diver training.   After all, that’s where most of the job opportunities lie!      Even when we were a dual-agency dive center, we still did more PADI Divemaster courses for this very reason.
The first question that people ask is prIce.   That is not the correct question to ask.  In order to do a good divemaster course, you need to find a dive center whose training approach and philosophy matches your own learning style and expectations.     It isnt a question of good or bad – it is a question of fit.   And that is the question which should drive your decision, instead of cost.    Saving a little money and getting a course that doesn’t fit your expectations/preferences is not good value – quite the opposite!
Still, cost is an issue – if for no other reason than for financial planning.    And that depends on the type of program that you do:  there are 2 ways to do your PADI Divemaster program.
– The first is just a bare-bones Divemaster course:  come in, meet the requirements, get done.   This can be done in as little as 7-10 days, if you actually put your mind to it.   And the cost for this varies from around Rs 25,000-35,000 plus tax.     Is this a good option?     I only recommend this for candidates who have several hundred dives, and some experience teaching another sport – and even then, i would still recommend that they go for a longer, internship-based option.      After all, is a week enough to learn sound dive judgement or decision-making?
– The Divemaster internship:  this is an extended program where you work as an intern at the dive center, and gain valuable experience as a dive professional, going well beyond the minimum requirements.    There are various models for this, ranging from shorter internships where you have to pay for the training (Rs 65,000-75,000, plus tax) to longer internships where some of the training fees are refunded if you are a positive contributor to the dive center (resulting in a program that is often nearly free).
In addition, there is also the cost of mandatory agency materials, which are approx Rs 22,000 or so for a PADI Divemaster program.
So is this worth it?   Along with the price, the other question we get asked often is “what is the scope for working as a PADI Divemaster”?   Well, it depends.    If you are looking for a break from the regular corporate world, working as a PADI Divemaster is a great way to earn a fairly respectable salary and also enjoy a great lifestyle, with the prospects of moving up the professional ladder down the road to Instructor, Dive Center Manager, Equipment Retailer and more.       The base salaries for Divemaster range from Rs 15,000-20,000 and with bonuses and experience, can go to well about Rs 35,000-40,000 in some cases.     Oh, and did i mention that you get to live by the sea and dive daily, as opposed to being stuck in an office?
And these salaries are not just for a handful of lucky people – the dive industry in India is poised on the verge of a massive boom, and dive centers everywhere are looking for qualified, motivated professionals.     So if this is something that interests you, it is definitely a career worth considering!

Learn More

Has Boat Diving Resumed in the Andamans?

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Is Boat Diving back in the Andamans (Havelock and Neil) Islands?

(Is Boat Diving back in the Andamans? The question everyone has been asking us)

Short version:  Yes, boat diving is on – and has been since early August!

Long version:  All boats have been required to be re-classified.   One of our boats has been done and has been operating since early August.   The others are in queue, and should get done soon.    So yes, we are back to boat diving, albeit with lower capacity than earlier for now.    With the support of the Andamans administration, this process is going to be streamlined even further and we expect to be back to normal operations for good within a few weeks.
Here’s a link to our scuba diving packages!!! 🙂
Boat diving in the andamans
Boat diving resumed in the andaman islands - havelock and neil
Boat diving in the andaman islands - diveindia
Is Boat Diving back in the Andamans

Sharkskin Thermal Protection Chillproof – Review

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Disclosure:   The Chillproof Jacket and the green Rapid Dry top were requested by us so that we could do a review, and will be returned.    All the other items referred to in the review are/were the personal property of Vinnie, which he purchased at full retail from shops in Thailand and Malaysia.    As always, our gear reviews are opinionated and represent what we truly feel about the product – we aren’t trying to sell page views or advertising:  we like playing around with gear and we want our fellow divers to get the best possible value for their money.  

One benefit of working at a dive center is that I get to play with a lot of dive gear – both stuff that we try out to use at the dive center and stuff that we try out for sale.    As a result, I have developed a deep-rooted religious aversion to paying retail for anything – after all, why should I, when I have access to the entire catalog of Mares, Aqualung and Scubapro to try out?   Between them, pretty much all my diving needs are covered several times over. There are, however, a few products which I like so much that I am willing to make an exception.   One of them are NOS Cressi Master Frog fins (seriously – if you know any for sale, please let me know. I have had breakups that were less painful than learning that Cressi discontinued these fins). Another is Sharkskin’s range of thermal protection gear.

Up-front alert:  I am a fanboy.   I’ve been using Sharkskin products for 7-8 years now and when I wore through my last one, I walked into a dive shop in Kuala Lumpur, slapped down my credit card and paid full retail for a new one.   As such, I was super-excited to learn that Sharkskin is now available in India, which has prompted this article.

Sharkskin Thermal Protection – Review

Anushka, one of our DMTs, happy and warm in her Sharkskin

WHAT IS SHARKSKIN?

Let’s get one thing out of the way – these are not really made of sharkskin (I know someone who got hate mail about this).    So what are they?   They are amazing, dear reader, that’s what they are.  Amazing.

Sharkskin’s major selling point is what they call their “Chillproof” fabric.   This is an innovative, technical piece of apparel which consists of 3 layers:

  • An inner fleece layer that sits against your skin and wicks away moisture
  • A middle windproof layer which prevents windchill (and if you have ever come up from a dive and shivered like crazy, you know how much windchill can affect your thermal peace of mind!)
  • An outer, stretchable nylon/lycra blend which provides abrasion resistance and UV resistance, and is also water repellant, to shed splashes.

Supposedly, it provides the thermal properties of 2.5-3mm of neoprene – while also being neutrally buoyant (so it wont mess up your weighting), anti-microbial and also odor- and itch-resistant.    No, it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill garment.

IS IT WORTH THE HYPE?

In case I was too subtle in my introduction, short answer:  yes!

Anyone who has dived with me knows that I am a complete and utter wimp, and get cold very quickly (the days of cold water diving in a dry suit/dry hood/dry gloves seem to be very far away).   If I am in the water for a couple of hours, I almost always wear a full length wetsuit, to avoid getting cold.   And even on dives where I am ok in the water, coming out of the water is pretty much a guarantee of the shivers till I can take off the wetsuit, find a towel and put on a dry T-shirt.  As a result, I end up wearing a wetsuit even in warm water – and wetsuits simply are Not Fun:  they are a pain to put on, you need more weight to dive with a wetsuit and there are the post-micturation odor issues that would make even the Big Lebowski shake his head.

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

Vinnie posing with his Chillproof Climate Control LS

However, with Sharkskin jackets, I find that not only do I stay warmer in the water, I also stay warmer when I get out of the water.   In practice, I have  found that my threshold temperature for needing a wetsuit has down by 2 degrees compared to other neoprene jackets and vests that I have tried.    In other words, where I would wear a wetsuit in water that is 28-29C, I now can manage with just a Sharkskin top and board shorts in waters down to 26-27C.
Doesnt sound like much, you say?   Well, it means that instead of wearing a wetsuit all year long, now I only need to wear it 2-3 months a year.    9 months less of needing to wrestle in and out of a tight wetsuit every dive.  9 fewer months of being encumbered on each dive.  9 months of less weights, less air adjustments in my BCD and generally a lot more comfortable.
And in cooler (not as warm, let’s say) water, I can wear a Sharkskin under my wetsuit and extend the temperature range of my wetsuit by a few more degrees.    So I am less likely to need a 5mm suit – in fact, ever since I got my first Sharkskin, I stopped using my 5mm suit.
What if you are not a wimp like me?  Well, perhaps you dive in shorts and rash guard and only put on a full length wetsuit at the lower range of tropical temperatures – in this case, you may be able to replace your wetsuit entirely with a Sharkskin!
About the only somewhat negative thing I can say about them – I am not too wild about their hoods.   I like my head to be warm and am used to diving with a 3mm hood all the time.   The Sharkskin hood is a fair bit thinner and doesn’t keep me as warm as a regular hood.   However, the flip side is that the Sharkskin hood is also a lot more comfortable – and for someone who has never tried a hood before, it’s a great way to gain additional warmth without the cloying sensation of a neoprene hood.

THE SHARKSKIN RANGE

 

If there is one thing Sharkskin doesn’t do too well, it is come up with sensible names for their products.    It’s a fairly confusing mess which had me confused for the longest time (and still does), so let me try to demystify it for you.

The core range is the Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve, with a higher end ChillProof Climate Control variant (this has a silver outer layer, which prevents over-heating in the sun as you are kitting up to dive, for example).

 

I used to own the ChillProof long sleeve earlier and replaced with the Climate Control variant recently, and while I haven’t done any controlled testing, I do think I don’t get hot as much with this version when I am traveling to/from the dive site, for example.  So the Climate Control part does seem to work, in my opinion.

Shark Skin chillproof long sleeve

The ChillProof LongSleeves also comes in a hooded variant – one of our current DMTs at the time of writing this article (who may be the only person who gets even colder than me) bought this and it has helped her tremendously with staying warm in the water.   There is no Climate Control variant of the hooded jacket, however.

There is also a full-zip version, called the Chillproof Longsleeve Full Zip.    As the name implies, this zips up and down entirely, giving you more options to regulate your body temperature.   In water, you dive with the jacket fully or partially zipped up and on the boat, you unzip it to stay cool.   In my opinion, the full zipper is an unnecessary complication for divers – at most, the quarter-zip on the Chillproof Climate Control is more than sufficient to make the unit easy to don/doff.

Shark Skin chillproof Hooded Jacket

There is also a Chillproof Hooded Jacket- this jacket meant to be worn on the boat, before/after dives (or also when doing other activities that involve water exposure where warmth is a requirement).

It is a fairly common sight to see dive professionals packing fleece jackets on the boat to stay warm and avoid windchill between dives – but unlike regular fleece jackets, this puppy is designed to be exposed to water, courtesy of those three layers I mentioned earlier.

Shark Skin chillproof vest

Next up is Sharkskin’s short sleeve/sleeveless range, which can be worn as stand-alone units or as base layers under a wetsuit (or a full sleeved Sharkskin jacket).     There are three items here.

First is the Chillproof Short Sleeve, which is available without a hood only.    If you need something a little lighter than a Fullsleeve ChillProof, this is the one for you.   It can be worn stand-alone or as a layer under a wetsuit.

The next two items are primarily designed to be base layers – ChillProof Sleeveless Vests, without and with a hood.   While you can wear them as a stand-alone unit, I would not recommend that if that is your primary usage:   I used to own a  ChillProof Sleeveless Vest With Hood, and found the lack of sleeves let a little more water into my torso than I would have preferred.   For occasional use with shorts, it was fine – but if your goal is to buy something you can wear with shorts to replace a wetsuit, get a version with sleeves, in my opinion.

As base layers under a wetsuit, however, the Sleeveless Vests are fantastic.    They are a lot more comfortable than neoprene or rubber-lined vests, and also feel a lot warmer against your skin.   My old one is torn after years of use, and I will be getting another one to replace it.

Shark Skin Rapid Dry Short and Long Sleeve

Lastly, we have Sharkskin’s answer to the lycra rash guard.     It’s a loose-fitting top with thickness comparable to Lycra, but in a weave-style fabric which feels a lot more comfortable against the skin.    I find most Lycra rashguards feel a little strange (almost sticky) against the skin, and also are prone to bunching and pulling at the joints if the sleeves are a little twisted.   The Rapid Drys are significantly more comfortable and sit against your skin with the comfort that approaches that of cotton

This is one item in their range with which I have not used in the water (the above comments were based on wearing one around on land).   But based on my positive experiences with other Sharkskin models,  I have just ordered one for myself (my third Sharkskin item and 7th overall, if you are keeping track).  I will update the review once I have tried it on. Incidentally, there also appears to be a lime green model in the Rapid Dry, which is not show in the photo above – see below:

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

 

There are also other items (such as shorts), which I have omitted from the review, as they are designed primarily for kayaking and other surface activities.

THE ALTERNATIVES

There really are very few products that are directly comparable to Sharkskin.   The typical lycra and neoprene rashguards dont have offer anywhere close to the same degree of comfort, warmth and favorable buoyancy characteristics.

Mares has recently released a range of products called the Fireskin, which utilizes similar principles in construction as the Sharkskin – as you would guess from the name, they are directly taking on Sharkskin with this range of products and the pricing is very competitive (actually, significantly cheaper than Sharkskin).

I have yet to try out a Fireskin unit in the water, but will do so soon and post a review of that.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Thermal protection is important for every diver:  even in warm water and even for divers who don’t get cold often.  There is a big difference between “not getting cold” and “being comfortably warm”, for one – and one that has a tremendous impact on how much you enjoy your dives.      And here, Sharkskin is a product that you should know about.

For those who don’t get cold easily, it can actually replace the 3mm wetsuit as the default thermal protection unit of choice.     I would recommend a ChillProof Long Sleeve as a good option to try out – it is easily warmer than a 3mm neoprene shorty, in my opinion.

For those who do get cold easily, a Sharkskin Sleeveless vest under a wetsuit significantly increases the usable range in which you can wear your wetsuit.   A ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without a hood) is a great way to add extra warmth to your wetsuit without increasing buoyancy.

And if you are the type who gets cold between dives, the ChillProof Hooded Jacket can replace a regular fleece jacket

Darth Vinnie looking for his missing red lightsaber

No, Sharkskin products are not cheap.    You can actually buy a 3mm wetsuit for slightly less than the cost of a Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve top (and the cost of that Sharkskin Hooded Jacket above makes me want to cry).     But they are fantastic and do a great job, which makes them worth the money to me (enough for me to buy several units at full retail).

As those of you who follow my recommendations know, I rarely recommend top-of-the-line stuff unless there is a significant reason to do so.   In general, I feel that functional value in most goods typically resides in the middle of the range:  at the entry level, one gives up too many features to get the lowest price.  At the top of the range, one gets a lot of neat features which are nice to have, but not essential:  and whether or not those features are worth the premium is a personal decision.   Sharkskin is one of the few premium products that I recommend whole-heartedly for everyone – you get a Better Product for your money, and in the long run, that’s a more economical purchase.

And it is not just me –  when I got my first Sharkskin, a fellow instructor liked it so much that he pretty much made me pass it on to him.     I was also relieved of my other Sharkskin, a ChillProof Sleeveless, by another instructor on similar grounds.      So now I keep my current Sharkskins in my room and not in the dive shop – now that it is sold in the country, no one is taking mine from me: they can jolly well order their own damn piece.

And speaking of ordering their own damn pieces:  in the week between my writing this review and it getting posted online, 3 of our dive staff and 3 of our DMTs/Instructor candidates have all ordered Sharkskin products.    And I have also gotten myself a Rapid Dry long sleeve top.

Diveindia sells a full range of Sharkskin jackets – our top recommendations are the ChillProof Long Sleeves (both regular and Climate Control version) for people looking for a better alternative to neoprene rash guards or shorty wetsuits, and the ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without the hood) as something to layer under your existing wetsuit.

Should i learn to scuba dive - Get certified?

Should i learn to scuba dive – Get certified?

Posted by | Andaman scuba diving course, Articles, Blogs, Scuba diving Courses, Training | No Comments

Should i learn to scuba dive – Get certified?/ Why get certified when you can do a DSD

Most visitors who come to the Andamans do try an introductory scuba program such Try Scuba / PADI Discover Scuba Diving and find it an amazing experience.     But many of them are not aware that there is also the option to become a certified diver, the benefits of doing so or even how easy it is to get certified.

Let’s talk about the 2 basic options for beginners:

Option one to a introductory scuba diving program, be it the very basic Try Scuba or the more immersive/experience-rich PADI Discover Scuba Diving, which is designed to give people a taste of scuba.  There is a dive professional in the water with you at all times, who is responsible your safety during the program.

Option two is a certification course, aka the PADI Open Water course or PADI Scuba Diver course: these are designed for people who want to take up this amazing sport in a more in-depth manner, and who want to keep exploring the oceans in different parts of the world.   It consists of 3 elements:  academic development, skills practice and ocean dives.   At the end of this, you get a certificate which is valid for a lifetime, and which lets you dive anywhere in the world.

Sounds like a lot of work, right?    I mean, you can dive as is without that certification card, so why go through all the trouble?   Why not just do more introductory scuba experiences wherever you go?

Well, yes, you can.  Nothing wrong with that and many people do just that.

However, the intro programs are all designed to be just that – intro.   While the instructor does handle your safety in such cases, there are several things that the instructor cannot do for you.   So all responsible dive centers conduct the Intro to Scuba / Try Scuba / PADI Discover Scuba Diving programs in locations where the conditions are benign, predictable and as much within the instructor’s control as possible.

For first timers, these is still a marvellous experience – virtually everyone who tries scuba for the first time comes out having experienced the “wow” factor.

But… the “wow” becomes “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WOWOWOWOW!!!” when you get certified:   it is yet another level of amazing when you are able to go deeper:  the kind that sinks its claws into you and makes this a passion that you want to indulge in regularly, just like going hiking in the mountains or on safari trips.

It is surprisingly easy to get certified – you complete your theory at home, using online learning.     Skills training takes 1-2 days, 2-4 hours per day, leaving the rest of the day free for other sightseeing.    Then you do 4 dives over 2 days, again each day’s sessions lasting about half a day.    And you are done.    You don’t have to be a fantastic athlete or great swimmer either – basic swimming skills are required, average fitness (ability to walk 1-2km) and, in the event of pre-existing medical conditions, a doctor’s clearance.     So in 3-4 days, you can earn a license to explore the magic of the underwater world, whereever you go.

If you live in Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore, you can even do your skills training there over a weekend – thereby requiring just 2 days to get certified!

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

Posted by | Andaman scuba diving course, Articles, Blogs, Scuba Diving Andamans | No Comments

SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS – FOR NON-SWIMMERS

One of the most common question we get from people coming to the Andamans and wanting to try scuba diving (or even from people who want to try diving in their home city) is: “I don’t know how to swim – can i try scuba diving?”

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

The answer is:  yes, you can

To get certified as a diver, you need to know basic swimming (ability to float or tread water for 10 min, swim 200m unaided/300m with mask-fins-snorkel). However, to do introductory scuba diving program such as Try Scuba or a PADI Discover Scuba Diving program, swimming is not required.

So what is the difference and why?

The introductory scuba diving program, be it the very basic Try Scuba or the more immersive/experience-rich PADI Discover Scuba Diving, is designed to give people a taste of scuba.  There is a dive professional in the water with you at all times, who is responsible your safety during the program.

The certification course is designed for people who want to take up this amazing sport in a more in-depth manner, and who want to keep exploring the oceans in different parts of the world – it is designed to create divers who are trained in diving procedures and skills, including safety/emergency procedures, and who can dive without professional supervision.   As such, swimming is a requirement.

So why do people go through all this trouble to get certified?  Can’t they just do more introductory scuba experiences wherever they go!

Well, yes, they can.  Nothing wrong with that and many people do just that.

However, the intro programs are all designed to be just that – intro.   While the instructor does handle your safety in such cases, there are several things that the instructor cannot do for you.   So all responsible dive centers conduct the Intro to Scuba / Try Scuba / PADI Discover Scuba Diving programs in locations where the conditions are benign, predictable and as much within the instructor’s control as possible.

For first timers, these is still a marvellous experience – virtually everyone who tries scuba for the first time comes out having experienced the “wow” factor.

But… the “wow” becomes “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WOWOWOWOW!!!” when you get certified:   it is yet another level of amazing when you are able to go deeper.   That’s when you get to have experiences that match what you see on Nat Geo.   And for that, certification is indeed required – as is swimming

Review: Mares Pure SLS BCD

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Review: Mares Pure SLS BCD

Note:   The BCD reviewed in this unit was purchased by us before being reviewed.  We did not get any special discounts or other considerations for the review.   All the gear we review is based on our personal experiences and we will NEVER recommend a product that we do not believe in – we exist to serve our guests, not manufacturers of scuba equipment.

Review Mares Pure SLS BCD

They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, nor can you get an old diver (speaking metaphorically, of course!) to try on new gear.    Well, Frodo, my golden retriever proved the first adage wrong and now the pressure is on me.

Some background:  though a process of trial and error, I figured out my ideal gear configuration in the late 90s, and have seen no real reason to change it.     When it came to recreational BCDs, my preferred brand has always been Seaquest / Aqualung – and that confidence has been time-tested:  even today, we use Aqualung BCDs in the dive shop and recommend them without reservations to people looking to buy BCDs.

While we are also a Mares distributor, I have never recommended Mares BCDs so far.   A chance conversation with the Mares distributor got me thinking about why this was so.       While I am a big fan of their masks, fins (Quattros rock!) and wetsuits, I have never been a fan of their BCDs:  I found the entry-level ones to be lacking compared to Aqualung, and higher-end ones to be needlessly fussy and generally, the range to lack the same robustness as Aqualung.

But at the same time, this experience is also quite dated.   A lot of things change in that time, and if we are going to recommend gear, we owe it to our divers to make sure our recommendations are based on a broad and up-to-date set of personal experiences.

As it turns out, I was looking to get a new recreational BCD for myself anyway, as my old Aqualung Balance, while still serviceable, was getting a bit tatty after 9 years of (ab)use.   So instead of getting the Aqualung Dimension I had been lusting after, I looked up the Mares catalog and picked a Pure SLS BCD instead.  I sent the money over and a few days later, I had the BCD in my hands.

And now, here is a review of the BCD, based on several months of ownership and diving.

Note:  Before going further, I encourage readers to read the following Buyer’s Guide on How To Select A BCD.

SPECIFICATIONS

 The Mares Pure SLS BCD is a mid-end BCD in the Mares line, lying below top-range BCDs like the Quantum and Hybrid, but above more basic models like the Prime and the Rover.

The Mares Pure SLS BCD, with the folding pocket opened

The Mares Pure SLS BCD, with the folding pocket opened

The Mares Pure SLS BCD has the following specifications:

Style:   Back-inflation BCD with a central, rigid backplate
Lift:  18kg
Weight:  3.9kg
Streamlined
Swivel shoulder buckles
Weight integrated:  Yes, with visual confirmation
Trim pockets:   Yes
Adjustable waist strap
Customizable and travel friendly
Fabric:  Cordura 420
MRP:    Rs 38,250
Our price:   Significantly less (of course) 🙂

On paper, this is a very well-specced BCD.      But what does that mean, in terms of usage?   Read on.

FIT/COMFORT/FEATURES

 A BCD must be comfortable.   That’s a very, very essential and non-negotiable requirement.  If it doesnt fit properly, you will not enjoy the dive.   And that is why most of us dive, right?   So what are the elements that go into fit?

The BCD should sit comfortable and snugly tight around the waist, the shoulder straps should be comfortable and the tank should be stable.  And nothing should pinch or bite when you wear it.

On this count, the Mares performed very well.    The padding on the backplate at the contact points (upper and lower back) made for a very comfortable wearing experience, with the pressure evenly distributed and no extraneous materials adding weight.

The BCD comes with the standard sets of releases and clips.

It uses a buckle and webbing system to tighten at the waist, as opposed to a more traditional velcro strap system.     Some people prefer the velcro as it is easier to attach and loosen-  after years of diving with a harness, I prefer the buckle-and-webbing system, as it allows you to really modulate the snugness of the waist band.  It takes a little longer to get used to, but is well worth it, in my opinion.

On an entry-level BCD, the velcro makes more sense to avoid confusion (and a resultant unhappy outcome) with the weight belt buckle.   But as this is a weight-integrated BCD, you are likely not going to be wearing it with a weight belt.   So it makes sense to have that buckle there.   Mares has paid attention to the details here.

The D ring is used to tighten or loosen the waist strap

The D-ring is used to tighten/loosen the waist strap

The BCD also comes with the traditional chest clip (in case your straps are too far out on your shoulders) and the 2 quick releases, one on each shoulder.

Thankfully, the shoulder clips are the swivelling type – these improve the ergonomics and comfort significantly by allowing the straps to follow the natural curves of your torso.  This means no pulling, pinching or biting in the shoulders.    It’s a small thing but once you get used to it, you’ll notice it every time you dive with a BCD with regular quick-release clips.

The swivelling clips at the shoulders allow the straps to follow your torso’s natural curves

The BCD also has 2 clearly-marked emergency air dumps – one on the usual right front shoulder and the other on the right bottom.     Both come with large handles which are easily located by touch – an essential feature (if you do lose your buoyancy and are going up, you want the emergency air dump to be VERY easy to find).    The air dumps allow for a surprising amount of modulation – many people, once they get used to their BCDs, use the rear air dumps to adjust their buoyancy on the fly:  it is more convenient than bringing yourself to a more vertical position, raising your deflator hose and releasing the air.      Some dump valves allow this more easily than others – thankfully, the Mares is one of them.

In terms of attachment points for accessories – you get lots!   The Mares Pure SLS has D-rings in the following locations:

  • 2 sturdy steel D-rings, one on each shoulder
  • 1 plastic D-ring at the bottom of the right shoulder strap
  • 2 steel D-rings on top of the weight pockets
  • 2 steel D-rings at the bottom front of the BCD, under the weight pockets
  • 1 plastic D-ring at the bottom of the wings, at your lower back (for attaching SMBs or even a jerry-rigged crotch-strap)

If you need more D-rings than this, you should be in a submarine!

In addition, there is a rolled-up pocket underneath the right integrated weight pocket, which you can unroll to expand.  This has a surprisingly amount of capacity and is fairly useful.    In yet another nod to sensible ergonomics, it doesnt open via zipper – there is a velcro strap and a D-ring, allowing for one-handed opening of the pocket

Folding pocket - notice the d-ring and velcro release

Folding pocket – notice the d-ring and velcro release

Carrying pocket opened

Carrying pocket opened

One minor area where I felt the BCD missed out – attachment points for the SPG and octopus.   Now, my BCD came with a 2-hose retainer clip, so you could (and I did) use this to attach both the SPG and the octopus.

But I am a big fan of looping the octopus hose on a retainer around the right shoulder – this puts it in a very convenient position to grab and deploy in one smooth motion.   On some Aqualung BCDs, you can slip a loop of the octo hose into the BCD sleeve itself – other BCDs have a bit of elastic there which serves the same purpose – providing a place to loop the octo hose.  Similarly, a small loop of velcro around the left weight pocket could have provided a suitable point for retaining the SPG.

The Mares Pure SLS lacks either of these.  Yes, you can use a clip (or 2), but it isnt as neat a solution as having the retainers built into the BCD itself.   Yes, I agree that this is a very minor issue but for a BCD that otherwise has a lot of nice litte ergonomic touches, this one would have been very nice to have as well.

BUOYANCY, LIFT & STREAMLINING

I am a big fan of back-inflation BCDs.   I find them to be significantly more comfortable and allowing for better trim than jacket style BCDs.   Yes, they take a little bit of practice to get used to, especially on the surface, but the payoffs are well worth it, in my opinion.

The 18kg of lift is more than ample for most kinds of diving, from tropical warm water to cold water.     The downside of most large-lift back inflation BCDs is that the wings can often be too large and flap around in the water even when not full, thereby adding to the drag.   The Mares Pure SLS comes with a neat little feature:   elastic bands sewn into the edge of the wings, which pull it in closer when deflated.

Use of bungee cords in wings has always been a contentious topic among tech divers, but the implementation here is very sensible:  it doesnt so much compress the wings, but merely pulls the edges in close.   So in the event of a leak, it will not compress your wings and cause them to lose air faster.

Even small reductions in drag can have massive payoffs in ease of swimming and reduced air consumption, so this is a very nice and under-rated little touch from Mares.  Well done!

The bungees runs along the length of the wings and hold the edges close to your body, thereby preventing it from flapping around in the water and adding drag.

The bungees runs along the length of the wings and hold the edges close to your body, thereby preventing it from flapping around in the water and adding drag

TRAVEL FRIENDLY

This is not an ultra-light travel BCD.

Mares states the weight of the BCD as 3.9kg, but on my scales, it showed up at over 4kg.   That’s a fairly chunky BCD, compared to some of the lighter travel BCDs like the Aqualung Zuma.   Also, due to the rigid backplate, it doesnt fold up into a tiny package either.

But my general approach is – first, the BCD should be suitable for diving (features, comfort, trim).    Only once you short-list a list of candidates which meet this requirement should you worry about weight.

There is no point taking a lighter travel BCD with you if you dont enjoy it in the water.   Now obviously, all else being equal, you want the lighter BCD.    But 2kg more isnt the end of the world – it is very easy to pack a 20kg bag which has all your  dive gear as well as clothes for a 7-10 day dive holiday.   So dont sacrifice your primary usability for this reason.

STURDINESS/RELIABILITY

The BCD is made of Cordura 420 fabric.

Now generally speaking, I am a big fan of 1000-denier BCD construction, as that fabric not only lasts forever, but also retains its color for a very long time.    Lower-denier fabrics tend to fade faster – or atleast, used to.

That said, 1000-denier fabric is becoming harder and harder to find these days, except on top-of-the-line models, while 420 and 840 denier fabric is becoming increasingly sturdier and fade-resistant.    Certainly, Cordura 420 is certainly a very robust fabric and the popular choice for a lot of gear intended for rugged use.   So from that point of view, there is certainly nothing to fault.

Given that most BCD owners are not going to have their BCDs going out daily, 350+ days in a year, and the improvement in quality of 420 or 840 denier fabric, the choice of fabric is probably less of a determining factor these days.

Long-term reliability of the BCD remains to seen, but so far, everything looks to be quality – from the zippers to the clips to the stitching.

High quality zippers, sturdy hardware and quality stitching on display

High quality zippers, sturdy hardware and quality stitching on display

TRIM POCKETS AND INTEGRATED WEIGHTS

Getting comfortable in the water requires not just good buoyancy but also good trim.   Buoyancy is relatively easy – but achieving good trim requires finding the proper location for your weights, so that bring your center of buoyancy and your center of gravity together.   Since each of us varies in height, weight and body type, this requires the ability to move the weights around.

As I mention in the article on “How to Choose a BCD:  A Buyer’s Guide”, I strongly recommend that someone who is buying a BCD pick on with both integrated weights and trim pockets:   these 2 features on your BCD gives you a lot of options in terms of how to position your weights and thereby achieve good trim.

The Mares BCD has both trim pockets AND integrated weight releases, as is standard for most BCDs in this price range.     However, there are a few key differences between how Mares has implemented them, versus most others.

For one, the Mares weight pockets are removable.   This is fantastic for those of us who dive with 3mm wetsuits and dont use a lot of weight – if you are only diving with 1-2kg of weight, you may decide to put it entirely in your trim pockets and remove the entire weight pocket system, thereby streamlining your gear more.

Secondly, the trim pockets are almost in line with the weight belt.   Honestly, this one surprised me when I saw it.   The whole point of trim pockets is to allow a diver to move some weights higher up, moving his center of gravity towards his head and thus countering a tendency for the legs to go down.     Having trim pockets in line with the integrated weights, as opposed to higher up (around the shoulders) seems counter-intuitive.

There seems to be a greater tendency among manufacturers to do this, though.   A couple of Aqualung BCDs also have their trim pockets near the floating ribs, as opposed to around the shoulders.    The proof of pudding, for this, of course would be the diving.  [Spoiler alert:  I went in fully expecting it to be an issue but much to my surprise, this turned out to be a non-issue.  More on this later.]

Lastly, the Mares weight system has a locking mechanism.     As with all weight systems, the release is a Quick Release action which can be operated with one hand – you grab the weight system’s handle and pull, and it comes out, allowing you to ditch it if you have an emergency.     That is to be expected – you want the emergency release system to be as simple as possible.

However, unlike most integrated weight systems where you just jam the weight pocket back in to replace it, Mares has adopted what they call a “Slide and Lock” system.    When replacing the weights, you have to pull the handle out into “unlock” position.   Then after you insert the weight pocket into the retainer, you have to push the top of the handle to “lock” it.   When it is locked, the display tab in the weight system shows Green.   If it is not locked correctly, it shows as Red.

The weight pocket showing with the Slide & Lock mechanism (the red/green part)

The weight pocket showing with the Slide & Lock mechanism (the red/green part)

Accidental ditching of weights due to improper replacement is one of the more common failure points of integrated weight assemblies.     And obviously, depending on the amount of weight dropped and the diving situation, the outcome of this can be very dangerous.

What Mares’s locking mechanism does is remove this risk.   Take a look at the 2 photos below.     In both cases, the weight pocket looks visually secure, right?    However, in one case, it can just slide and fall out whereas in another, it is locked in place.  A quick glance at the BCD’s weight system window will tell you which is which – green is go,  red is danger.

A properly-locked weight pocket - the weight will not fall out accidentally.

A properly-locked weight pocket – the weight will not fall out accidentally

An improperly-locked weight pocket - even though the pocket looks secure visually, it isnt locked in and the weight can fall out when diving

An improperly-locked weight pocket – even though the pocket looks secure visually, it isnt locked in and the weight can fall out when diving

IN THE WATER

All the features in the world are meaningless when it comes to how a BCD handles in the water.  And not to put too fine a point on this – the Mares Pure SLS blew my mind, that’s how great it was.

As someone who is used to diving with a backplate/wings, I am used to my rig being exceedingly solid and stable.    Every recreational BCDs I have used to so far falls short in this area – admittedly, we are not talking about a huge difference and I can adjust to it very easily:  but it is there and I do notice that difference.

Well, until now.   Between the swivelling shoulder harness, comfy back pads and a convenient tightening mechanism for the waist band, the Mares Pure SLS wrapped around my body like a cocoon and felt as solid/stable as my backplate rig.     In simple terms, it felt that my body and the BCD was a single unit, as opposed to me being inside a BCD.      Did this change my air consumption or make me a better diver?   No.   But it just felt a lot nicer.   And that is not insignificant.

Despite the tank cut-out not being curved, the tank is remarkably stable on the back, and not at all prone to moving

A view of the back of the BCD:  despite the tank cut-out not being curved, the tank is remarkably stable on the back, and not at all prone to moving

The second thing that took me aback was the trim.    My legs tends to be very prone to sinking and i generally need to move some weight closer to my shoulders to counter this.  Given what i wrote earlier about the trim pockets being inline with the weight system, I was expecting it to be hard to achieve neutral trim.

But right away, off the bat, it felt as though this BCD has been designed specifically for me.    I got in the water, i turned to a horizontal position… and i stayed there.    Again, getting this with a new BCD is something that usually takes me a few dives to get right and often involves doing things like adding 1kg to the tank band.   But not here.   Right away… NAILED IT!

I have to admit, I did not expect that.   I am very, very finicky about my trim and this is the best level of fit and trim I have gotten from a regular recreational BCD, ever.   And truth be told, I still don’t understand how I managed it with trim pockets around my waist when i struggle to do so with trim pockets around my shoulders.   I can only guess that Mares has taken the overall trim of their BCD into account when deciding where to put the pockets.   While I obviously cannot speak for everyone, I’d venture to guess that if it works for me with my absurdly bottom-heavy natural trim, it should work well for most people.

From an operational and ergonomics point of view, the BCD worked as expected – the inflator hose, the emergency releases, the quick release clips:   all did their job as expected from a BCD in this category.      The buckle-based weight belt was was an improvement over other BCDs, as described earlier.

Deploying the storage pocket was also much easier than on a jacket-style BCD.   In most regular BCDs, the storage pocket is around your ribs and the zipper is just under your armpits – with even a moderately-thick wetsuit, it is very difficult to reach and operate this zipper.   The zipper for the storage pocket on the Mares was around the hips and so very easy to deploy.   Big win for ergonomics.

Lastly, we come to the weight pockets.    Here, my response is a little mixed.    When i first used the BCD, I didn’t realize Mares had a special locking mechanism  (what?   RTFM?   We don’t RTFM and we don’t stop to ask for directions either).   So i pulled out both the weight pockets to test the release tension and slipped them back in when i was done – at which point, they promptly fell out as soon as i let go, causing a few seconds of entertaining acrobatics while i retrieve them.   Doh.      It took a lot of futzing around before i managed to replace them securely.

Once i came back to shore and had a chance to examine the mechanism, it made a little more sense and I got the hang of it after a couple of tries.  That said, I am still somewhat ambivalent about this.

Many dive manufacturers, including Mares, have at times made pointlessly complicated stuff that, while well-engineered, tries to provide solutions to problems no one really has (anyone remember the Mares Hub?).      This system is definitely a little more complicated to replace – and while it may give a clear positive indicator when done right, it is also prone to being done wrong if you are not careful.     Is it really needed?

On the other hand, I have to admit – my opinion is clouded by the fact that I show weight belt and integrated weight removal/replacement on a regular basis while teaching.   I have decades of muscle memory built up on how to do this, and changing that is something that i dont like to do without good reason (and Frodo also hates moving from his particular spot under the fan and will bark if I leave something there that prevents him from doing so.   Hmmm).

However, for someone who doesnt have that pre-existing muscle memory, who will not be ditching/donning weights on a regular basis, this may not be a bad idea.    There is one extra step when you attach the weights to the BCD, that’s about it – and if that step reduces the risk of the weights falling out by accident, that’s not a big deal.

Besides, if this weight system bothers you, you can always get rid of it and replace it with an aftermarket, more-traditional integrated weight system, such as the one used by Halcyon.   It’s a fairly minor issue, really – I don’t see it being that much of a bother to anyone.

SUMMARY

Regardless of manufacturer,  I have always felt that the mid-end range is where real value resides as far as BCDs go.     At this price level, you get all the essential features that let you truly dial in the BCD to achieve perfect trim, and none of the excessive bells and whistles that add to the price but are of dubious value in terms of actually improving your diving experience.

The Mares Pure SLS reinforces that.     Yes, I have some minor quibbles with it, but those are just that – minor.  When it comes to usability, comfort and trim, this is one of the class-leading BCDs out there with lots of small features that add up to one impressive package.

PROS:

  • Very comfortable
  • Reliable integrated weight system
  • Best trim and stability I have ever discovered on a recreational BCD
  • Several small features that improve ergonomics and usage experience

CONS:

  • Heavy (although that probably contributes to the excellent trim and stability)
  • Slightly finicky weight pocket
  • Lack of built-in retainers

Recommended?   Definitely – this joins our select list of Recommended BCDs.

A caveat – trim is a very personal issue, and we always recommend that you try out BCDs yourself in the water before you buy.   If you are coming to the Andamans, or live in Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore, you can try out several of our BCDs for yourself before you buy.

How much does a Dive master make?

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The Divemaster is the first professional level in the recreational dive industry.   As a Divemaster, you lead certified divers in their diving activities by providing logistics and support, on-site guiding and being an added layer of safety.  You can also assist Instructors in teaching their course.    Most industry insiders agree – Divemasters tend to have the most fun, as they get to go diving at a location’s best sites along with the customers

Time to go from beginner to Divemaster:   45+ days (although more time is recommended)*
Approximate expense:   Rs 125,000 – Rs 150,000 **
Dive master salary (typical) range:    Rs 15,000 – 35,000***

Read more about how you can kickstart your career in Scuba diving in India