Sunday, January 27, 2013

Divemaster or Master Diver?

Once new divers gain experience, hanging out with seasoned divers and shop staff divers, they start thinking about the next diving course they will take.  The next step after open water certification, advanced open water, give divers lots of ideas since it exposes divers to different types of diving, such as wreck, boat, underwater photography, all of which have a correlating specialty course.  Some divers want to challenge themselves with the rescue diver course, or even desire to work toward a professional level certification.  One thing that I often get questions about, though, is the difference between a Divemaster and a Master Diver, so I would like to clear this up once and for all.

The PADI Master Scuba Diver program is not a course, per se, but rather a rating, given to a diver with significant training and experience in a variety of diving environments.  In order to earn the rating of PADI Master Diver, the candidate must have his open water, advanced open water and rescue diver certifications.  In addition, they must earn 5 specialty certifications and have at least 50 logged dives.  It’s kind of like advanced open water, except that the diver does not stop at just one adventure dive, but instead goes on to earn the full certification in the specialty.  A Master Diver has earned the highest level a nonprofessional diver can achieve.  Anyone who earns the Master Diver rating deserves the respect of fellow divers for not only the number and types of dives he has done, but for also for the depth of knowledge that the Master Diver has accumulated in during his journey to the rating.

What a wreck!  A Master Diver might have the Wreck Diver Speciality!
Divemaster, in contrast, is actually a course/internship, culminating in the successful candidate joining the ranks of diving professionals. Divemaster candidates work closely with a PADI instructor, expanding their dive knowledge and skills, and developing their leadership abilities to reach professional quality.  To make them a useful assistant to the dive instructor, Divemaster candidates must know each scuba skill down to the minutest detail of execution so they can effectively demonstrate the skill to students and have the ability to remediate a student who is having difficulties mastering a skill. Divemasters spend a lot of time learning the logistics of setting up a dive or instructional session.  As an insured dive professional, the divemaster is qualified to supervise dive activities, assist instructors with student divers and conduct Scuba Reviews and Discover Local Diving dives, as well as Discover Scuba Diving experiences (after completing the DSD internship).  With this responsibility, comes the requirement that the Divemaster be familiar with all the liability releases and questionnaires that divers need to fill out.  Divemasters are learning to WORK in the dive industry, and hopefully continue on to become instructors.  

Divemasters help other divers prepare to get wet!

In order to be admitted into the divemaster program, a diver must have earned open water, advanced open water and rescue diver certifications.  In addition, they must have current Emergency First Response training.   Finally, they must have a minimum of 40 dives logged at the time they enroll, and have 60 by the time they complete the course.  Even when a diver meets these prerequisites, however, most dive instructors will look carefully at Divemaster candidates’ habits as a diver, experience to date and attitude to decide whether to invest the time and energy to mentor them.

 So which is better?  Since both rankings require superior diving skills and a breadth of diving experience, which is “better” is really more a matter of what your goals are as a diver.  It is sort of the difference between learning first aid to be better prepared and able to respond in some emergency situations and going to school to become an EMT. If your goal is to really stretch your knowledge and ability in diving, but you really do not want to make it a career or you do not want to be responsible for others, then the Master Diver program is your best bet.  However, if you are passionate about diving, love to share your experiences with others and are looking perhaps to becoming a dive instructor, then Divemaster is your ticket!

With that in mind, when I look at divers who are interested in becoming a Divemaster, the ones who are already Master Divers or are working toward that goal go directly to the top of the list.  The fact that they have invested time, energy and money into specialty courses says loud and clear, “I am passionate about diving, I love to expand my knowledge of diving, I value the expertise of my dive instructor, and I love to share my experiences with others.”   In addition, having taken many courses with an instructor, they clearly know what will be expected of them in the Divemaster program.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

They call it Angel City, but the devil in in the entry and exit!

So I’m heading back to the shop for post trip wash out, and I am asking myself, of all the dives I did this week, which was my favorite?  Was it Alice in Wonderland where we saw great schools of blue tangs, Oil slick with the awesome giant stride and abundant little critters, remote Karpata on the north end of the island with its coral encrusted anchors or maybe Buddy’s reef with its beautiful cup corals and octopuses? The truth is, each one was my favorite.  

I often praise shore diving for the fact the it gives on-your-own-schedule freedom and affords more night diving, but the main thing is I guess I just like the challenge the comes with shore diving; the requirement to plan your own profile, figure out the logistics of your entry and exit.   You are essentially taking the roles of divemaster and boat captain.  

Take for example the site, Angel City. In our guide book it was rated for all levels of divers and divable by boat or shore. Part of Bonaire’s double reef system, it was named for friendly angelfish known to be at the site.  As was our practice throughout the week, when we reached the site, we all piled out to plan our entry and exit strategies.  The first thing was noticed was the terrain leading to the shore.  It was rubble composed of bleached out pieces of coral, 
overlying volcanic rock.  Rough on the bottoms of your booties and not always solid underneath you when walking with full gear, this terrain demands close attention to where you are stepping.  Next we considered the surf rolling in, with waves crashing onto the shore.  We would have to keep an eye on the waves to avoid being knocked down and then dragged across the coral bottom.  In addition to the waves, divers also need to be aware of the random sand covered rock that is very hard to see in the surf and can trip you up as you make your way deeper.  It is ideal if you can scout out a sandy chute that will be a smoother and more predictable pathway into the water.

Realizing that this was going to be a challenge, we decided to enter one by one, with one of us, sans gear, helping the others navigate the shore.  For the photographers, we got them safely through the surf and then brought their cameras out to them.  It took some time, but we got in and were ready to start our dive.

We returned to the point of entry as a group to exit the reverse of how we entered, the problem was that even though we intended to wait our turn to exit so we could have help, the waves were pushing us in.  In addition, unlike when we were entering, the waves were coming to us from behind and it was hard to anticipate that larger wave and not be swept off our feet!  The one saving grace was that there were no sea urchins that we could impale ourselves on if we fell.

In the end, with team work, we were able to enter and exit without incident, but what about the dive?  It was worth the effort.  We did not see many angelfish, but there were plenty of eels, anemones and cleaner shrimp, trunkfish, trumpetfish and all my favorites, just waiting in the clear, aqua sea.

Thanks for tuning in. As always, follow us, share the blog and likes us on Facebook. Until next time, cheers.

Where's Waldo: The Eel Edition

When you don't want to trumpet your location,
it is a good idea to pretend to be soft coral!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Team Manta Travels to Bonaire

Well, Team Manta is off on another adventure, this time to Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. We started out Saturday, January 12 at 2:30am with a limo ride to the airport. After running the gauntlet of check in, baggage weigh ins, security checks and body scans at Chicago O’Hare airport, we squeezed sardine like into our seats and were winging our way to a week at the Caribbean’s most famous dive island.

We arrived at Flamingo International airport at 3:05pm local time. We were hoping that the reward for braving the scary wee hours of the morning would be that we would have enough time to check in, attend orientation, and then DIVE. Alas, it was not to be. We got to the dive shop after 5 pm and they were closed, however, we still could snorkel, so a bunch of Manta Divers who just couldn’t wait grabbed their snorkel gear and hit the clear, turquoise water. We will have to go to the orientation on Sunday morning and start our dive week then.

We were told that the stores all closed at 6 on Saturday and all day Sunday, so we had already sent Mike to the store to get at least a few essentials to get us through the next couple of days. He came back with a supply of cold cuts, bread, fruit, snacks, soda and beer, but everything was quite pricey. I suppose it beats eating in the restaurant. One thing I should have brought, but did not is bug spray. For how windy it is on Bonaire it is surprising how many little biting insects there are. Not everyone complained about the bugs, though, so perhaps they just like me better.

Our next order of business is to find out where to watch the Packers game. It appeared, based on the TV listings, that we have a choice of watching it in our condo or at the pool bar, but after the Ravens’ overtime win over the Broncos, the island networks decided that they had had enough of American football and switched to soccer! The silver lining, though was that we were spared witnessing the Packers’ loss and we when to bed earlier and caught up on much needed sleep. We will be ready to dive tomorrow.

I did take a little time to explore the property, so take a look at the attached photos. Stay tuned for the next Manta Divers blog, “They named it Angel City but the devil was in the entry and exit.”

Packed and ready to fly!

Sleeping, diving, eating and parking all in the same place?
How could I lose?

Dive boats!

Gear check

Airport, car port, same thing right?

There are two flavors of air: Nitrox and Regular

Go Pack Go!


The rowdy kids always sit in the back of the bus!

Da Plane! Da Plane!

Bonaire is great except of the tourists

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Six Things: Underwater Photography

Today, we will be starting a series called Six Things. This series will come out the first Sunday of every month and deal with one specific topic.  The first Six Things post will deal with underwater photography. In the last two months, our newsletter has dealt with how to use your photos and videos to create presentations to share with family and friends.  The question remains, however, how does one get those great underwater shots that will make you the envy of other divers?  Lets examine Six Things that every underwater photographer needs to know!

Tip #1
Buoyancy, buoyancy, buoyancy!  Work on your buoyancy first without your camera.  Be sure that you are comfortable hovering in all orientations: upright, prone, upside down, sideways, on your head, in a tube, with a paddlefish bearing down on you, etc.  Remember that you need to not only hover in close to your subject, but you have to also be able to back up!  You never know when a Mantis Shrimp will take issue with your presence.  After you have mastered those skills, add your camera.  Again, practice hovering with the camera out in front of you, while you are upside down, etc.  You will find that adding the camera may necessitate adjusting your weights and/or weight distribution.  Be sure to do this in some spot that does not have delicate life that could be destroyed if you make a mistake.  Have your buddy help by telling you how you are looking underwater.

Tip #2
Get close to your subject, but use patience when doing it.  Try to avoid descending on top of them, or swimming at them head on, as these are approaches used by predators and will likely cause your subject to flee.  Take your time, breathing slowly, inching towards your subject, making no sudden moves that will frighten them.  Moreover, be sure you know you ‘prey’.  Turtles, for example, will swim with you and provide you with some great shots.  But if you approach them from the front to rear, they will spook and run away.

Tip #3
One of the best things about a coral reef is the riot of color and you naturally want to be able to share that with your friend.  However, as you learned in your open water and advanced open water underwater photography section, water absorbs color.  To correct for this, use a strobe, or white balance your camera.  The strobe is for deeper water and will provide a full spectrum light to subjects within about 4 ft. If you are shallow and do not want to use a light, you can manually white balance your camera, or use its underwater setting.  Another alternative would be to use a red filter that will help to produce more true to life colors in your photos.

Great example of use a strobe to make those colors pop!
Not to mention the great upward angle!
Tip #4
Get a good angle! Shoot at an upward angle like picture above.  Again, this is in part to avoid not appearing to be prey and part to do with the fact that an upward angle will help your subject pop out more against a blue background.  Shoot multiples, remembering that you can take both horizontal and vertical shots.  When it comes to photography, quality is sometimes a function of quantity.

Nice vertical angle

Tip #5
Take turns and be courteous to other photographers.  Your subjects are wild and will spook if they are crowded.  Take your pictures and move so others can do the same.  Karma can be a blessing or a curse!

Tip #6
Finally, remember that no shot is worth ruining the underwater environment.  Sometimes, you will just have to be content with the fact that some shots will only be recorded in your mind!

Those are your Six Things for underwater photography.  As always, please like us on Facebook, subscribe to the newsletter, and share us with your friends.  Leave a comment and give us some feedback or better yet share an underwater photography story.  Don’t forget to take the poll on the right and until next time, cheers!

Team Manta

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Blog

Happy New Year from Manta Divers and all the members of Team Manta! 

As with every turning of the calendar year, we here at Manta Divers are taking the time to reflect and assess the coming year.  One of the many new and exciting things that we are adding this year is our blog!  Every Sunday, we will be posting about diving, going diving, things to do while diving and did I mention diving?

We hope that you will join us on the blog with your comments throughout the coming year and we look forward to sharing stories, lively discussion, and building a online community with you.  Please help us out!  To the right is a poll about the blog and what you would like to see us post.  Below is a space for comments open to all.  We are looking forward to hearing from you.  As always please like the post on Facebook, share us on Twitter and leave a comment.  See you next Sunday!

Team Manta