Jumping Into Uncharted Water: Tips for SCUBA Diving Abroad

[This is our first guest post on SightseeMD.  We are so pleased to present this outstanding article by Waffles on Wednesday.  The WoW family shares “our jam” by striving “to do life our way, do things against the grain and do what really makes us happy…to live and experience all that life can offer” [from the WoW About Us].  We asked them to consider writing a post about SCUBA after reading about their Iceland/near death diving experience and recalling our own terrifying experience in Barbados (out of air, strong current dive, no boat upon surfacing…).  Dive medicine is a big part of wilderness medicine and, as this blog focuses on the intersection of healthcare and travel we thought this would be a great topic to explore further…by those more experienced than us!  Their tips have encouraged us to give diving another go during our next international trip!]

My First Taste of Scuba

Three, two, one… I took a big step off the boat.  There was a splash, then some
bubbles and for a second, I didn’t know where I was.

Suddenly, I was in a whole new world. With a new, fantastic point of view! But I
wasn’t on a magic carpet ride, I was swimming beneath the ocean’s surface.

A few seconds later, a bright, orange garibaldi swam right up to me.

Why hello friend!

Within minutes of my first dive, I was hooked! (Pun totally intended).

And almost two decades later, diving continues to be a part of my life.


Diving All Over the World

As my love for travel grew, so did my desire to dive in new and unfamiliar places.
To date, I have dove all over Southern California, as well the Galapagos Islands,
Portugal, Hawaii, Mexico, Belize and Iceland.  With many more places still on the list.

Not only is diving fun, but it is also a great way to learn about a place when

Mr. Wow playing follow the leader with a
turtle in Hawaii

While diving abroad is amazing, there are many things to keep in mind to ensure a
good dive and more importantly, your safety.

When scuba diving is done right, there are
minimal risks.  But when done wrong, it can be extremely dangerous

Five Things to Consider When Diving While Travelling

  1. Pick the right dive buddies
  2. Purchase dive insurance
  3. Remember the effects of altitude (especially when flying)
  4. Familiarize yourself with the equipment
  5. Be aware of your strengths and limitations


Choosing the Right Dive Company

There are tons dive companies out there.  Many are reputable, others are not. Pay
extra close attention to this when in high tourist areas.  Some people are out to
make a buck and do not play by the rules.  Make sure the company you use abides by
all the safety protocols and actually knows what they are doing.

The company we used in Iceland

We always do diligent research and make sure to read recent reviews of the
companies.  We also go to the shop before diving to check it out.  Chatting with the
dive master and crew provides a valuable sense as to if they know what they are
talking about.  We also take a look at the equipment to ensure it has passed the
proper inspections and is in adequate condition.

Dive Insurance

Like I mentioned before, diving does not come without risks.  Be prepared for the
unexpected, especially when diving in a foreign country.  There are many companies
out there so just make sure that it covers what you could potentially need.  I have
always used DAN Insurance, as they are recommended by PADI.

Insurance is there only if you need it. in my opinion, especially with a sport that
has known risks, it is better to be covered and spend a little bit of money up

Diving When Flying

Changes in altitude, especially when an airplane is involved, are extremely
important to consider as well.  As a rule of thumb, we never plan to dive the day we
arrive or the day before we leave.

Fatigue, dehydration, jet lag and disorientation occur simultaneously when traveling
and flying; however, these are best to leave behind before any dive.  By having a
day or two to adjust, it allows our bodies and minds to recover and allows for us to
be at optimal functioning (or at least closer to it than the travel day).  Waiting a
day (or more) also gives us time to go check out the dive shops (as mentioned

Additionally, significant more risks are associated with flying after diving.  “The
bends”, or decompression sickness, is the big one which happens when dissolved gases
turn into bubbles inside the body if pressure reduction happens too fast.  In mild
cases, one will experience joint pain.  But unfortunately decompression sickness can
also be deadly. By using the “One Day Before and After” rule of thumb, we also
minimize the risks of decompression sickness.

I also don’t recommend drinking and diving.  But when you find a bottle of Smirnoff
Ice on the seafloor, what else are you to do.

Getting Iced underwater

Renting Unfamiliar Equipment

Another aspect to consider is equipment.  We never travel with our own equipment
since we are light packers (we travel only with carry-ons) and dive equipment is
bulky and heavy.

My trusty equipment

That being said, diving with unfamiliar equipment can be a bit challenging.  For
instance, we have integrated weights on our BCDs, but most rented equipment uses
weight belts, which takes some getting used to.

Also, I have an integrated air hose which I haven’t seen on any of the equipment I
have used elsewhere. Functionally, this means that some important buttons are in
different places.

Before any dive, it is important to familiarize yourself with the equipment to make
sure you know where everything is.  One time, I accidentally hit the wrong button
while adjusting my buoyancy.  Rather than let air out, I put more in, causing me to
shoot to the surface like a bullet. Definitely a big diving no-no! Now, I know to familiarize myself with any
new equipment, before my life depends on it.

Know Your Strengths and Limits

I think the most important thing when diving is knowing yourself and what type of
diver you are.  While important for any dive, it’s even more important when diving
with people who don’t know you and in places that you are unfamiliar with.

For me, I know that I prefer to swim right behind the Dive Master, sometimes maybe
even a little too close.  I make sure to tell them this to avoid any unexpected
suprises or unintentional violent kicking.

I’ve definitely learned the one-hand “protect
my mask and facemask” technique since I tend to swim close behind the

Additionally, I have problematic ears.  While most people can descend and only have
to equalize every few breaths, I have to equalize after almost every breath thus
making my decent extremely slow.  By letting the DM know this, they know to give me
more time, making both my dive and the rest of the group’s dive more enjoyable.
Sometimes, they’ll even give me a head start on descending.

Also keep in mind your own limits. I have found when diving abroad, the dive company
wants to make the most of your time.  This is great, but I’ve also seen them push
the envelope and cause unnecessary events.  I have been on dives that end up going
way deeper than I felt comfortable going. Even worse, I have been on dives where
they last so long that myself or my dive buddies run out of air.


When done right, diving is a great way to experience the place you are in.  However,
it is up to you to do your homework before any dive and to pay attention during and
after the dive to ensure the best experience possible.

The Waffles on their most recent

What things do you consider before diving abroad?  Any cool dive spots we should add
to our list?


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