Buoyancy. Hands down the biggest struggle most people have in the water when they begin their diving adventures is learning good buoyancy control. Poor buoyancy control leads to using excessive air, damaging delicate aquatic life and dangerous rapid ascents under boat traffic. The key to good buoyancy is proper weighting (in Guanacaste waters you need 5% of your body weight plus 2lbs as a basic guideline in a long 3mm wetsuit). You need a horizontal body position and your fin kicks should be long and slow from the hip, or a more advanced frog kick. So many people do a bicycle kick! Most importantly, remember when you breathe in you rise up and when you breathe out you fall down in the water so instead of swimming over that rocky reef try breathing your way over it with slow kick cycles. Take a buoyancy course, it’s only a few more dollars and will benefit you for your entire diving life!
Depth. If you’re diving deep or doing many dives in a day buy a computer to monitor how much nitrogen you are absorbing. It’s very important! If you don’t own a computer and you don’t plan your dives using the RDP or eRDPml (which you should do according to the liability releases you sign) then stay above your guide and ask your guide to stay within at least 5 minutes of the no decompression limit. You should be able to rely on your guide to keep you safely out of the decompression zone, but it’s not always going to be the case and once certified you will be ultimately responsible.
Bad Visibility. If you’re used to diving in crystal clear water but now you’re trying out a new destination with different conditions there are some considerations when the water isn’t too clear. Make a mental note of your guide’s equipment. When groups of divers meet underwater it can become confusing who is who and I’ve seen many divers accidentally join other groups without realizing it only to be sent up to the surface to meet back with their original group. If there is also current, use a line for ascents and descents to stay together.
Equipment. If you’re hiring then bring socks for ill fitting fins that cause blisters and buy a comfortable mouthpiece that the dive shop can put on to your rental regs. Owning your own surface marker buoy is a good idea if you do a lot of drift diving, if you’re not comfortable launching it underwater then you can inflate once at the surface should you find yourself separated from the group. Men with moustaches will experience mask leaks so bring Vaseline for an effective seal!
Breathing Rate. If you’re the one in the group that seems to use the most air every time then maybe the dive centre can lend you a bigger tank. Relax and try breathing in for a count of 5 and out for a count of 7. Stay a few meters above the group where the air will be less dense in your tank. Also weight yourself correctly. Large guys are always going to use more air than small girls so don’t worry about it too much! It comes with practice.
Aquatic Life. Most animals will let you get closer if you stay below it, if you breathe lightly and if you move slowly. I have seen many a photographer chase an exciting find into the distance for a blurry shot of a shadow before the rest of the group has a chance to see anything. Please don’t touch/move or collect anything… even shells! They can be poisonous and if everybody did the same there would be nothing left to see. Coral lives and rocks are full of life, so practice keeping fins off the bottom.
Ascending/Descending. Look down on the descent and up on the ascent. Obvious right? We’re not used to moving up and down here above the water and so our line of vision is the 360 view at eye level. Now we can move all over so remember there may now be divers/boats and reef above and below you, so mind how you go! Descend without kicking, feet first while making a long exhale and the deflate hose in a completely upright position. To make a safety stop at the end of the dive check your depth gauge at 15 feet/5 meters. Fix on a point at that level and try and hover for the remaining time.