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As a PADI scuba diving professional and a dive leader with Seattle Dive Tours, I’ve pretty much seen and heard it all from divers getting ready to enter the water. Both shore and boat diving in the Pacific Northwest are hard work, requiring lots of gear and effort just to get in the water to start a dive. Divers will tell me stories of their own unsuccessful dives that end shortly after entering the water or even before descending. I frequently see divers on our local dive sites forgetting gear on shore or failing to make sure they are ready to get into the water. I’ll outline a few helpful steps in order to make sure you are prepared and ready to have a successful dive.
1- The first question to ask yourself is “…Is my gear in good working order and ready for a dive?” Days or even weeks before a scheduled dive, make sure everything has been serviced, then assemble your gear and check for anything that needs to be repaired. Try on your wet suit or dry suit to make sure it fits and is in good working order. Small things can make or break a dive, I’ve seen divers come to the dive site only to discover a torn neck seal on their dry suit, or a seriously leaking regulator hose. Needless to say, these divers couldn’t dive that day and had to return home.
2- Make a packing list and double check before leaving the house for the dive site or boat. There is nothing worse than getting to the dive site and realizing that you have forgotten a critical item. For me, it’s usually fins. If you have forgotten something, the options are to drive back home, drive the nearest dive shop and rent, or try and borrow from another diver. At best, you’ll delay your dive and at worst, your buddies will just start the dive without you. Plus, do you really want to lose your coveted parking spot at the dive site because you forgot your hood or gloves?
3- Discuss the dive plan with your dive buddy. While you don’t have to deliver a Divemaster quality dive briefing to your dive buddy, at least make sure you have talked about the details. What is the general dive plan? What is the agreed upon course of action if someone gets separated? Can everyone agree on a maximum time and depth? If you are planning on bringing the giant camera set that you got for Christmas, is your buddy ok with this being a photography dive?
4- The pre-dive safety check. Remember this from open water? BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, Final ok. Bruce Willis Ruins All Films. However you learned it, and whatever silly phrase you invented to remember it, the pre-dive safety check is still around and a critical component of your pre-dive ritual. The best place for the pre-dive safety check is in the parking lot, next to your car. Just make sure you keep the car unlocked and open until you head down to the water, incase you need to grab something. Otherwise you’ll be fishing car keys out of your dry suit or searching for the spare key you hid under the wheel well.
5- There is more to do in the water. Just because you’ve made it from the parking lot to the entry point, this doesn’t mean you are home free just yet. The simple act of putting on your mask & fins can still scuttle a dive before it even starts. Back when I worked as a Divemaster, lost masks and fins were a big reason for aborted dives. Hold on to your gear and assist your buddy to make sure those final pieces of gear don’t get lost in the water.
By following a few basic steps, you should now be ready to kick to the descent point and start your dive. At Seattle Dive Tours, we always triple check gear plus pack at least one extra full set of gear to make sure we don’t have any problems. If you have any tips, or ideas that you use to make sure your are ready to get in the water, feel free to put them in the comments below.
Scuba diving in Puget Sound is an amazing experience, and the main reason is the wide variety of marine life we have to offer. Here are 5 rock star fish (and where to find them) that make Puget Sound scuba diving so great:
(Sebastes maliger) These members of the Rockfish family are solitary and like to hang out close to the bottom, on or near rocks and boulders. They like chasing after Spot prawn and small crabs for food and can be easily identified by their mottled brown and yellow pattern. Look for Quillback Rockfish when diving at Three Tree Point.
(Nautichthys oculofasciatus) Named for their elongated dorsal fin, Sailfin Sculpin are nocturnal and can be commonly found during night dives at Alki Seacrest Park (Cove 2) in West Seattle. They range in color from yellow-brown to yellow-grey with dark bands on the body and unusual scales that have a velvety texture. Sailfin Sculpin migrate up to the intertidal zone in late winter and early spring to spawn.
(Oxylebius pictus) Like Clown fish in the South Pacific, Painted Greenling (especially juveniles) have a symbiotic relationship with fish-eating anemone and will hide from predators in their stinging tentacles. Painted Greenling are easy to find day or night at Redondo Beach.
(Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus) These beautiful fish are members of the sculpin family and can be found resting near rocky areas. Use a dive light to see its brilliant red coloring, but be careful not to touch one as they have poisonous spines that can injure a diver. A good dive site to see one is Alki Junk Yard in West Seattle.
(Ophiodon elongatus) These can be some of the biggest fish that a diver will see in Puget Sound, growing up to 5 feet in length and weighing in at 130 pounds. The largest example in Puget Sound can be fount at Edmonds Underwater Park. Lingcod can be very territorial (especially during egg season) and will charge and even bump into a diver that gets too close. Lingcod will eat almost anything, including Rockfish and even small Giant pacific octopus. In turn, Lingcod are eaten by Harbor seals and California sea lions.
Interested in trying one of our guided dive tours, enrolling in a PADI course, or maybe taking a trip with us, but it’s been some time since you last went scuba diving? While many times our standard dive site briefing and dive gear orientation is enough, some divers would prefer a more structured class to refresh their scuba skills. With this in mind, we are also offering the PADI ReActivate scuba review program to get already certified divers back in the water and start scuba diving once again.
The PADI ReActivate scuba review is a convenient and fun program that’s designed to help existing certified divers who may have not have been diving in a while to refresh their skills and start scuba diving again. The program starts with a knowledge review done on your tablet or mobile device, then, when you are
ready, one or two dives to practice and refresh your skills in open water. Once you have completed both knowledge review and dive(s), you’ll receive an updated card with your ReActivate date on it. Your new card does not expire, but simply notes the last ReActivate date.
One of the best parts of the program is that the open water dives are very flexible, depending on your skill level and interests. Some divers might prefer a relaxed dive with a PADI dive pro to remember basic water skills, while other divers may want to refresh by practicing skills learned in open water diver. If you want to learn more about diving in a new area or in different dive conditions, you can also try our Discover Local Diving experience at one of our famous local dive sites.
Our ReActivate Scuba Review can also help with a few common situations:
Its been a fun and exciting 6 days with our March 2015 Hornby Island dive trip, where we spent two days of diving in Puget Sound before heading up to Hornby Island, British Columbia to dive in Canadian waters, and to see the Lions of Hornby Island. Our divers traveled from Florida, Hawaii, California and Washington state to join us on this underwater adventure.
Our trip started out near Seattle with two days of diving on Bandito Charters out of Tacoma WA. We visited some of our most popular south Puget Sound dive sites, including Z’s Reef, Point Defiance North Wall, and Maury Island Barges. Maury Island Barges was particularly beautiful as we had sunny skies (which meant lots of ambient light underwater), and 50+ foot visibility. We saw large populations of Copper and Brown rockfish, schools of various perch, and a favorite of mine, Painted greenling. On the invertebrate side we saw Plumose anemone, lots of sea stars and Giant barnacles.
After completing our two boat dive days, Friday was a travel day from Seattle north to Hornby Island, where we met up with more of our divers. The journey from Seattle to Hornby Island included a border crossing and a total of three ferries. The scenic drive north between Nanaimo and Port Hardy was especially beautiful with old growth forests and occasional views of the Salish Sea. While passing through Nanaimo, we had a chance to stop and try the famous Nanaimo bars.
After arriving at Hornby island Diving around early evening, we unpacked and had dinner. A few of our divers decided to try a night dive at Ford Reef, a shallow dive site accessible from shore next to the resort. The divers were amazed to find several large and brightly colored Puget Sound king crab out and about underwater in the early evening hours. After a good night’s sleep Friday, we were all up early Saturday ready to begin the first day of diving. The morning started out with sun and a few high clouds, and after breakfast we headed to our first dive site of the day, Flora Islet. The dive site was a wall dive with an easy line descent down to 60’, then divers followed the wall with a gentle current as they poked among the rocks for sea life. We found lots of Pile and Kelp perch, Copper and Quillback rockfish, Kelp greenling, and a very large Giant Pacific Octopus easily viewed in its den.
Once the dive was finished, we headed back to shore for air fills and a hearty lunch before traveling out to the second dive at Nash Bank. This boulder strewn dive site features hundreds of Lingcod, some guarding eggs, and a rare Yelloweye rockfish thought to be 100+ years old. Several of the divers happened upon this calm and friendly fish, who allowed us to take photos and video from a respectful distance before we moved on. After a second return trip to shore, a few of our divers headed back out for a third dive Repulse Point.
A storm came through Saturday night, bringing thunder and heavy rain to the island. We woke up Sunday morning to choppy seas and decided to delay our morning dive by 1 hour to allow for the weather to pass though. Once the seas had calmed down, our divers headed to Toby Islet for the morning dive. After a return to shore and lunch, we headed out for the main event, a dive at Norris Rocks with Steller sea lions. The sea lion colony is a temporary group of juvenile and adult Steller sea lions mixed with a few smaller adult California sea lions. As soon as we pulled up to the dive site, the juvenile Steller sea lions were in the water ready to meet us. Underwater, we settled in at about 30’ to watch the sea lions swim and carefully approach us. The sea lions are wild animals that are very curious, but can also be unpredictable. We took lots of still photos and video as the sea lions swam around us, checking out our dive gear and occasionally nipping at our fins and hoods with their mouths. It is quite exciting and unnerving to have a large wild animal put his mouth over your head and gingerly try to pull your scuba hood off. Our divers were able to spend up to an hour underwater with these amazing marine mammals.
Video by Christine Simon
Sunday evening consisted of naps, massages by a local masseuse, and a fresh salmon dinner before venturing off resort to Middle Mountain Mead artisan honey winery for a private tasting. Mead wine is a honey based wine that has been fermented since ancient times and was popular with the Vikings. After learning more about this unusual drink, and picking up a few bottles to take home, we headed back down the mountain. Monday morning was out last dive, where many of our divers headed back to Norris Rocks for more diving with Steller sea lions before packing up to catch ferries and eventually flights back home.
The dive trip was a great success, with divers experiencing dive sites and marine life that can not be seen elsewhere. We’ll definitely be coming up to Hornby Island and other parts of British Columbia again for more diving, and hopefully we’ll get another chance to meet the Lions of Hornby Island.
Here in Seattle, we love our scrappy local River otters. River otters are the most common mammal in the Northwest marine environment, more common than Harbor seals, California sea lions, or even Orcas! While not federally protected like their Sea otter cousins down in California, River otters play an important role in keeping our rivers and inland waterway habitats healthy. Here are some facts on River otters:
1- River otters are part of the weasel family and are also related to badgers, martens, ferrets, minks and wolverines.
2- River otters can be albinos. While most River otters are usually brown or black, they occasionally can also be white.
3- River otters are amazing swimmers, diving to depths of up to 60 feet and staying submerged for up to eight minutes. River otters are able to close their ears and nostrils to keep water out.
4- River otters can live up to 9 years in the wild. They become sexually active after 2 years and females can produce multiple offspring.
5- River otters live on land. Unlike their ocean dwelling Sea otter cousins, River otters will forage near the shore for clams and mussels, or swim out to find fish.
In West Seattle, River otters usually live in the steep slopes behind Harbor Ave SW, and come down to the beaches at sunrise and sunset to hunt for food. They are very smart, seldom getting hit by cars or encountering people. Divers can sometimes catch a glimpse of a River otter heading to or from the shore as they put on dive gear.
Feeling lucky? Want to try and catch a glimpse of these stealthy and interesting animals? Try a day or night guided tour today!
The PADI Master Scuba Diver rating is a path towards perfecting your diving skills. Earning the rating means that you have spent significant time underwater learning and practicing your dive skills in a variety of dive environments. To get the most out of your experience, I always recommend charting a course based on interests that you develop during your PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. These could include photography, fish & marine life, or adventure. Having plan for which courses to take will help you to stay motivated and on track to reach your PADI Master Scuba Diver goal.
Last fall, PADI interviewed Northwest diver and photographer Janna Nichols, who talks about earning the PADI Master Scuba Diver rating while diving in the Pacific Northwest, and what the rating meant to her:
As Janna mentions in the video, she had an interest in being an underwater naturalist that helped her to choose which courses to take in order to complete her PADI Master Scuba Diver rating.
To start working towards the PADI Master Scuba Diver rating, a diver first needs to earn the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. In this class, divers will try 5 Adventure Dives- Underwater Navigator, Deep Diver, plus 3 elective Adventure Dives. The PADI Advanced Open Water Diver allows divers to receive additional training and explore areas of interest within scuba diving, such as fish identification, photography, or search & recovery diving.
After the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course is PADI Rescue Diver, where you’ll learn to prevent and manage problems in the water, and become more confident in your skills as a diver. Additional requirements for the PADI Master Scuba Diver rating are a minimum 12 years or older and have 50 logged dives. If you have fallen behind on logging your dives, now is a good to to start by logging them on ScubaEarth.
Next is the fun part, deciding on which 5 speciality courses to take. I recommend that you decide on your main interest(s) and build a course schedule around it. Here are three groups of courses to take based on some common diver interests:
Course schedules could also be built around interests such as photography; cold water, ice & altitude; or travel. In addition, popular courses such as Enriched Air Diver or Peak Performance Buoyancy can be substituted for another course or even taken as a 6th speciality.
At Seattle Dive Tours, we can put together a complete PADI Master Scuba Diver program for any diver, taking as little as two weeks or several months depending on the diver’s schedule and interests. Ready to start your PADI Master Scuba Diver rating? Call us at (206) 265-0006, or e-mail to get started today!