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Scuba Diving Andamans

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
Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

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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

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How to pick a dive center when doing your Divemaster program

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The Divemaster course is a great step forwards for divers looking to become a part of the dive industry – as a PADI professional, they become part of the largest association of dive professionals in one of the coolest sports on (or is that under?) the planet, with employment opportunities all over the world.     The sport is just starting to take off in India and there are tremendous opportunities all over the country.   So obviously, for someone looking to become a dive professional, this is a very critical step in their professional development.
Even if someone isn’t looking to work as a dive pro, the Divemaster course allows them to really expand their horizons when it comes to their dive skills and involvement in the sport.    And either way, it is a fairly large commitment of time and effort – and a not-insignificant amount of money either.
So here are a few things to keep in mind when picking a place to do your DM program.
The next most important question is something you ask yourself – why are you doing the DM course?     Is it because you want to work in the industry?   Is it because you want the personal satisfaction of having that black professional’s card?   Is it because you want a break from work?    Or is it because you just want a few weeks of discounted diving?    Each of these are perfectly valid reasons – this is a sport and you get to make the call on what you like, and what you want.   But in each of these cases, you need to be absolutely honest about why you are doing the course.
Let me go use a college analogy:  just as the same degree can be taught very differently in a liberal-arts college vs a technical-focused college (or even two similar types of colleges), so too the DM course can be taught very differently across dive centers.    So you need to make sure that a dive center’s teaching philosophy is in line with your expectations above.   For example, at DIVEIndia, our focus is on preparing qualified dive professionals who are ready to work at a dive center (most often our own!) afterwards.   So our training has a very heavy emphasis on diver control, safety and also in assisting instructors (if you can handle students, you can handle certified divers), as well as in developing judgement, decision-making & professionalism (which occasionally translates into a little ’tough love’ from an instructor :)).    For candidates who are looking to get a month of relaxed diving for free, this is not a good fit.   But given how virtually all our Divemaster candidates who want to work in the industry have gone on to do so, we are obviously doing something right in our chosen area of focus.
Another thing to keep in mind that the Divemaster course is going to be very different from any other program that you have done so far.      Till now, every program that you have done consists of a set of skills you have to learn, which is a binary state:  either you know the skill or you don’t (simplifying a little – there are different levels of learning, but we dont need to get into that yet).   The DM course also has quite a few areas that are similar (theory, watermanship, dive skills), but these are only a small subset of what makes a professional.      Just as with any other job, there are a lot of soft skills that make the difference between a good dive professional and a mediocre one.   And those are the skills that are harder to grade:  how do you score “decision making” or “judgement” or “professionalism”?   These arent attributes which you either HAVE or DONT HAVE – they are skills that are constantly evolving.
The impact on this depends on what your goals are – if you are planning to work in the industry, then you want to develop your judgement, decision-making and professionalism.    So you want a dive center that will customize the program to some degree to cater to your strengths and weaknesses.    On the other hand, if you are looking for a break from work, then it may be better to do your course somewhere where it is taught in a standardized manner to groups of Divemaster Trainees (DMTs), so there is a more social and group aspect to the training.     Again – no right or wrong:  whatever fits your needs best.
Furthermore, what is the training philosophy of the dive center?   For example, at DIVEIndia, we generally go well beyond the minimum requirements for candidates, customizing the training as per each person’s requirements.   But, as we explain during the initial orientation, we expect DMTs to be more proactive about their learning, and to question/challenge/ask, as opposed to passively waiting to be hand-fed everything they need to know.     No matter what the personality of the candidate, there is a certain baseline we expect all candidates to achieve, but when it comes to the ceiling, that is set by the DMT and his or her interests and drive.   We feel it is a good preparation for life as a dive professional, and that’s how we operate.   For someone who isnt comfortable with this, a more “standardized” approach may be more appealing.
Continuing the training philosophy approach – every person has their own style of working.     A large part of being a good and effective working dive professional (Divemaster or Instructor) is finding your own style and continuing to develop and refine it.   For that to happen, you need to be exposed to different instructors and see how they do things, so you can pick and choose.   You need to be able to question them – why did you do it THIS way and not THAT way?    And you need to have the freedom to absorb elements from each instructor and create your own approach.     Does the program let you do this?
Another point to consider is – should you do the DM course or do an internship?   Depending on how the program is structured, internships can sometimes cost more or less.  Some dive shops trade off the DM program in  exchange for labor – you fill tanks, load/unload the boat, clean gear, etc.   In such cases, the training costs may be offset – and this is a good option for people looking for a bunch of inexpensive dives.   Other dive shops (like us) charge more for the internship – our internship includes 40 dives, but these are training dives and the candidate is not working as shop staff.       Hence the difference – again, a matter of training philosophy.
So should you do a training internship or not?    The barebones DM course meets the minimum requirements (which are fairly thorough, to be clear) and is a good option for those who want a DM card for personal reasons, but for those looking to work in the industry, we always recommend an internship – usually, these programs are a lot more immersive in nature than just a barebones DM course.  And because you are better assimilated in the dive shop, there is a greater scope for informal learning.  Lastly, those soft skills i mentioned earlier:  those always improve.   The more experience you have, the better you get in those areas.   And the better a professional you become.
There are also a few nitty-gritty type of questions to ask – what is the experience level of the  dive center and the instructors, how many dives are included in the package or internship, what are your specific roles and responsibilities?    This last part is especially important if your goal is to get in a lot of discounted dives – there are dive centers where the DM course is traded off for free labor:   DMTs get to lead dives and in exchange, they load/unload the boats, they fill the tanks, clean the gear, etc.    Again, for someone looking to get a bunch of cheap dives in, this may be a better fit than a program like ours, for example, where the emphasis is not so much on “fun diving” as on “learning” (although hopefully, both “fun” and “diving” are involved-  otherwise, why are we doing this???).
Lastly, there is also the question of what agency to go with.    If you are doing this for personal reasons, find a dive center whose philosophy matches yours, and a good instructor who will be managing the program – agency doesn’t matter.    If you are doing this tog et a bunch of dives in, find a good location where you will enjoy the diving.    If you want to work in the industry, or freelance when you travel, then your 2 main choices are PADI or SSI.   In the absence of any specific reason for one agency or the other, our general recommendation is PADI (and to be clear – we used to recommend this even when we were both PADI and SSI), for three main reasons:  (1) there are a lot more PADI dive centers than SSI dive centers, so odds of finding a job are higher if you go with PADI,   (2) as an SSI dive pro, you have to be affiliated with a specific dive center;  as a PADI pro, you can work independently  and (3) if you want to be multi-agency qualified, it is cheaper to first become a PADI pro and then cross over to SSI (especially at the instructor level).
You’ll note that we didn’t mention money.    This may come across as self-serving, but money should be the last thing you look at this level.    Do you pick a college based on tution?   So why would you devalue the quality of your professional training?   Even if you aren’t planning to work as a dive pro but are doing this for personal reasons, you should still make sure you find a good fit between your requirements and the dive center’s philosophy first (even those 3 months of fun diving for free can start to get tedious if you are expected to dive every day, without days off, and are working from 5am to 7pm daily).       That is not to say money isn’t important – for sure, if you have a few equivalent options that are equal in all respects except money, go for the cheaper option.    But your initial selection should not be based on money.   Picking a bad fit to save a little money will result in a bad experience and a waste of time and money, not a savings.
If you have read this article, odds are good that you are either planning on doing your DM program, either now or some point down the road.  Hopefully, it gives you a few pointers on what to look for, when it comes to selecting a dive shop.   Feel free to chime in on our Facebook group with your thoughts on this.

PADI IDC Course India

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PADI IDC Course India

Interested in taking your dive career to the next level & becoming a PADI Instructor?
DIVEIndia, India’s oldest instructor training center, will be conducting a PADI IDC on Neil Island, Andamans, from March 19-April 9th. In keeping with our philosophy, the goal of the program is not to just get you certified as a dive instructor, but to also develop real world skill that you will need. Conducted by veteran PADI Course Director Mark Soworka and DIVEIndia’s founder, Vinnie, the course is split into four parts: a Prep course to review prior theory and skills, the core IDC itself, the Instructor Exam conducted by examiners from PADI, and upon successful completion of the program, an optional weeklong internship for candidates interested in getting their Master Scuba Diver Trainer rating, during which time we will also cover advanced techniques on control and teaching based on our 15 years of experience as India’s leading diver training center

DATES:

IDC Prep:   March 19 – 23, 2018

IDC:  March 24 – Apr 5, 2018

IE: April 6 – 7, 2018

MSDT & Internship after the IE

PRE-REQUISITES:
  • DM or equivalent with PADI, SSI or other recognized dive agency
  • 100 logged dives
  • Have been diving for 6 months
  • Completed medical form, signed by a doctor, within the last 12 months
  • Valid CPR/First Aid within the last 24 months
If you do not have a valid CPR/First Aid, we can retrain you during the Prep period.
PROGRAM DETAILS:
IDC Prep: This is a four day review program, covering dive theory, demonstration quality skills, as well as any other topics candidates feel like brushing up before the start of the IDC. This will be conducted by Vinnie.
IDC: Conducted by Mark Soworka, one of the leading Course Directors, and assisted by Vinnie, the core IDC program will cover all the elements needed to be a successful PADI instructor:   diver control, teaching the various diver training programs, risk management, the business side of diving and more.   As part of the IDC, candidates will also be getting their Emergency First Responder Instructor rating (EFRI).
IE:  The two day Instructor Exam will be conducted by independent examiners from PADI, and will cover dive theory, standards, confined water teaching, open water teaching and rescue assessment.   At the successful completion of this program, candidates will become PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors
MSDT/Internship: For candidates looking to get a jump on their career, we offer the option of getting your Master Scuba Diver Trainer rating and also the opportunity to intern at Diveindia for 7-10 days, and get some practical experience teaching, under the tutelage of our team of instructors.
For more information & to book: Please email vkalia@diveindia.com.

Our Journey: 1st Dive Shop in the Andamans

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DISCOVERING HAVELOCK:  THE EARLY DAYS

It was a small island, about 2 hours by boat from Havelock, with high, rocky crags, occupied only by a pair of nesting eagles and some egrets, all of whom watched with mild curiosity as our boat got closer.   None of the islanders knew much about it or what to expect around it – diving and snorkeling were absolute novelties back then – and all I had to go on was a sea chart, whose topography hinted that the reefs around this island, called South Button, would be different.   Despite my best efforts to stay calm and focused on the exploration, I could feel my excitement mounting.

The water itself was a bright azure, with gold flecks of sunlight reflecting off it, inviting me in while remaining mysterious – even so close, I still couldnt tell what lay on the bottom, about 80 feet below the boat.   What fascinating corals were underneath?   What reef fish would I see? Would there by any sharks swimming by?   Would there be any turtles or manta rays passing by?    

A short while later, I jumped in the water, did my safety checks and gave the “all ok” sign to the boat crew before starting my descent to the bottom: in a few seconds, I would see what secrets the ocean bottom held here!

People with a desire for exploration and discovery live in the wrong era these days.   With virtually the entire world viewable with your finger-tips, thanks to Google Maps, the days of Dr Livingstone and Lewis and Clark are well and truly behind us.

However, to an extent, the oceans present the one remaining frontier where discovery is still possible; but even here, exploration usually involves either a substantial bank account or wealthy backers: boats, crew & equipment are not cheap.   Moreover, the diving industry is reasonably mature and in most places, the days of exploration and discovery are in the past, as most of the dive spots have already been found.   However, the dream remains alive: every scuba diver – an explorer in his/her own way – has visions of going out diving and discovering a new reef or a new dive site, and seeing something that no other human has seen before.

Thus, when a chance trip to the Andamans in 2000, and a few trips out on local hired fishing boats showed me the undiscovered, untapped potential of the place, I was hooked. I took a year off work and spent 6 months here, diving and exploring the blue waters.

Havelock was, in a word, magical – truly pristine in every sense of the word, with only a handful of hardy backpackers making their way over. Life went on, and the fact that a visitor or two had been deposited on the island was of no consequence. There were a handful of rooms available for rent, most of them right on the beach, and unless you brought your own fish, meals were whatever the owner’s wife had cooked (or been persuaded to cook) that day.

Those were truly frontier days – there was no mobile or internet connectivity on the islands, I’d go out on small fishing boats and explore based on intuition derived from looking at sea charts and speaking to fishermen.     On the way back, we’d string a line in the water and catch a trevally or a barracuda, which would be grilled for dinner that night.   Rise with the sun, go out exploring, come back and sleep shortly after sunset.

And in those 6 months, the urge for discovery fueled me to dive like a man possessed, going out daily.   That made for some interesting and some scary times.   I remember going out early one morning to see if we could track whales, which should have been moving up the coast at that time of the year.   We went out into the open sea in a small fishing canoe and started searching – and soon found not a whale but a monster of a storm that came upon us suddenly.   The foaming waves were welling at over 2 meters, dwarfing our tiny canoe as we turned tail and fled before the storm’s wrath.   We made it back ok, but all our gear had been washed off the boat.   And I got a talking-to from both the fisherman and his wife, for my hare-brained obsession with diving, and was advised to give up all this madness, get married and settle down with a respectable job instead.

Sadly, that advice rolled off my back and I kept the exploration going.   And thus it was that a fine sunny summer day found me getting in the water not far from South Button island.

The anticipation didn’t last long – the moment my head went into the water, the first thing I was a large sea snake, gliding by me in crystal clear waters.   I watched it for a while and slowly started descending to the bottom.   Before I could get there, a school of barracuda came swimming by me, slowly and elegantly, their curious eyes watching me as they passed by.   And then, I saw the bottom and my jaw almost dropped: below me, was one of the biggest and varied coral garden I had seen anywhere in the world.   It extended out for about 300m ahead and about 30m wide, with corals growing so thick that I couldn’t see the ocean floor.   And swimming around in this were hundreds upon hundreds of the most colorful and varied fish I had ever seen – far more than in the Caribbean and Egypt, two of the world’s most popular dive destinations, and orders of magnitude better than anything in Thailand.   And best of all – I was the first person to actually see this nature’s wonder.   I still get goose-bumps at the thought.

Fast forward some years.   My sabbatical from work became a career change to start DIVEIndia, and thus, Havelock had its first professional dive center.     We searched for, and discovered more world-class sites which we named after our dive professionals at the time – and as word of Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon’s Pinnacle and Jackson’s Bar started to spread, the diving in the Andamans started to grow as well.

Interesting anecdote about Dixon’s Pinnacle – we discovered it on what was the 8th or 9th drop on that day.   And we managed to save the wrong coordinates in the GPS.   The next day, I took a couple of divers out there, who were all excited by the prospect of this amazing site… and ended up diving a rock that was about 2 feet high and 3 feet across. Hmmm, this sure looked a lot bigger yesterday, I thought to myself while my bemused divers gave each other looks as if to say “ok, this really is not THAT interesting”.  So on the surface interval that day, I had to go “discover” Dixon’s Pinnacle all over again.

And not long afterwards, the frontier days started to come to an end.   More dive centers set up shop, and diving has now become an industry, with an ever-increasing number of visitors coming to experience the underwater world: and with good reason.  Right here in our background, we have some of the best diving in the world – no need to leave India!

There are places elsewhere in the world which may be better in any given area: more big stuff (sharks, mantas, etc), a great variety of soft corals, or more macro life (the amazing array of incredibly colored and shaped critters).   But very few places combine the same range of species – everything from tiny to giant – in one place, and especially in such high densities.   The absence of excessive fishing (long-lines, large nets) has meant that the fish density in the Andamans is higher than most places in the world.   A dive could turn up a couple of sharks, a large turtle, a few hundred barracudas, a few giant groupers, a school of twenty trevally hunting on the reefs, a few tuna in the background and of course, all the usual denizens of a reef: fusiliers, octopii, butterflyfish and angelfish, wrasses, parrofish and the ever-popular clownfish.   And this would constitute a typical dive!

And the best thing is, this underwater world is accessible to virtually anyone over the age of 10 who is in good physical health – starting from a half-day introductory dive with an instructor for those who just want to have a taste of this world, to 2-4 days certification/training courses for those who want to learn to dive and do it on a regular basis, to 6-month instructor courses for those who have found their nirvana underwater!

However, Havelock still represents only a fraction of the underwater world in the Andamans.   Neil Island, just to the south of islands, has escaped the notice of most visitors, and still retains the same untouched look and feel of Havelock from a decade ago.     And then there are the entire uncharted north Andamans, especially the atolls on the western coast of the islands, where my research indicates the presence of a few shipwrecks, and where the whale migration comes very close to the islands.     So while the frontier may have moved, it isn’t gone – and I for one am already planning our next exploratory expedition to the north, where a Japanese ship was sunk by Allied bombers during World War 2, and should be resting in 45m of water, a snapshot of the past awaiting re-discovery!

 

[Vinnie is a NAUI Course Director, SSI Instructor Trainer and PADI Staff Instructor, and has been awarded the Platinum Pro rating, given by an independent committee to only a handful of the most experienced instructors in the world.   He is the founder of DIVEIndia, the oldest and largest dive center in the Andamans, and has been diving in Havelock since 2000]

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.