Beginners guide to scuba diving: Dive gear, diver lingo and SCUBA origins

May 29, 2020 BY AWE365 Team

In this beginners guide to scuba diving we look at the dive gear and diver lingo We also take a journey into SCUBA origins to discover how it was developed and what the acronym actually means.

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Why scuba dive?

American naturalist William Beebe neatly summed up the magic of scuba diving when he said ‘he could only imagine one experience which might exceed in interest a few hours spent underwater, and that would be a journey to Mars.’

Exploring the watery depths is an otherworldly thrill. Add in the feeling of weightlessness and a hostile, unbreathable environment and for most people it’s the closest experience they will have to space travel.

But it is much more accessible than joining NASA. Even novice divers can quickly find themselves sculling alongside fish, and gliding weightlessly above reefs and wrecks.

Underwater topography is as varied as the flora and fauna that bring it to life. Divers get to see caves and granite boulders, drop offs and walls plus sand shelves and coral gardens.

Beginners guide to scuba diving

From as far north as Russia’s White Sea or the Arctic, to the black coral of New Zealand’s Milford Sound or the Antarctic. Diving is possible in temperate, tropical and coldwater locations.

Great Blue Hole Belize Flickr image by Isla Marisol Resort

Alongside the big names, such as Belize’s Blue Hole, the Red Sea in Egypt or Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, there are hundreds of excellent sites. Each with something unique to offer.

Choose from top diving in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Middle East or South Pacific. It all depends on what you’d like to see, or the diving style you prefer.

For some scuba divers, getting close to sharks is the sport’s ultimate thrill. Seeing whale sharks, hammerheads or great whites in their own environment is incredible. You can also expect to share your submerged space with everything from barracuda to basking sharks and manta ray to manatees.

As this is a beginners guide to scuba diving it’s worth saying most dives don’t involve ocean giants. So if large marine creatures make you nervous, don’t worry. There are plenty of dive sites that are home to shoals of harmless, beautiful tropical fish.

SCUBA Origins

A beginners guide to scuba diving would not be complete without discussing the SCUBA origins. Scuba is actually an acronym for
Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (S.C.U.B.A.).

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Way back in 1772, Sieur Freminet is credited with inventing the first self-contained air equipment. This was a rebreathing apparatus that was able to recycle air inside of a diving bell to descend beneath the waves unconnected to the surface.

Diving and SCUBA equipment have progressed significantly since then. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s rebreathers improved but it was still a very dangerous business.

A huge step was made in 1925 by Yves Le Prieur who invented the first open-circuit scuba system – although it was not very reliable. It wasn’t until Jacques C and Émile Gagnan invented the aqualung in 1942 that modern SCUBA was born.

Since then the word scuba has become synonymous with the sport which had grown beyond Jacque Cousteau’s wildest expectations. According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) they have awarded more the 27 million dive certifications.

The average age of newly-qualified divers is around 29. However, scuba diving attracts amateur and professional aficionados of all ages and from all walks of life. HRH Prince Charles is know to follow the sport.

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Getting into scuba diving

With SCUBA origins briefly covered this beginners guide to scuba diving is moving into how to get started in the sport. The first thing you need to do is to get certified to dive. Although a taster dive experience is worth experiencing to check if you like it, as some people freak out.

The foremost body for diving instruction and regulation is PADI. It was founded in 1966, and now has over 137,000 certified instructors and some 6,600 dive shops worldwide. But they are by no means the only body. Check out this comparison of PADI vs BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) to find out how the UK certification differs.

Diving can be enjoyed all-year-round, in the UK and abroad. Lessons are taught in a swimming pool or in open water. Courses can be taken during a holiday abroad or around our own coastline. Novice divers can expect to get underwater within a day and the full ‘Open Water’ certification usually takes four days.

PADI qualifications begin with theory that is learnt in class or online. They continue through water skills training in confined water (a pool) or shallow sea.

This is followed by open water dives and a review of your new skills. These drills include clearing your mask underwater, sharing an air supply with a ‘buddy’ and managing your ‘neutral buoyancy’.

Scuba gear: How to buy a wetsuit for scuba diving flickr CC image by TauchSport_Steininger

Diving restrictions?

Almost anyone in good health can dive, although there are restrictions and many places ask you to take a medical before learning. PADI and most other agencies ask that you can swim at least 200m. This doesn’t have to be swum well but you need to be capable.

Children can begin diving at ten-years-old and can become Open Water Divers from 15. There is no upper age limit for diving, however you need to be fit and strong enough to do the sport as it is more demanding than it looks.

The depth limit for recreational scuba diving is 40m. Although you need an advanced diving qualification to dive beyond 18m. To be fair a lot of the most popular diving is in warm water no deeper than 12m.

Costs vary according to the destination. You should expect to pay from £200 to £400 ($275 to $550) for your Open Water qualification. This includes all three stages of the course, and usually the dive gear you will use to learn. Check out countries offering cheapest PADI Open Water certification.

Beginners guide to scuba diving gear

Equipment varies at each location. Your dive centre will provide:

Scuba diving gear Wikimedia  creative commons image
  • Air tank
  • Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
  • Mouthpiece/regulator
  • Wetsuit
  • Pressure gauge
  • Weights
  • Mask and snorkel
  • Fins

Ideally, you should have your own mask, fins and snorkel as they need to fit you well. Most dive centres do provide these items, but if you plan to dive regularly, it is worth getting the best scuba diving mask you can afford.

Best scuba diving masks flickr image by Paleontour

While a wetsuit is provided it’s nice to have your own. Again getting the right fit is important, but with it fitting so close to your skin many people just prefer to have their own. Check out this guide to buying a wetsuit for scuba diving.

This is a beginners guide to scuba diving so we are not going into detail about more advanced gear you may need. However, a dive computer or dive watch, compass, dive knife and light are used my many divers. Plus if you want to get into underwater photography you’ll need to invest in some serious kit.

Divers Lingo

Here are some common divers lingo it is worth knowing

“Reg” = demand regulator. This is your mouthpiece, and adjusts high pressure air from your scuba tank to the pressure you need for breathing. It supplies air only on demand i.e. only when you inhale.

“BCD” = Buoyancy Control Device (or BC = Buoyancy Compensator) usually built jacket-style around the scuba set with a long bladder that runs along your back and under one arm. It is used to adjust and control overall buoyancy on the surface and beneath the water.

5 best adventure holiday lists used to answer: What is adventure? Flickr CC image of scuba diving by Manoel Lemos

“Divemaster” = He or she is professionally trained in open water diving, rescue diving and first aid/CPR. They will lead and supervise your training and your dives, both above and below water.

“Equalize” = you will learn to control the effect of water pressure on your ears by equalizing the pressure. This is a similar process you go through on an aeroplane.

“Neutral buoyancy” = a state of control whereby you are neither ascending nor descending. This takes practice, but is done by regulating your buoyancy through the BCD and your breathing.

“Buddy” = your dive buddy is the person you will be diving with. Before a dive you will complete a variety of safety procedures together. Once in the water you will stay close together as a safety precaution.

Beginner scuba diving packing list

To complete this beginners guide to scuba diving here is a packing list of what to take on a dive. As covered by the dive gear section we will assume mask, fins, snorkel and wetsuit are provided by the dive centre.

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  • Swimwear and towel
  • Sunscreen and hat
  • Seasickness pills (if susceptible)
  • Underwater camera (optional but recommended)
  • Suitable clothing for afterwards (can be chilly so something warm)
  • Logbook to record your dive
  • Membership/qualification card to show you are certified (not required if doing the open water qualification)
  • Snacks and water. These are often provided, sometimes at extra cost, so bring your own as diving used a lot of energy and is dehydrating.

We hope you found this beginners guide to scuba diving useful! Now you know all about dive gear, diver lingo and SCUBA origins you should check out our scuba diving discounts as you could save a fortune.


Scuba Diving
Beginner, History, Terminology

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