Scuba Diving Refresher Tips

LAST UPDATED:

January 1, 2020

Diving Squad! At ease for your scuba diving refresher tips. Ok, here’s the deal. Do you ever find yourself unable to recall vital scuba diving knowledge? We’re talking essential info here; stuff like the:

Whatever scuba gap in your scuba knowledge has bought you here: Fear the scuba not.

We completely understand how daunting it can be to dive – or back roll – back into to the world of scuba after an extended break.

Simply click on any of the subjects highlighted above in green to dive down to an in depth look at them, or blast through this entire whale shark of an article on scuba refresher tips.

You’ll be ready to join scuba missions again in no time!

Scuba diving refresher tips
scuba dive refresher

#1 Scuba Buddy Check

Scuba Buddy Check

You don't HAVE to be buddies to do the 5 step PADI dive check. In real life, these two despise one another.

Alright – here we go: The first of our scuba refresher tips is a breakdown of the 5 step scuba buddy check that you and hopefully a buddy, give eachother right before a dive.

The PADI dive check doesn’t condense down into an easy diving acronym, but there’s hope! Diving Squad folks like to think that Big Whales Rarely Attract Fish:


B
ig              (BCD/ Buoyancy) 

Whales       (Weights)

Rarely         (Releases)

Attract        (Air)

Fish             (Final Check)

How to Carry out the 5 Step Scuba Buddy Check:

  1. BCD / Buoyancy

(Big)

Check to make sure the BCD is properly connected to the air supply, and practice inflating the vest to ensure adequate airflow.

Also, test deflating the vest to ensure the purge valves are in good working order.

2. Weights

(Whales)

Make sure any additional weights are fastened securely inside the weight pouches.

If you’re buddy is using a weight belt, make sure it’s secured and cinched properly to keep the weight from inadvertently detaching.

3. Releases

(Rarely)

Check to make sure that you and your buddy can easily access and operate all the release catches for your vest, tank, and weights.

This will allow you to easily slip out of your BCD in case of entanglement or an emergency, and assist your partner if need be.

4. Air

(Attract)

Check that the air valve is completely open, and all tubes and valves are secured in their respective places.

Take a few deep breaths from your regulator to verify proper airflow and taste. Repeat this process for the spare regulator.

5. Final Check

(Fish)

Strap on all your additional gear and complete a head to toe check to make sure absolutely everything is secured in place and not posing an entanglement risk.

Scuba Acronym for the buddy check

#2 Scuba Hand Signals

Scuba Hand Signals Women

Communication with the rest of your Diving Squad is crucial! Whether you see something interesting, are having difficulties or are running low on air; you must be able to make yourself understood to your diving squad mates. How?

Through the use of Diving Hand Signals. You were undoubtedly taught a few of the Scuba Hand Signals signals during your Open Water Course, so let’s take a couple of minutes to blast through the main ones, before we give our top tips:

OK (Underwater): Touch your thumb and index finger together to form an O while keeping your other three fingers extended. 

scuba hand signals padi ok

OK: (Surface): Touch the top of your head with your hand, either open or closed and form an O shape with your arm.

scuba hand signals ok

Ascend: Thumb up. 

scuba hand signals ascend

Descend: Thumb down. 

scuba diving hand signals go down

Stop: Extend hand straight out in front of you (like a traffic cop stopping traffic).

padi hand signals stop

Turn the Dive: Make a circular motion with your index finger.

scuba hand signals turn around

Problem: Wiggle your hand in front of you. Similar to a so-so sign in standard conversation.

diving signals equalizing

Equalizing Trouble: Point at your ear

diving signals equalizing

Low on Air: Place a clenched fist across your chest

scuba hand signals out of air

Out of Air: Make a slashing motion across your neck. 

scuba hand signals out of air

I’m cold: Cross arms as in the traditional ‘shivering’ motion.

scuba diving hand signals cold

How Much Air Left? – This signal means someone is asking you how much oxygen you have left. (Which you can find out by looking at the pressure gauge!)

padi hand signals how much air

100 Bar’s of Oxygen Left – Make a T with your two hands if you have at least 100 oxygen. For every additional 10 bars of air hold up one finger after this signal.

scuba diving hand signals one hundred

Look at Me – This is when someone, usually your instructor, wants you to pay attention to them so they can show you something. 

scuba hand signals look at me

All Scuba Photos Credit: Peter Southwood. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en. No changes made.

Not enough? Not a problem. 

The above hand signals are the ones that are most commonly used but the truth is there are literally hundreds of scuba diving hand signals! 

If you want to fully immerse yourself in learning all the scuba hand signals, we recommend buying  “Scuba Diving Hand Signals” by Lars Behnke. Check it out here!

Scuba Hand Signals Top Tip:

As all of us at Diving Squad have learned, the trick to fully utilising these diving signals is making sure you have your buddy’s attention so that they can see what you’re doing!

It’s so easy to leisurely drift along, humming that “under the sea” jam through your respirator, whilst remaining totally oblivious to your squad mate’s frantic attempts to communicate. Trust me.

But there is a crafty way to overcome this. If you can’t get your buddies’ attention, simply use a scuba noise device to do so. 

These devices consist of a hard object being secured to either your hand or tank; all you have to do is lightly bang it against the tank or shake it, to make a very noticeable sound. This attracts your squad mates attention, allowing you to give the scuba signal of a lifetime. Browse Scuba Sound Devices 

#3 Diving Equalizing

One of the most memorable sensations of scuba diving is feeling the pressure start to build upon your ears and the satisfaction of being able to equalize that pressure in order to bring them back to normal.

Without the ability to do this, it’d be totally unfeasible to dive deeper than a few meters. Lame!

Scuba Diving Equalizing is therefore a pretty vital concept to include on our scuba refresher checklist! Let’s recall why your ears start to hurt underwater in the first place:

You ear canal, or outer ear, is connected directly to the environment, but the space behind your eardrum – known as the middle ear – is not.

That’s why a pressure difference is created as the pressure in your outer ear increases with depth but the pressure in your middle ear remains unchanged.

It’s all because it creates an uncomfortable feeling that can easily lead to pain and ear damage if the pressure is not equalized.

We are given several tricks to help equalize this pressure as we descend and head off any discomfort before it materialises. So, let’s now review a few of those tricks:

Scuba Diving Equalizing

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By slowing down their heartbeat to just 9 beats per minute in order to conserve oxygen. Think how handy it would be if you could do that...

#1 Nose Pinch

scuba diving equalizing nose pinch method

This is the most common diving equalizing method and is probably what you were taught during your open water course.

Simply pinch your nose and try to blow. This will cause a pressure buildup in your mouth and nose that forces open the Eustachian tubes that run from the back of your throat to the middle ear, allowing the pressure to equalize.

However, the nose pinch method isn’t infallible and doesn’t utilize the muscles that are already present in that area to open up the eustachian tubes. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with these two additional methods so you have backups!

#2 Swallowing

scuba diving equalizing swallowing
Easy there Jack.

Swallowing engages the muscles at the back of the throat, opening the eustachian tubes, and can often work to equalize your ear pressure all on its own.

For an added boost, try pinching your nose and swallowing at the same time. The swallowing will open the tubes while pinching your nose will cause a pressure increase and force air into them. 

#3 Jaw Movement

scuba acroym

Working your jaw also engages the muscles in the back of your throat to aid in Scuba Diving Equalizing.

One of the most effective methods we’ve found is to tense the muscles in the back of your throat while at the same time pushing your jaw forward. Like swallowing, this will open up your eustachian tubes and allow the pressure to equalize.

Diving Squad’s top advice for scuba diving equalizing? Equalize early and often. Begin trying to clear/equalize your ears before you even start putting on your gear, and equalize continually while descending.

Most importantly – and one of our most import scuba diving refresher tips – If you start to feel pain or discomfort, don’t try to simply power through it! Ascend slightly, equalize, and then continue your descent.

Equalizing problems didn’t get its own hand signal earlier for nothing! Let your partners know if you need to descend more slowly or take an equalization break!  

Inspiration Time:

They call it Raja Ampat. It’s the biggest marine biodiversity hotspot in the world. For scuba divers, it is the HOLY GRAIL.

Diving here takes skill. There’s strong currents, huge shipwrecks and epic wall dives. The rewards are well worth it.

Keep up the awesome work at blasting through this article and you could be diving at places like this before you know it! You’ve got this. The world is your oyster…

#4 Diving Breathing Excercises

Have you ever noticed how your more experienced diving squad mates posses that uncanny ability to control their air consumption and make their supply last much longer than yours? This inevitably leads to you being the one to turn the dives every time, which can be a little awkward…

scuba refresher checklist breathing excercises

Your fellow divers look THIS impressed.

That’s why next up on our Scuba Refresher Checklist are a few Diving Breathing Exercises; to put you on the fast lane to improved air efficiency! Let’s dive in:

Diving Breathing Exercises Explained:

The key to getting the most out of your air supply is improving your diaphragm muscle. This muscle stretches across the lower portion of your rib cage and separates your heart and lungs from the abdomen; it is absolutely pivotal to proper air exchange in the lungs.

Most of us are guilty of lazy breathing by only using our chest muscles to expand and contract our chest cavity and thus breath.

However, deploying your diaphragm will allow you to draw air deeper into your lungs, improve oxygen exchange and ultimately improve your air consumption. To achieve this, we need to strengthen the diaphragm and actually start using it effectively when breathing:

Diving Breathing Exercise #1:

 Lay down on your back with your legs bent. Place one hand on your chest, and the other on your abdomen, allowing you to feel all your muscles engaging while breathing. Now, practice breathing deeply and slowly from your nose, while focusing on engaging your diaphragm as much as possible.

You should feel your stomach rising and falling, while your chest should barely be moving. This takes practice, but keep at it and you will start to feel a difference.

scuba diving refresher checklist

This guy feels it...

Diving Breathing Exercise #2:

Another one of the best Diving Breathing Exercises to improve air consumption is to simply work on your breathing rate:

You’ll notice in the previous exercise that we stressed breathing deeply and slowly. This will require some practice!

Focus on inhaling very slowly, while staying very calm and not elevating your heart rate. When it’s time to exhale, don’t simply breathe out all at once, but rather focus on very slowly exhaling a little at a time.

Diving Breathing Exercises Summary

Altogether, these Diving Breathing Exercises will improve your breathing control, decrease your respirations per minute, and ultimately make your air supply while diving last longer.

All those possible benefits make it sound like a pretty vital one of our scuba diving refresher tips, right?

scuba diving refresher tips bubbles

#5 Scuba Weight Calculator for Optimum Buoyancy

Listen up. Of all our Scuba Diving Refresher Tips, the Scuba Weight Calculator aka Scuba Buoyancy Calculator, can be a finicky operation; so it requires the most explanation. Best get comfy!

Ready? Great! So: remember your early diving days where the instructor eyed you up and down, twiddled their thumbs, and magically produced a weight value that worked for your Scuba Buoyancy needs?

They were sizing you up, estimating your weight and calculating how many additional scuba weights you’d need to Remain Neutrally Buoyant.

Well, their ability to guesstimate weights and actually be close comes from years of experience in the water.

However, now is as good a time as any for you to start honing your own scuba weight calculator skills!

scuba weight calculator

"Much to Learn about the Scuba Weight Calculator, you have".

What’s involved in the Scuba Weight Calculator:

  • There are several components that affect your overall buoyancy; these include your tank, BCD, wetsuit, and – of course – you!

     

  • The most accurate Scuba Buoyancy Calculator method is to iteratively determine the weight needed to make your entire setup neutrally buoyant.

  • This means you will hang motionless in the water with half a breath, ascend when breathing in and descend when breathing out.

To Find this Weight:

  1. Start with your body in just a swimming suit. Wade into the water and determine the weight needed for neutral buoyancy.

  2. After you’ve this number, put on your wetsuit and repeat the process. The increase in weight needed from swimsuit to wetsuit indicates the buoyancy weight of your wetsuit.

  3. Now, as we continue along the scuba buoyancy calculator list, you should submerge your BCD, purge ALL the air and determine if it is inherently neutrally buoyant or if it needs some additional weight of its own.

  4. Finally, take a close look at the specs for your air tank; as the weights when full or partially empty can vary greatly across brand and material types.

Summary:

In essence, you must determine if your tank will be positively or negatively buoyant, and compensate with additional weight.

Given a choice, we recommend getting a steel tank as they tend to remain negatively buoyant whether full or empty. Add all these weights together and you have the ideal additional weight you need to wear for optimal buoyancy!

Remember, the goal is to slowly sink with an empty BCD and full tank at the beginning of your dive (at the surface). At the end, when you’ve lost some weight from using the compressed air, you should be perfectly neutrally buoyant.

"Wait, what"!?

scuba weights calculator

We realise that this Scuba Weight Calculator process is a bit of a handful!

As well as this, you will undoubtedly tweak your weights as you continue diving.

If you don’t have the time to iteratively determine your required weight…fear not!

There is a ballpark estimate you can use to get close, and then adjust from there.

How to Estimate the Scuba Weight Calculator:

Simply carry 10% of your body weight in additional weights. This number will certainly not work for everyone, but it is at least a starting point.

How to Estimate the Scuba Weight Calculator:

Regardless of which Scuba Buoyancy Calculator method you’re using, you’ll need to complete a buoyancy test once you have your weight picked out.

Don’t worry, it’s very easy! Simply strap on all your gear as if you’re embarking on your dive, deflate your BCD completely, and get into the water. At the surface, you should be slightly negatively buoyant and sink slowly even when inhaling. 

Plunging into the depths like a boulder is not the goal! You want to begin your descent nice and slowly; remember that as you go deeper and your gear is compressed, you’ll pick up some speed!

#6 Scuba Acronym for Descent

Scuba Acronym

Just two more Diving Tips left on our Scuba Refresher Checklist! Great work. This one’s nice and easy:

Our obsession with scuba abbreviations leads us to yet another Scuba Acronym. Its long-winded name is the PADI 5-point scuba descent acronym, but all you need to remember is SORTED.

S

Signal

Signal your fellow squad member(s) that you’re ready to descend.

O

Orientate

Take a look at your surroundings and get your bearings in relation to the shore, boat, or any other landmarks in the area.  Ideally, glance at your compass at the same time to help cement your area awareness.

R

Regulator

Unless you’re in the mood to swallow some seawater, put your regulator in your mouth and take a couple of breaths.

T

Time

Take note of the time that you’re beginning your dive. Most dive computers do this anyway, but it is still beneficial for you to think about turnaround times and your total bottom time.

E

Equalize

Be sure to equalize the pressure in your ears even before you start descending. Also remember the point that we discussed earlier: equalize early and often during your descent!

D

Descend

Now you’re ready to begin descending, slowly deflate your BCD and let the adventure begin. And there you have the last item on our scuba descent acronym!

This particular scuba acronym is thankfully short and very easy to remember. Simply run it through your mind a few times, put it to good practice in the field and you’ll always be…SORTED!

Now that you have the scuba diving acronym for descent cemented amongst your other scuba diving refresher tips, we’ve almost covered all of the essential elements of our entire scuba refresher checklist!

You’re just about ready to jump back in the saddle – or BCD, in this instance – and get back into the water! But there is one more item our squad members want to cover beforehand. Hint – what do you need to Scuba Dive?

The Scuba Noob’s Best Friend:

This beautiful dive log book has it all:

  • Hand Signals Review
  • Equipment & Goals Checklist
  • Imperial Metric Conversion Tables
  • World Map
  • Pages to record 100 epic dives.

    It’s perfect for recording your diving adventures whilst remembering some of what we’ve covered here today! Take a look!

#7 Dive Gear Checklist

It’s essential that you fully understand every last piece of scuba gear; after all it’s what you’ll need to dive! That’s  why we’ve put together this handy Dive Gear Checklist. In addition to operating the gear properly, this will allow you to complete the Scuba Buddy Check that PADI recommends for all divers.

The following pieces of gear are essential items for you to review and include on your dive equipment checklist.

Scuba Regulator – Reduces pressurised breathing oxygen to ambient pressure and delivers it to the diver through a mouth piece.

Divers take two – one for themselves and a spare for a buddy in case of emergencies! 

Two Scuba Regulators, a Dive Gauge and BCD attachment hose together form the Scuba Octopus

BCD – The jacket divers wear to maintain optimum buoyancy, which they can adjust by operating the inflate and deflate buttons.

This makes sure they neither sink to the bottom nor rise to the top of the water!

As well as this, the BCD keeps in place the divers regulator(s), dive gauge and air tank.

Scuba Weight Belt – Assists with maintaining optimum buoyancy, by stopping divers from floating to the top of the water.

How much weight you take will depend on your build, weight and diving ability. Read about Optimum Buoyancy

Dive Gauge – Essential for keeping track of your air consumption and the depth at which you are diving.

The best ones also feature compasses and can also read the water temperature.

Scuba Tank – This contains the pressurised breathing gas – i.e. oxygen, that you’ll be breathing underwater, after it’s been reduced to ambient pressure by the regulator.

Pretty essential right? 

Dive Computer – Used to measure the time and depth of a dive.

In doing so, it calculates a safe ascent profile, vital for avoiding decompression sickness. 

Diving Mask – Full Face Snorkel Masks are taking the world by storm but they can’t withstand pressure beyond several meters depth. 

For scuba diving you need an old school dive mask.

Wetsuit – Crucial for keeping you warm. Even in hot countries, when you dive deep, it gets cold. Which one you pick will depend upon the climate where you’re diving. 

Scuba Fins –Fins greatly reduce water resistance when swimming and thus help to conserve energy and swim faster / against currents.

They also allow you to unleash your inner mermaid/man. 

Dive Boots – Designed to be worn under your fins, dive boots prevent rubbing and skin irritation from said fins – whilst also keeping your feet toasty and warm. 

NEXT UP: PADI Refresher Course

If you haven’t dived in a while, one of the best possible ways to get back into the swing of things is to undertake the PADI Refresher Course also known as the PADI ReActivate Programme. 

This scuba refresher course covers in-water skills as well as practical knowledge. Every PADI diving school offers this refresher training – once you tell them your specific needs, they will then customise it especially for you.

If it’s been a long while since you last dived, most diving schools will require that you undertake the PADI Refresher Course before you go on a fun dive, but fear not: It can usually be completed in just half a day, comprising some theory and a practice dive. 

After that, you’ll be good to join the rest of your squad mates on the rest of the day’s diving. 

Honestly, in my earlier days as a diver I went a few tragically long periods without diving and found this to be the best possible way of rejuvenating my scuba knowledge. 

By combining PADI’s ReActivate Course with the repeated use of this article beforehand (keep coming back to test yourself!), you will be unstoppable as you rapidly re-ascend through the ranks of scuba divers ;). You can find out more about the padi refresher course here. 

Divers train at the PADI refresher course.

Diving Squad Debriefing

And there you have it Diving Squad! We’ve fully covered our scuba refresher checklist from top to bottom and reintroduced all the points you should review when dipping a toe back into the big blue.

From your scuba weights calculator to your scuba buddy check, all your pre-diving bases are now covered and then double checked with the standard dive check PADI recommends.

Once in the water, we covered your scuba acronym for descent, diving equalization during the descent, and a few of the best breathing exercises for diving.

Of course, we also reminded you of the most important scuba hand signals for communicating with your fellow dive buddies as well as a complete scuba gear checklist!

Now all you need is the perfect location to rinse off those diving skills with a refreshing plunge into some crystal-clear tropical waters!

Written by:

Alex

Alex

Scuba fanatic. Travel ecstatic. Erratic. The name's Alex.

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