The Great Barrier Reef is probably one of the places that most often comes to people’s minds when you mention scuba diving. Experiencing an underwater world, filled with plants and animals unseen on solid ground, is something you won’t soon forget. If you are not a certified scuba diver, you might think this world is out of your reach. Luckily, you would be wrong 🙂
If you want a scuba experience without investing the time or money in a certification course, you can sign up for an “intro dive,” which is a short scuba session conducted entirely under an instructor’s supervision. These are often add-ons to a snorkeling day trip, giving you the opportunity to experience the water from both the surface and a bit deeper.
So what is an intro dive?
An intro dive is a short (about a half hour) dive with an instructor in a shallow area (so you don’t have to worry about complex pressurization issues). You receive a brief training overview to understand the various pieces of equipment and how to handle basic situations that may arise (like if your regulator falls out of your mouth or you get water in your goggles).
When you’re in the water, your instructor will be by your side the entire time guiding you through the experience and pointing out interesting things (in case you’re too busy focusing on the fact that you’re breathing underwater to actually look around). It’s also important to understand that an intro dive is a stand-alone experience; you will not be a certified scuba diver at the end of the day.
Who should do an intro dive?
- Anyone who thinks they might want to become scuba certified but aren’t sure if they will like it.
- Anyone who is visiting a popular dive site (like the Great Barrier Reef or the Caribbean) and isn’t certified, but would like to have a dive experience.
Intro Dive Pros
- It’s much cheaper than certification courses. My intro dive at the Great Barrier Reef was just over $50 USD (the add-on part, not the full tour), compared to $300+ for a full course.
- You can find out for sure that you’re into scuba diving before committing the time and money for a full certification. Or rule it out as something that sounds nice but just isn’t for you.
- There’s no advance planning necessary. If you’re in an awesome place and the mood strikes, just find a company that offers intro dives and sign up. Sometimes you can even decide once you’re on a tour (if there’s enough space for another diver).
Some things to consider:
Medication – If you take prescription medication, you may not be able to dive. You will most likely have to fill out a medical questionnaire before getting in the water and a doctor may be consulted to determine if any medications or conditions pose a risk. There were a couple of people on my boat who had signed up for an intro dive but weren’t allowed to do it for this reason. If you might fall into this category, consider checking with your own doctor before signing up (and maybe even bringing a note clearing you to dive) to avoid disappointment.
Motion Sickness – Nothing ruins a day on the ocean more than getting sea sick. If you know you are at risk, or even if you aren’t sure, take preventative measures before you get on the boat. The tour I was on had these for sale ($2 for one day’s worth of pills), although it’s best to bring your own rather than count on some being available on the boat. Once symptoms start to set in, it’s much harder to recover. This is definitely a time for the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach. You do not want to spend your day heaving over the rail.
I’ve been thinking about getting a scuba certification for a few years but haven’t done it yet because of the cost and my aversion to the cold water of southern California. Also, as much as I was drawn to the idea, I know that I have anxiety about open water and the concept of breathing underwater. I sometimes have to reassure myself while snorkeling that everything is okay. Breathe in…breathe out…do not panic. I was concerned that I might not actually enjoy scuba diving. How would I deal with being even deeper in the water and the compounded feeling of being completely at the mercy of my environment? I decided to find out.
I did my first intro dive at the Great Barrier Reef with FNQ Travel on a day trip that launched from Cairns. I chose this company because I was told they are licensed to dive in the most number of locations in the area, giving them the flexibility to choose the best spots for each day’s conditions, thereby maximizing the experience. I’m not sure there are many “bad” spots, but the day I went the water was pretty choppy; FNQ was able to get us to the calmest parts of the reef.
My dive group had four “students” and one instructor. As we each got in the water, we were directed to hold on to the boat’s moor line. Once all there, we practiced breathing through our regulator with our faces in the water, removing our regulator underwater and then replacing and clearing it of water, clearing our goggles of water, and pressurizing our ears. I had to concentrate on these tasks, talking myself through each step, which seemed so easy and obvious when I was on the boat. I was concentrating, but not panicking. Off to a good start!
We moved down the moor line together until we were all about 15 or 20 feet deep and our ears were comfortably pressurized. And then the big release! We let go of the rope and began to swim around the reef, through huge coral formations and amongst the hundreds of fish darting about. We saw giant clams, some four or five feet across, sea cucumbers, and a stingray hanging out in a little coral cave. Much of it was similar to what I saw while snorkeling in the Whitsundays but had a more ‘ocean-y’ feel since we were nowhere near land.
Luckily, my fears about breathing underwater didn’t manifest as strongly as I expected and I very much enjoyed the experience. I was talking to myself for part of the time and I did occasionally forget to look around because I was focused, not only on breathing, but also on controlling my fins and keeping both them and the rest of me from bumping into anything.
My instructor was right there the whole time though, bringing my awareness back to everything happening around me. I also had another couple of hours to snorkel this same area to revisit any parts I may have missed, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything by focusing a bit more on the scuba experience itself and a bit less on the scenery.
The scenery wasn’t especially different from what I could see during the snorkeling portion of the day, but scuba diving was a different overall experience compared to snorkeling. Also, I found out that I do enjoy scuba diving and am now more likely to do another dive or sign up for a certification course.
Whether you know you want to become certified and just haven’t gotten to it yet, or if you have any hesitations or concerns, but are interested, an intro dive is a great way to test the waters (pun intended).
Where are your favorite places to dive? Share in the comments.