The honest Diary of a new Scuba Diver
You may wonder, what does a new scuba diver have to say, other than… “just do it!” Well, if it’s no more than that, and if this post just encourages one other person to take up diving, I will be happy.
The sea has always been my preferred destination, rather than mountains, and I love a lot about it: swimming, sailing, well, I even tried surfing! But never ever did I go much below the surface, using excuses like my ears cannot take it, I am afraid of the deep, and so on. Although I love marine life, I never thought I could dive and be a good diver.
My love of travelling goes back to childhood, and while we were pretty restricted in where we could travel, my family and I always worked extra jobs in order to travel- camping in Bulgaria, staying at friends summer houses in Hungary in exchange for car parts, short trips to Czechoslovakia – that’s what growing up in East Germany was like. Come the German reunification, the world was open but my purse empty, so I prioritized study, finding a good job, but whenever I had a bit cash spare, I would travel.
I always loved water, and I spent many a holiday by the sea, swam in the sea, learned to sail and also surfed badly. But scuba diving? I thought it was expensive, plus all the reasons above. I didn’t even try.
But I made it, and I am at the level of PADI Advanced Open Water after less than a year being a new scuba diver, despite only diving on my holidays. So, as I add here and there if and when I dive more, let this be an encouragement to take up diving.
Table of Contents
Why I became a new Scuba Diver later in life
A few years ago, I “retired” from night shifts, opting to be just on call, and went looking for some extra freelance work where I could combine my occupation with my love for travel. A few applications later, I started working for a small company whose main clientele was divers but who have expanded into travel health as well. Fact is, a lot of the clients are divers, and after some heavy theory session on diving physics, I changed my mind. I decided I want to to learn to dive and that it would help me understand some of the challenges and issues looking after divers health. I was well into middle age by now, and thought it would be a struggle.
But well, I underestimated myself! This is for any one who has toyed with the idea of learning to scuba dive but had excuses. I am trying to chronicle going from sea-loving girl to… divemaster? My current aim is rescue diver, so we will see how things go.
I don’t think it is too late, just try it. I have written about learning to dive in middle age here. If you need any advice, feel free to comment or email me and I will try to help. I am based in Europe, so many of my diving trips so far have been within easy travel distance to Germany.
Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt: Planting the seeds
During my degree, after a particularly heavy locum shift in winter, my then boyfriend and I decided we need sun exposure and booked what was a fairly cheap winter escape: a week in Sinai, with a flight and allegedly four-star hotel included, for 199 Pound Sterling.
In January, the water was warm enough to dive in in a plain swimsuit the visibility even at a Sharm-el-Sheikh Hotel beach was at least 20metres, colourful fish were swimming right up to the beach. We drive to Ras Mohammed National Park one day and it was even better: after an uncomfortable entry over some stones, there was a sheer drop-off, so deep, I could not see the ground, and hundreds of fish by the reef. I was snorkeling and figured that I am not really afraid of the drop. I was still strangely fascinated and read a lot of dive guides in the hotel and talked to some British divers who regaled me with stories of Scapa flow, so I thought, well, maybe I am better off snorkeling.
And then, nothing for a while. Life went on, the next years were financially okay but I was more concerned with mortgages and careers and write diving off as a rather expensive hobby I would not have funds for and never researched past Open Water Diving Courses in Egypt. Three years ago, I briefly entertained the idea of a try dive, but since I was flying home the next day and didn’t know too much about the bends back then, I noped out.
Carloforte, Sardinia: Open Water Diver Certification
Come 2022, and we were looking for somewhere nice and seaside-like to go from France, where we had been visiting family, and my husband chose Sardinia. I had planned to learn scuba diving at some point in the Red Sea, but a quick internet search showed that Sardinia might be a good place to dive.
I ended up paying a little more because there were no other English speaking student at the time, and my course was private, just me and a rather stern but very thorough teacher. I heard of super commercial schools where basically everyone passes and gets major slack on the drills… oh well, not here.
My pool sessions were actually in open water, at about 3-4 metres deep, with a rather exhausting walk hauling all our gear to the beach. Entry was slightly difficult for me, down some stony bank with all gear on. My instructor helped a lot, and I think anyone without slight mobility issues would have been just fine. The fact that we did shore based diving from the very first minute offered a lot of interest, and made the drills a bit different – diving in saltwater right away, some swell, slightly limited visibility.
San Pietro Island has about 30 dive sites. Due to Mistral, we only managed to visit two dive sites on the open water dives Le Colonne and Punta Nera. We went on a rather wild RIB ride for 20 minutes, but the sites were really interesting, with rocky columns and plenty coral and smaller fish. Saw a couple moray eels as well. Most dive sites are 10-20m deep, with a few caves up to 40m.
The school was an easy walk from the centre of Carloforte, in a semi-industrial area, close to a quay. The school is really spick- and-span, very friendly people, one teacher as far as I could see, with a number of dive guides, all of whom all very friendly yet observant, gave great briefings and always really helpful on the dives. There is a nice relaxation area and toilets and showers on site. They are affiliated with SSI. They took the drills really serious, and made me sit an exam after I did my theory online, really thorough and I must say although it was uncomfortable at times, I liked it. The name of the school is Isla Diving.
I hired every single bit of gear and it was in in excellent condition. My technical rental gear was all Mares as far as I can remember. Once I had a small damage on my bite guard and reported it, and the next day, it had been replaced. I was given some good pointers what to buy and what to rent, and given that the school used a lot of Cressi and Mares, which are rather lower priced, they really can’t be that bad.
The first couple days, it was just me and the school owner plus a few very young, very friendly Divemasters. We were joined by some other French and Italian holidaymakers on the open water dives, who were all very chilled. If they were experienced, they certainly didn’t show it. It was altogether really pleasant.
Non-diving partner entertainment potential
Excellent is non diving partner is content on gentle beach walks and a large number of cafes. Carloforte is extremely picturesque, the island offers some nice beaches, but it’s not a nightlife place.
Aqaba, Jordan: Advanced Open Water Diver (PADI)
I lucked out going scuba diving a mere six months after my Open Water qualification, by coming across a ridiculously low 70Euro fare to Aqaba in Jordan. So I I did the natural next step, going tor the next qualification, and Advanced Open Water qualification but with PADI this time. Only one or two schools in Aqaba are associated with SSI, and after emailing a few schools I picked one where the contact was friendly and laid back and that happened to be PADI affiliated. Also, PADI Advanced Open Water Diver is somewhat different from the SSI one, it’s basically five themed dives, of which one is to a depth of 30 metres. It was marginally more expensive than doing five dives, so it was a no brainer. The SSI equivalent is the “Advanced Adventurer” with also five specialty dives.
Aqaba has over twenty dive sites, all within a relatively short distance in a marine park. Right now, they are not very busy but development just near the shore may mean they might become much busier over the years. Right now, Aqaba is a relaxed port city with plenty of hotels and restaurants and Jordan’s only seaside resort, with people from all over the country descending on weekends. I have written a more detailed post on learning to dive in Jordan here.
Almost every site is easily accessible from the shore, so there is no need to pay more to dive from a boat. There are plenty of dive shops that do offer boat-based diving, but it’s only necessary for one or two of the wrecks and a couple technical sites. Altogether, Aqaba veers more towards the beginner-friendly: shore dives, relatively shallow depth (but you can go deep if you want to), favourable weather and currents.
I chose a small school called Petra Divers. I enquired about SSI, but it’s just two schools really, and they were considerably more expensive. TPetra Divers is a friendly, relaxed school, basically based in an angling shop with the gear parked at the owner’s house. My hotel was conveniently located next to the shop, so every morning I sauntered down, sat on the pavement with assorted shop owners and waited for my teachers van to turn up while the owner held court in his shop and shuttled students back and forth from the dive sites. From what I gathered, all schools seem to operate like this, and there really is no need for boat diving in Aqaba unless you want technical dives.
With this smaller school, paid 250 Dinar (about 320 Euro) for my course, including pretty much everything, certification, gear, drinks, hotel pickup. More established schools charge a bit more and calculate PADI fees extra, some others charge extra for gear… but I didn’t see massive differences. I did all my learning online in my diving breaks. To be honest, the PADI lessons are extremely easy and I was done with them within a couple hours. After two courses, it’s online learning for me all the way now.
Gently used probably best describes my rental gear in Aqaba. Given it spends most of its life in a van or underwater, it’s fine what it looked not quite as pristine as what I had experienced in Italy. However – everything worked fine. Once I had a minor issue with my regulator, but this happened on land, and it just got switched out. Gear was Seac or Beuchat, didn’t look to close at the regulator in terms of brand or specifications.
The guests in Jordan were much more diverse than Italy. About 80-90% were doing try dives or were at the level of Open Water Diver at most. This didn’t bother me at all, as I usually sat by the van drinking tea when the other guests were taken in min groups of two. Sadly, most were men and only a few times did couples turn up and both partners went on a dive. Seemed very male-dominated, definitely most instructors in Aqaba were males, but so were the guests. Things got more interesting when we were joined by another instructor on holiday and went on a few slightly more challenging dives where I broke out of my comfort zone of “let’s stay at 15m and watch the wildlife” .
Non-diving partner entertainment potential
Now, I was in Aqaba in January which isn’t prime beach season and the beaches in Aqaba are not much to shout about, very windy, bleak, with very few facilities outside beach clubs. This changes once you get underwater where from the first couple metres the underwater scenery is just beautiful and suitable for snorkelling.
I found Aqaba really nice and went out to restaurants and cafes every night. If your non-diving partner doesn’t like the cafes and juice bars of Aqaba, there is plenty of potential of visiting both Wadi Rum and Petra on day trips although it is advisable to spend a night in both. It’s super easy to get there by tourist JETT bus, public bus or shared taxi. Even the Dead Sea can be reached by car in about two hours. Be aware that Wadi Rum is at 800m on average with peaks up to 1800m. Petra is at 1800-1300m. Consider this and wait long enough before attempting any tours or hikes.
What’s next for this new scuba diver?
Experience and potential certification
I want to do my rescue diver qualification, then get many more dives in. According to PADI, it is a great follow-on course from OWD or AOWD. It also required a completed Emergency First Responder Course – which may be waived if you have a comparable certification in Basic Life Support/ Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. It is only four dives, in which the exercises must be completed, so a rather short course.
If you go with SSI, both “Stress and Rescue” and “Search and Recovery” are Specialty Courses, which form part of the ” Advanced Open Water Diver” SSI certification which required 24 logged dives and completion of four multi-dive specialty courses.
I am also unsure with which association I want to continue my training, PADI or SSI. Both my teachers told me it doesn’t matter until Divemaster, so it should not matter to me at all, I just pick the school I like best.
For a PADI “Divemaster” you have to be a PADI Rescue Diver, have an advanced Emergency First Response Course and have at least 40 logged dives – it seems more straightforward as the only prerequisite is the PADI Rescue and evidence of advanced life support training – the course is just 84 Euro and may be waived if you can show evidence of the appropriate training from another provider.
For a SSI Master Diver required four specialty courses, two of which must be completed with SSI, must include the Stress and Rescue specialty course, and have 50 logged dives.
Where to dive
Right now, I am planning to dive on my next solo holiday which will be in January, so I have to move quite far from my home in Germany in order to dive in a wetsuit in good conditions. I scoped out Oman and Egypt as possible destinations.
Oman will be more expensive and has “okay but not great diving” according to some, but I have been interested in visiting Oman for its rich culture for some years now, and the weather in January will be great. It’s also an easy country for solo female travellers, which cannot be said of Egypt, but…
I suspect Egypt has the more famous dive sites! I did read about some Red Sea sites near Hurghada being in poor condition due to too many visitors, and I suspect some of the more famous dive sites further out are too advanced for me – yet. And going to the extreme South of Egypt means prices will be at least at the level of Oman, plus should I get a cold and find myself unable to dive, there is very little to do when you’re sat in a dive resort near the Sudanese border. Sinai might be another option, again, expensive flights (Hurghada and Marsa Alam flights are relatively cheap), but I really liked Dahab.
So, next diving stop… Oman!
After a few weeks of light research and contacting several diving schools, I settled on Muscat, Oman.
Firstly, I have wanted to visit Oman for a long time. Everyone who has been there told me that it is a wonderful country with friendly people, beautiful scenery and heritage. Also – totally safe for solo women.
Secondly, one of the diving schools I contacted were super friendly, got great reviews and offered exactly what I was after – the PADI Rescue Diver along with a bit of fun diving.
Thirdly – some divers I asked about their opinion on dive sites said Muscat is fine, probably does not match some of the Egypt sites but it is not technically challenging either. I am not ready for some big drift dives or anything deeper than 30 metres. I am fairly happy doing coral watching at 10-15metres.
And last not least, I found a reasonably priced flight to Oman. Accommodation was never an issue – plenty of nice mid priced hotels, and also some super fancy ones for the bigger budget. I ended up hiring a car, which will give me more flexibility. I hope to dive in southern Egypt or Sinai at some point, but I was not too impressed with the choice of accommodation in the extreme south and I had absolutely no idea whether it’s fine to be a solo woman there – previous trips to Egypt I got way too much attention.
The Small Print
I learned to scuba dive in Autumn 2022 and once I was in the open water, I found it really easy, but everyone learns at their own pace and this post reflects my own experience. I highly recommend that you are comfortable in the water, be a confident swimmer and in good health before you undertake diving.
For medical advice, please consult a diving physician.
Also, please note that many standard health insurers do not include hyperbaric chamber treatments in case of a diving accident, so make sure this is included in your policy. I know what I am talking about – while I have never had an issue in my short diving history, I helped plenty of people who did.
All trips were paid in full by myself, there is no sponsorship.