So, today is the last day of your open water course. Congratulations, you have just finished and passed!
You feel confident in your abilities and knowledge... surely, you will only get better and better form now on.
That is probably one of most double edged assumption in diving, since your overall confidence in the water and some skills will improve, but others will actually atrophy.
Use it or Lose it
Assuming you love diving and will be diving relatively regularly - say about 2-4 times per year - the following dive skills will improve because you use them on every dive.
Neutral buoyancy is arguably the most difficult thing to master, but is a skill that will improve, why?
Because during every dive you need to be neutrally buoyant to swim around, and you pick up tips and tricks from talking to other divers and watching people in the water.
Here's more about Buoyancy Control – How To Improve Your Skills.
Mask clearing may not have been the most pleasant experience for you on your open water course, but it gets better because on every dive, you generally clear your mask a few times.
Here are Tips To Defog Your Scuba Mask.
Regulator removal and replacement - not regulator recovery – is a skill that will improve because on dives, you may take your regulator out to make some adjustments or take a cool profile picture and then put it back in.
Obviously, other ancillary dive skills like setting up your gear will improve as well, unless you dive at one of those super luxury resorts where they set up your gear for you.
The improvement in these skills is natural and a testament to the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Now comes the interesting part...
In the scuba industry, there is an unofficial standard that if you have not dived for 6 months or more, you need to go through a ‘check dive’ or a full scuba review.
However, if you dive once every 5 months, then you don’t need to do these dives, and here lies the problem.
There are many divers out there who have not practiced crucial safety skills like alternate air source use for years. If you ask them on land to describe how to do it, they have vague memories about putting arms up, the octopus being given out, or ‘wait, taken? Which one is it?’ Something about holding hands etc.
Do you seriously think that their recollection will improve in the water in a stressful situation, such as an out of air emergency?
There are several important safety skills that if you don’t use regularly, you will lose! These include the use of the alternate air source (stationary, swimming, and ascending) and recovering your regulator, both the arm sweep and reach back methods. Added to these is getting used to having no mask on, and removing and replacing your weight belt.
These skills are very handy to keep sharp in case you have an issue with either of them.
Practice Makes Perfect
So how can you keep these skills sharp?
Well, there are several ways to do it.
Something I recommend to most of my students is to actually do a skill at the end of every dive if possible - this keeps them fresh and in use. If you dive with a regular buddy, you can make this part of your routine for every dive.
As a little bonus, doing this with your regular buddy massively increases the communication between you.
You can also join your local dive club even if you live in a cold country. This does not mean you need to take up cold water diving if you don’t want to, but clubs have pool nights and weekends where you can go and practice your skills in a nice warm pool, followed up by a nice evening with fellow divers.
An added bonus is that pool sessions are a great place to have some fun since after all, diving is supposed to be fun!
Whatever you decide to do, it’s is a good idea to keep your skills sharp, since in an emergency you don’t want to be trying to remember how to get out of trouble, what you want is to be confident and competent in your abilities.