Beach permits, the best bang for your buck!

Which parking permit is right for me?

Miles and miles of pristine shoreline featuring rocky beaches, soft sand, boulder fields, fishing jetties and beautiful sunsets await the intrepid traveler to the Long Island beaches. Sitting on any Long island beach or better yet, diving any of the beaches on Long island can be a rewarding experience. Sounds fantastic, right? But, where do you park?

There in lies one of the major hurdles to what keeps SCUBA DIVING or any other beach activity on Long island from being world class, in my opinion. There are so many different rules and town halls that are all competing with each other to see which can most complicate such a simple activity as parking.

There are laws on each Hawaiian Island that provide public access to beaches. Some of the laws require that public access ways be no greater than 1500 feet apart. Imagine that on Long Island! Home owners would be lining up in their Cul-de-sac en masses with pitch forks and rolled up Newsday papers!

Until the private home owners and private associations come together and voluntary give up their private beach access the rest of the population that doesn’t own beach front property are left to navigate the often times complicated and expensive task of obtaining town/village/county/state parking and beach permits.

Living in certain towns gives it’s residents almost unlimited access to the shore line and with it access to fantastic diving all year round. If you are one of those residents that live within a town that has access to tons of great diving spots, you are all set. No need to read further. Drive down to any beach within the town, hand over $20 – $60 to a bored college student and enjoy your diving.

For the other divers that may not be lucky enough to live in a town with cheap and abundant dive sites, we are “forced” to pay Non-resident rates for beach access during the Summer season. Typically this season runs from May until the end of August. Outside of this period most with the exception of a very few beaches are free and open to the public. Or in the very least no one is there to check permits anyway.

Even though it may seem unfair to have to pay a different rate to park in the same half empty lot as someone else, it’s our reality. In the process of completing our upcoming guide to diving on Long island, we compiled a list off all the non-resident parking/beach permits and ranked them as far as value. We have identified around 90-100 dive sites on the island ranging from clean sand beaches to inshore wrecks and as many accessible boulder and jetties as possible.

No one is expected to dive all 100 sites within the year and obtaining all the permits one would need to do so would cost in excess of $1000. Lots of diving can be done from a boat for that price.

What surprised me the most was to identify close to 25 dive sites that are actually FREE.  Not “kinda” legal or sneaking in or even bending or “interpreting” the rules… Really free. Either the parking is provided by an outside source like a historical society or by Suffolk county passive lands. Street parking accounts for about 15 of the sites too.

If you stick to those 25 sites all summer, you would actually have a really good time. As some of those sites are really the “Best of the island”. If you want to expand your dive repertoire a bit, it’s going to cost you some money. Not a crazy amount of money.  The most expensive beach on the island will cost $50 to park there, but only Monday thru Thursday. Fortunately, I would avoid diving at this beach all summer just due to the poor visibility that is pretty consistent during the summer season.

Fortunately, the average cost for a beach day pass is $20. For a single tank dive, I personally would not consider that a terrible price to pay for legal beach access and if you bring your family and a 2nd tank, you can really maximize your money!

Most towns offer Non-resident Seasonal passes. Some are far more valuable than others and a couple are out right ridiculous extortion fees to park at terrible dive sites. All of this information will be provided in our guide. Here is a quick overview of the most valuable Non-resident seasonal passes.

Best Value for the money and quality of the sites:

Southold Town Beach pass: $150 Gives you access to over 8 Southold town beaches and  all the beaches at the end of roads on the North shore. Diving in Southold is typically good all year long due to good visibility, sites are shallow (less than 20ft) and are suitable for most divers if not all. Lots of rocks, boulders and jetties keep the sites pretty interesting.

NYS Regional Dive Permit: $65. This Permit kinda gets a bad rap. There are officially 5 sites that this permit can be used at including the 4×4 access for Democrat point. Granted diving on the bay side of Jones beach isn’t very attractive, all the sites offer depths over 15 feet, ample parking and a variety of conditions and dives available on either coast.

Brookhaven Night Fishing Permit: $50 for 2 vehicles. This one is kinda iffy. Technically, you should be fishing as per the permit… But hunting for lobster counts as fishing right? And this isn’t a fishing permit per se, it’s a parking permit so you CAN go fishing at night at 4 separate beaches. For $50 that includes two separate vehicles!

Suffolk County Permits: This one is a little complicated…. Non-residents can obtain a NR Green Key for $200. By paying the $200 a NR can now get all the other Suffolk county permits at resident rates. So, let’s say you have a 4×4 vehicle and want to access all the Suffolk county parks and plan to dive every single day. By getting the Green key with 4×4 permit you would have unlimited access to over 8 dive sites all over Suffolk county.

You would get the Green Key card: $200. The Outer beach permit. $100 (resident rate) and the seasonal beach permit so you don’t have to pay the fee daily $75.

If you just wanted access to the 4 outer beach dive sites then the permit would be $250 for just that plus the daily Non-resident fee for getting into the beach.

Not a terrible deal but no where as good as the ones listed above…
Ponquogue Marine park permit. $90. Unlimited access to Ponquogue bridge between July 1st and Labor day. Access for only one site, albeit one of the best and most popular dive sites on the island.

South Hampton Town permit : $375 which gets you the Ponqugoue bridge permit and the Shinnecock parking permit. (This is definitely not worth it since you can park for free at Shinnecock West)

Brookhaven Town Permit: $250: This parking permit gets you access to 3 sites. One of the sites we have listed in our guide as “Best of the Island” but personally, I would take my chances on paying the daily fee to dive there.

Sea cliff Beach Club Membership : $ Pricing information not available yet. Daily fee $15. Paying to join the Sea Cliff beach club gets you access to 3 sites (on the same beach) during the summer season. Depending on where you live this membership may be worth it for easy access to descent dives. Parking is free along the road though. Membership is for walking into the beach. Visibility tends to be worse during the summer season here.

Glen Cove Yacht Club: $80 for a basic membership which includes parking. You can access 4 sites from the parking lot a the yacht club without having to worry about getting a ticket or worse towed. For the hassle of diving in Glen Cove this membership may be worth it to those divers that live in the area but not in Glen Cove proper.

And the least valuable beach permit is…

Riverhead Town permit: $300.  Only 2 sites and one of them needs 4×4 access which non-residents can’t get the permit for.

Personally, I avoid diving in the Western Long island sound during the summer due to decreased visibility. Convenience may be a better motivator then visibility though and your mileage may vary. Don’t forget that Good Life Divers offers guided diving to most of the 100 sites on Long Island. Join our Meetup group to be kept abreast of our upcoming guided dives and meetings.

http://www.meetup.com/goodlifedivers

Drysuits and You, A short guide to buying your first drysuit.

Dry Suits and You

Photo by Audrey Cudel

Do I need a drysuit?

Yes. Yes you do. Even if you don’t think you NEED one, spend some time diving in our waters and within a season or two you will start to seriously consider buying yourself a suit.
My advice, the sooner you invest into a suit the more dives you will talk yourself into doing because now you can! No more worrying about losing buoyancy control while going deeper than 60 feet. Now you can have nice warm dry dives, or at least nice, warm and damp dives!

What type of drysuit should you buy?

This is the hardest question to answer. There are so many variables when it goes into deciding the type of material the dry suit should be. The best information I give you is the pro’s and cons on each type.

Crushed Neoprene: Is a DUI exclusive. It’s a 3mm Neoprene suit compressed to 1mm thickness. Very durable material but takes longer to dry than most shell suits.

Compressed Neoprene: These suits swim most like wetsuits. Durable material and you get your warmth from the thickness of the neoprene. You may need a lot of weight in order to sink this suit compared to a thin shell suit.

Trilam: These are referred to as shell suits. Basically it’s a nylon and other scientific word type materials that is smushed together to make a waterproof shell. It’s like diving a garbage bag. Bi-lam suits are generally speaking some of the least expensive suits since they lack the third layer, but are very similar. These types of suits are prone to pin hole leaks but are also very easy to repair. The need less weight to sink but you need a full range of undergarments since they offer no thermal protection.

How much should I spend?

Like with anything else with SCUBA, you pay for what you get. Does that mean you need to drop $4000 on a custom made drysuit with gold leafing? Not necessarily. But spending the most you can afford on the best possible suit is a wise investment. My suggestion is to look at suits in the $1000 – 2000 price range. Most offer a good compromise between quality and features. Can you go cheaper than $1000. Sure, but depending on the suit you may find yourself shelling out serious dough in the long run on repairs and replacing it sooner than later.

A drysuit is a serious investment. They cost more than your BCD (unless you like Halcyon gear) and probably your dive computer but allow you to extend you dive season from a few short months to the full year. They also offer you dry comfort on long dives. Something a wetsuit no matter how great can’t offer. Spend what you can but save up if you have too. Get the best suit you can afford.

Latex or Neoprene or Silicone Seals?
No matter which type of drysuit you choose, you will need to choose which type of seals you would like on your suit. But first the choices:

Neoprene-CuffsNeoprene Seals: these are typically comfortable seals, but need to be stretched out in order to fit. Durable but don’t seal as well as latex or silicone. Lots of people find neoprene neck seals much more comfortable over latex. These types of seals are harder to repair and replace.

 

dry_suit_wrist_sealLatex Seals: Latex seals are in my opinion the way to go. Some suits allow for user replaceable seals, which make ripped seals a breeze deal with. You can buy them in all different shapes and sizes and they are relatively cheap too. Latex does deteriorate from the sun, heat and randomly sitting in it’s bag in a cool dark place.

Silicone: For those with latex allergies and with unlimited patience and funds to continuously replace ripped seals, there is silicone. They are very comfortable seals, but the absolute easiest to tear. Don’t even look at them. They will rip! (I know plenty of divers who love their silicone seals, I can’t wear them since I can’t put one on without ripping it)

Here are my recommendations: A sized Latex neck seal so you don’t have to cut it and user replaceable wrist seal system. Latex cone seals are very comfortable if sized properly and very durable and resistant to tearing. Then get yourself a whole stack of them to keep in your save a dive kit.

Should I buy a custom made suit or off the rack?

That all depends on your genes. If you are the type of person that can go into a Banana republic and buy a sport coat that fits perfectly based on the Small – X-large sizes, then you may be the same kinda person that can buy an off the rack sized drysuit.

I am not one of those people. I need the extra fabric that old navy affords it’s sizes. I needed to go custom to get the best fitting suit.

Here’s the thing. The better your suit fits and the more comfortable it is, the more you will use it. If the suit is ill-fitting and uncomfortable you will make up every possible excuse not to use it. check out your suits sizing guides and try it on with the thickest undergarments you plan on using. Make sure you still have the same mobility as in a wetsuit. If you can’t reach your valves on the showroom floor, you probably won’t be able to reach them underwater.

Some manufactures offer made to measure suits at a very reasonable up charge. Companies like Santi, Techniflex, and OS Systems are some examples. Santi also has the option to order a stock suit with custom inseam and arm lengths at no extra cost, making it an almost made to order suit.

What features are very useful and which are gimmicks?

In my opinion the must have, nice to have and useless features are:

MUST HAVE:

  • suspenders keeps the suit where it should be
  • Pockets – If you spending the money on a suit don’t cheap out and not get pockets. They are useful for holding things.
  • User replaceable wrist seals – If you have ever waited a couple weeks to get your suit back for new seals you will see how great it is to be able to change your seal within 5 minutes and get back to your dive.
  • Self Donning: This is very important feature to me since I may not always have a buddy to help me with donning my drysuit. I also like to be very independent when it comes to getting my gear together.
  • Swivel inlet valve: Allows the user to decide their hose routing.

NICE TO HAVE:

  • Pee valve – If you are planning long dives or you are a hydration nut, this feature becomes a MUST havec67da5_d53d2e18856b91c0a4647f412fc9821a
  • Warm neck collar – you don’t really notice the difference until you dive a suit without one.
  • Knee Pads – Yes I know, you will never ever place you knees on the ground under any circumstance. Unless you do. And when you do, it’s nice to have the extra padding and protection.
  • Plastic Zippers: Do some research into the type of zipper you want on your suit too. The old brass zippers have worked for years but are expensive to replace and fragile. The newer plastic zippers are a great alternative but do leak very easily if you don’t lube the zipper every few dives or so. (This opinion may have changed recently due a leaky plastic zipper after 300 or so dives.)

Gimmicks:

  • Cuff dumps or Wrist dumps – With experience and proper training dumping air out of a drysuit is a pretty straight forward ordeal. You don’t need dumps on your wrist or ankles.
  • Gaiters: You don’t need gaiters or ankle weights to help keep air out of the bottom of your suit. If you are diving in a horizontal position with your legs up, it’s ok and preferred to have a little air in your suit. Just because the air moves into your feet doesn’t mean you are automatically going to rocket to the surface. If you dive a suit that is way too big, gaiters may be the only thing that will help with trim, so this may be a nice to have or must have depending on some other variables.

What do I wear underneath them?

Walk into an REI or Dicks Sporting goods and you will find a plethora of special technical clothing manufacturers vying for your hard earned dollars, claiming that their alpaca lined t-shirt will keep you warm on the summit of Everest and cool as a cucumber on the beach.

Drysuit underwear manufactures all claim the same things. The biggest take away is, DON’T WEAR COTTON!

Whether you go with a specific suit designed for SCUBA like the Fourth Elements line of underwear or you raid you local REI, whatever you do, layer and DON’T WEAR COTTON!

For tri-lam suits, you will get 99% of your insulation from your underwear so do you research on which features are important to you. One of the nicest features available is to be able to wash and dry your underwear without having a degree in molecular engineering and laundering. Thin-sulate can be washed and some manufactures recommend doing so in order to revitalize the material.

In general, the thicker the undergarment the warmer it will be but will require more weight to sink. The nice thing about layering is you can dive the tropics with a thin wicking layer and dive an iceberg by adding a couple layers of material. All with the same suit.

When shopping at REI rather than a dive shop, look for warming layers and not cooling layers. there is a difference. You will sweat in your drysuit, you want the sweat to be pulled away and your skin kept warm. Using a cooling wicking layer in cold water can lead to severe shivering and not nice warm feelings.

Drysuit training? Is it needed?

Rescue Diver group

Drysuit training is not absolutely mandatory under every circumstance. If you are willing to dive with a “Mentor” and they are willing to show you the ropes and have the experience and patience to do so, an instructor may not be needed. But if you mentor is someone who has 10 more drysuit dives than you do, get yourself into a course. The time spent with an experienced instructor will help lessen the learning curve you will face when it comes to diving dry.

A course should cover minor repairs and finding leaks. Emergency procedures and ample time to become comfortable using a suit. No one becomes a proficient drysuit diver within two dives. More likely you will hate diving dry until at least your 10th or 20th dive. Keep with it.

Chances are, when you buy a drysuit from a shop or re-seller, they will more than likely throw in the training for free, but it can’t hurt to take the class anyway. You will in the very least get a chance to watch and emulate an experienced drysuit diver.

What is there to see?

What is there to see?

We get this question all the time at Good Life Divers. In fact, It’s the number one most frequently asked question (I have no supporting documentation to verify that claim).

I presume most folks that ask that question have never dove on Long Island and are a bit timid to put their heads into our “Murky” green water. Truth be told, our water here on the Island is clean, and relatively warm. If it wasn’t for algae and plankton our water would be crystal clear like that of Maine and Canada, at least during the winter and spring months. During the warmer months we have algae blooms that diminished the visibility greatly.

Good visibility can still be found here on the Island even during the warmest of months and sometimes especially the south shore beaches visibility can reach in excess of 40 feet!

But what about sea life? Is it all rocks and spider crabs? Well, sometimes yes, that might be all we see on a dive but that doesn’t mean there isn’t sea life in the area. We just didn’t get lucky enough to spot them.

A common mistake with divers in our waters is that the swim too fast and too far, missing most of the good stuff. The same can easily be said for divers visiting an expansive reef to, but with our limited visibility and limited underwater structures (especially along the shores) mean that most life is concentrated in small area and you may have to look very closely to see anything at all.

Here is the proof that there is sea life on Long Island, some photos were taken during shore dives and others off shore on wrecks.

Black Fish at Shinnecock inlet

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Fluke at Shinnecock inlet

Flounde

Flounder at Ponquogue Bridge

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Sunfish (Mola Mola) Above the Seawolf

Holy Mola-1

Holy Mola-2

Yummy Yummy Lobster

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Octopus at Oak Beach

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Butterfly fish at Beach 8th street

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Harbor Seal at Ponquogue Bridge

Ironman in the water

Nudibranchs on the Panty Wreck

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Nudibranchs  - HD 1080p

Lined Seahorse at Oak Beach

Seahorse 7

Seahorse 1

Northern Puffer fish at Oak beach

Puffer

Where do I go from here? Part 3

PART 3:

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From chapter 3 of the PADI Open water diver manual you will start hearing and learning about speciality courses. From an equipment specific course like a drysuit or DPV course to skill specific course like a navigation course, you as a diver will be inundated with offers to continue your education and take the next specialty course that your local shop offers. But which courses are really worth your money and time?

This is a hard question to answer since there are many variables that come into play. But here is my opinion. I will try to be as unbiased as possible since I can and do teach many of these courses.

PADI, NAUI, SSI, SDI all have very similar training progressions and standards. In fact many of their courses are exactly the same since they follow a universal standard in order to say they meet and exceed the ISO for a given class. The agency with which you take a recreational course is probably of least consequence. It starts getting different once you get into technical diving but that is beyond the reach of this article.

So if the agency doesn’t really matter, then how about the shop you choose to take the course with? Will the shop you started your education with provide the best course for your money?

Depends.

And it depends entirely on the instructor that is giving the course. Your instructor will make the biggest difference between a course that is worth while and one that is worthless.

Like what was mentioned in the previous article, you should take a wreck class from a wreck diver, a Sidemount class from a sidemount diver. A search and recovery class from a Fire/Police Diver and so on. I’ll go even further to say take the class from the diver you most wish to emulate.

Speaking as a busy instructor with a family and full time profession, it’s hard to make time to do the dives I like to do. One dive season before I started Good Life Divers I did nothing but do Open water checkout beach dives at two different sites. By the end of the season I was exhausted and never wanted to solely teach Open Water classes again. It wasn’t fair to my students or myself If all I ever did was dive the exact same profile week in and week out but was expected to be able to give a wreck or navigation course for the shop I taught for at the time.

So, in the following years I made sure I went out and did the dives I wanted to do. The ones that were fun for me. I traveled during the off season, I took some extra classes and I made every effort I could to ensure that when a student would ask about a certain course, I felt up to par to to teach it. Not all instructors feel that way. Not all dive shops encourage their instructional staff to make sure they are experts in the fields they can teach.

I have personally seen terrible courses. And I refuse to give them. I recently turned away a student that was asking about an equipment specialist course since I don’t feel I would have made the course worthwhile for him. There are much better instructors and equipment technicians to take that course from. I don’t want to give my students the same bad experience I had during my own advanced open water course.

First we met at a local beach and we were going to complete a Peak performance buoyancy dive, a search and recovery dive and a navigation dive all in the same day. The Peak performance buoyancy dive consisted of doing a weight check and “hovering” off the bottom in 5 feet of water without an instructor underwater to verify that it was actually done. I was wearing about 28lbs in a 3mil wetsuit, as per my instructor that was the perfect amount for me. Dive 1 done. And all it took was 6 minutes.

Dive 2 was my navigation dive, where from the exact same spot where I hovered I completed a square pattern which was all of about 20 x 20 feet wide. To my credit I did get back to where I started from. 3 minutes later Dive 2 done! Bam I’m such an advanced diver I thought!

Dive 3 was search and recovery. The instructor already had a lift bag attached to a cinder block using rope that he tied himself. Our job was to find the block, make it neutral and move it 5 feet and call it a day. Simple enough. We used a reel and did an arc search found it within about a minute or so since it was only about 10 feet away. We added air to the bag and moved it and surfaced. Dive 3 done! 16 minutes spent underwater today and I’ve already got 3 dives done!

The next day we were to meet at the Sea Hunter where we were going to complete our Deep and wreck dive. At this point in my career I have 24 dives. The deepest of which was 28 feet for 20 minutes. Oh well, to 100 feet I go!

The ride out to the wreck was uneventful and it was humbling watching all the tech divers gear up for their dives. We splashed in, and by we I mean my friend who happens to be a Divemaster but wasn’t working for the shop and another student. Our instructor was with another group. We splashed in and did a 30 minute dive on the wreck. This was probably my first real dive and it actually went very well. Aside from being grossly over weighted, we had amazing visibility (no joking, you could see the wreck from the surface) and just slight current. Back on board the boat we waited an hour to go back down.

Second dive, I don’t know if this was my deep dive or wreck dive but the profile was 84 feet for 17 minutes. Towards the end of the dive I noticed my SPG dipping to Zero with every breath. It scared me and I made a bee line for the anchor line. Half was up around 50 feet, I was so preoccupied with my SPG dipping that I forgot to release the air in my BCD and I made a polaris missile esque ascent. I came out of the water so high, if I had planned it, I could have probably landed back on the deck of the Sea hunter.

3 hours later back at the dock with an empty O2 bottle and a hell of a head ache, my instructor gave me the great news. I was an advanced diver. Woohoo! That was easy.

It had taken me a long time to realize that was a bad course. But at the time I was so pleased with myself that I had passed. I really didn’t think about it, Until I saw a group of cave divers hovering mid water motionless, that’s when I realized I may have been ripped off. I had no business having an advanced card, probably not even an Open water card since I couldn’t stay off the bottom.

So how do you know you are getting a good course? Did it challenge you physically and mentally? Did you feel and look like the type of diver you envisioned yourself afterwards? Did you actually complete all the course skills and standards. You can look them up if you wanted to or ask your instructor for a copy of them. With all of that said, when it comes to specialty courses, take the courses that will get you something out of them. Be it a new set of skills or
“permission” to do something you couldn’t do before.

For example, the nitrox course gets you Nitrox. The AOW and Deep course gets you new depth limits. The wreck, cavern and search and recovery course get you a new set of skills. The sidemount or full face mask course teach you how to safely dive a new and complicated piece of equipment. The drysuit course lessens the learning curve you will face from learning how to use it on your own.

There are some courses that don’t get you anything. Take the boat diver course. No boat captain I know will ever ask you for it to dive off of their boat. Unless you are going to take this course from an instructor that will teach you small boat handling skills, It’s probably not going to be worth your time. The drift diver course, even though covers a few specific skills to drift diving like carrying a float offers you nothing more than a detailed pre-dive briefing.

Instead of taking a Peak performance buoyancy course, Look for a course that requires the same amount of attention to buoyancy and teaches you more than just hovering through a hula hoop. Like a Basic Skills workshop, intro to tech or SOLO diver course or even the GUE Fundamentals course.

Here is a list of things you can do without taking a full on specialty course. Find yourself a good mentor or dive club and save your money for the really worthwhile courses.

Altitude diver, Boat diver, Drift diver, Multilevel diver, night diver, Peak performance buoyancy,
Underwater naturalist. All of the skills and performance requirements in these courses are achieved in other more robust courses or are gained during the dive briefing. On the other hand, If you can take a Fish ID course from a marine biologist, by all means do it. You will probably get your monies worth there.

With the right instructor your Wreck, Cavern, Deep, Search and recovery, Nitrox, photography or Videography, DPV, Dry suit, Equipment specialist, Ice Diving and Sidemount courses could all be money well spent. If that’s the type of diving that interest you.

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Where do I go from here? Part 2

PART 2

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A special note about Drysuits… Get one. The sooner the better. We have a short season here in the Northeast, get yourself a drysuit if you haven’t done so already and dive as much as possible. Save up, sell somethings on ebay, the sooner you invest in a drysuit, you will be mad at yourself for not doing it sooner. You can get a quality suit for under $1500.

So, you want to be a Wreck diver… Great! A Northeast wreck diver? Even better! The more divers interested in our local waters the better for everyone. Better for the dive boats, dive community, dive shops and instructors alike.

You got your Open water certification and your instructor couldn’t stop talking about diving the USS San Diego or the Oregon. Now you want to see what the fuss is all about it. You can’t just call up your local dive boat and hop right on the next trip, you are not ready for it just yet and most boats won’t or shouldn’t let a brand new diver on these trips just yet.

Make sure you got some dives under your belt after your Open water check out weekend. Preferably with an experienced buddy. May I suggest Ponquoque Bridge, Beach 8th street or the Bayville Barge for you first couple of dives? Get comfortable with just diving.

Make sure your buoyancy, weighting and finning are all in order. Also, 3 hours away from the dock on a pitching boat is not where you want to familiarize yourself with your own gear.

Once this is all squared away, get in touch with your instructor of choice. You need to do your due diligence here. You don’t have to go back to the same dive shop that certified you. It’s your life and the training you get at this point can either prepare you to enjoy this sport or merely survive it. Read reviews, ask for recommendations. Not all courses are created equal. Ask your potential instructor qualifying questions. When was their last wreck dive? Do they ever dive for fun? Are they doing the types of dives you want to be doing?

Your Advanced open water course should include a wreck dive. A real one. Dutch springs or any other local quarry is great for training and there is nothing wrong with getting a lot of dives there. But if you want to be a Northeast wreck diver you have to dive Northeast wrecks. I love diving the Helicopter as much as the next guy, (Though the surface swim sucks!) But it’s no substitution for the Iberia or Lizzy D.

Your AOW course should also discuss and you should physically practice diving with a pony bottle. Either a 19cf or 40cf Aluminum bottle. The former should be strapped to your main tank and the latter slung like a decompression bottle. Pony bottles are part of the Deep and wreck diver chapters in the PADI AOW Manual. So, insist that you are shown how to dive them in your courses. If your instructor refuses, or makes up some excuse that it’s not part of the course, move onto another instructor.

There is no such thing as a Pony bottle course or pony bottle diver certification, but you should get plenty of practice diving one with an instructor or mentor prior to using it on your pinnacle dives. You need to build up muscle memory and the confidence and trust in the bottle in order for it to be useful on a real dive, in a real emergency.

Your AOW course is done and you got your first two dives on the San Diego or the Lizzy D… Congrats! I told you it would be awesome. Now you want to see more of it? Great. You got your nitrox certification like I told you to do before? Great.

A quick word on tanks. At this stage in the game you don’t need the biggest tanks you can carry. Learn to do more with less. An aluminum 80 or a steel 100 can get you plenty of time on the wrecks if you learn to reduce your SAC/RMV rate. At this stage in the game you need to learn to relax in the water. Once your SAC is under control and you are starting to push the limits of the smaller tanks (That should keep you busy for awhile), then go bigger if need be, or go to doubles either side mounted or backmounted. Even a single LP120s or 130s are huge water heater tanks and a brand new diver may struggle ever becoming comfortable with them in the water keeping your SAC rate artificially high.


Just to prove my point, overfilling LP50s and diving them doubled provides 136cf of gas and is lighter, more manageable and trim better than a single 130.


Now you got a few dives under your belt, your SAC is good and you are extremely comfortable in the water and are ready for a new challenge.

The PADI Wreck diver course and Deep (as I think they should be taught together as they compliment each other very well and there isn’t a lot of good wrecks around here that are shallow) is an excellent BASIC Wreck diver course. Only if it’s taught by a good Wreck diver though. It can be an absolute waste of time and money or it can be as good as any basic cavern diver training course. You don’t have to penetrate the wreck during the course. But you should absolutely learn how to, even if you don’t plan to ever enter a wreck.

Your buoyancy should be superb after this course. You should have a solid anti-silting fin kick down cold. The helicopter turn and back kick should be well on their way to being mastered. You should learn to run a reel like the best of the cave explorers in Florida (I know this is a huge point of debate). SMB Deployments should be cake and you should leave the course with a great appreciation of the dangers present in wreck diving and some solid local diving knowledge.

If you take your entire Wreck diver and/or Deep diver course in Dutch Springs, you are getting cheated. Sadly, I see and hear about this happening all too often.

At this point you should just dive as much as possible. Maybe even the rescue diver course would be great at this time. At a certain point you might find yourself not getting the length of dives you want or maybe there is a wreck that is just out of the 130ft range that you absolutely want to visit. You will probably start considering taking technical diving courses.

Before taking an intro to tech or Advanced Nitrox/Deco-Procedures course or PADI Tec 40 – 50, Decide now what dive configuration do you want to do it in? Are you happy in back mount? Have you heard or seen sidemount being used on the boats and now you are really curious?

If Sidemount Diving has piqued your interest and you have weighed all the pros and cons and have decided that Sidemount is the best choice for you, learn to do it as early as possible in your diving career and well before taking or finishing your Tech training. Tech training has a lot to do with building and learning muscle memory and it’s better to develop it on the configuration you actually plan on using in your diving. What’s the point of spending tons of money on back mount gear just to take your Tec training to abandon it once you are done to learn sidemount?

Like with all training and things in life, you pay for what you get in Sidemount training. If you want to learn to sidemount dive off of the northeast wreck boats, don’t take your sidemount training in the tropics. There is a difference between learning and diving sidemount between Florida, Mexico, Europe and the Northeast. There are some amazing instructors in each of those regions, and I have personally taken courses with a few of them on my own sidemount cave diving, but they lack local knowledge and techniques that have been worked out by much trial and error here in our local waters by the very few Northeast sidemount divers.

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