Scuba Diving Skills: Monthly Goals to Become a Better Diver

The New Year is here, and you might be thinking of involving scuba diving in your plans or resolutions. If you aim to become a better scuba diver, we are here to help! We have created a list of top tips and scuba diving skills for you and your dive buddies to work on each month of the year.

This list will keep you on track all year; it provides something dive-related to learn every month, links to interesting articles and courses, and fun things to try on your dives. Best of all, by practicing your scuba diving skills, you will become an expert-level diver by the end of the year.

1.January: Perfect your mask clearing.

Mask clearing is the skill that most new divers have issues with during the Open Water Diver program. When water enters the mask and touches your nose or eyes, there can be a moment of panic.

As uncomfortable as water in your mask can feel, mask clearing is one of those scuba diving skills that you need to be able to perform seamlessly - as it is a scenario that could happen to you in real life. If you are deep underwater, it is dangerous to bolt to the surface because water has entered your mask, so you need to become comfortable clearing your mask on a dive.

Some divers do not practice this skill after their Open Water Diver program, but they really should. The more you practice, the more at ease you will feel doing it. Dedicate January to practice when you can, a couple of times during your dives, and perhaps during the safety stop. 

Ready to book your next big dive trip? Here is our: Diving Bucket List: 6 Great Dive Spots for 2024.

If you are nervous about mask clearing during a dive, start in shallow water. Ask your dive buddy to hold onto your BCD chest strap while you try clearing your mask at say 5 meters deep. Knowing you are in shallow water and that someone is holding on to you can reduce feelings of panic while you learn.

2. February: Work on your trim.

Trim is your position in the water when you are scuba diving and how streamlined you are. Having good trim will help you maintain good buoyancy control, help with orientation and position in the water, and even improve your air consumption.

Ideal trim for scuba diving involves your body being in a horizontal position, with all your hoses and diving extras tucked in close to your body. In addition to this, you should be kicking with your legs and moving your body with your legs; your arms should not be used much to move you underwater.

This helps you to stay relaxed and conserve air, keeps your hands safe from hitting coral or sharp rocks, and keeps your hands available for performing hand signals. During your February dives, ask your buddy to film you and look at the footage to see how your trim is. Make improvements and compare at the end of the month to see your progress.

3. March: Buoyancy, buoyancy, buoyancy.

Buoyancy is one of the most important scuba diving skills to master. Poor buoyancy control can put you at risk of hitting overhead hazards such as boats, going too deep, and affecting your no-decompression limits.

Poor buoyancy control can also make you out of breath which will make you consume your air faster. Good buoyancy control involves hovering in the middle of the water, so that you are not on the ground, and you are not floating on the surface. This is called neutral buoyancy.

Maintaining neutral buoyancy also ensures the water visibility stays clear when you dive, as you will not be kicking up sand from the floor. Dedicate March to perfecting your buoyancy skills and sign up for the Perfect Buoyancy program to give yourself a head start.

Want to hover like a pro? Here are: 5 Tips to Perfect Your Buoyancy.

4. April: Navigation.

Navigation is a great skill to have when scuba diving. During the Open Water Diver program and when you become an SSI Advanced Diver, you will practice some navigation to get used to using a compass underwater, as well as using natural points of reference to navigate your way around a dive site and find the exit.

Use April to brush up on your navigation skills by becoming aware of natural reference points during your dives. Large coral bombies, interesting rock formations, and sunken debris can all be used to help you navigate your way back to the dive starting point.

Or if you feel ready, sign up for the Underwater Navigation specialty.

5. May: Hand signals.

When you learn to dive, you will practice using a variety of hand signals to help you communicate with fellow scuba divers underwater. You will learn basic hand signals such as "okay", "up", "down", "problem", "how much air do you have?", and numbers to help you to answer that question.

But there are more advanced hand signals that you can use, such as how to point out various marine life. For example, "shark", "turtle", "lionfish", "seahorse", and "clownfish".

Love learning about marine life? Enhance your scuba diving skills with SSI’s Underwater Naturalist specialties.

If you dive in the same area regularly, chances are you will see similar marine life species each time. Use May to research marine life that you are likely to spot and learn the hand signals for each type of marine life.

6. June: Planning dives.

How to plan a dive and why it is important is one of the main scuba diving skills you learn in the Open Water Diver program. It is a great skill to carry on into your future dives and to keep practicing to stay safe.

Before diving, it is good to have a plan of how deep you intend to go and for how long before you shallow up. With this information, you can use your dive computer or dive table to figure out the length of surface interval you need before jumping in for a second dive. You can also figure out how deep that second dive can be.

Planning your dives reduces your risk of decompression sickness, so this June, make it a habit to plan your dives thoroughly and ensure you and your buddies are all using the same plan. You could also sign up for the SSI Computer Diving program to learn how to get the most out of your dive computer on every dive.

7. Be a great dive buddy.

Being a dive buddy is an important role. A dive buddy’s job is to keep their buddy safe and act in an emergency. There are many things you need to do to be a good dive buddy, including:

  • Stay close to your buddy at all times.
  • Check in with your buddy regularly throughout the dive.
  • Be knowledgeable and confident with ‘out of air’ procedures and practice them regularly.
  • Creating a bond before and after the dives.

Use July to brush up on the above scuba diving skills and be the best dive buddy you can be.

Need more tips? Check out: How to be the best dive buddy you can be.

8. August: Invest in your equipment.

You might not be in a position to be able to buy a full set of dive gear, but even having a few basic items can make your dives more comfortable. Having a mask that fits your face well prevents leaks and helps you to relax during your dive. Having your own buoyancy control device (BCD) allows you to get a perfect fit and know where all the pockets and hoses are every time you dive. 

Consider treating yourself to some equipment this August to make your diving experiences better. Unsure what to buy first? Then check out our article Diving Gear: 9 Essential Items Every Diver Should Have to help you prioritise and choose the right dive kit for you.

9. September: Work on your photography skills.

Taking underwater photographs and videos will help you to look back on a fantastic diving experience with your family and friends, and it will make you a popular dive buddy! If you become a good underwater photographer, you might even make some money selling your prints.

Whatever reason you have to work on your underwater photography skills, you will not regret having documented all the beautiful marine life and landscapes you see while diving. Consider taking the SSI Photo & Video specialty this September to give yourself a head start.

RELATED: Underwater Photography: 7 Beginner Tips To Get You Started.

10. October: Sign up for a new specialty.

Want to add to your diving knowledge this October? There are so many dive specialties to choose from, each designed to help you develop and improve your scuba diving skills in various ways depending on what you are interested in.

How about learning how to night dive with the Night Diving and Limited Visibility specialty? Or explore some shipwrecks with the Wreck Diving specialty? Check out the SSI website for more options.

11. November: Dive out of your comfort zone.

When you have confidence in your scuba diving skills, consider signing up for a dive that you have not experienced before. For example, perhaps you feel ready to dive with sharks or maybe you want to try drift diving in strong currents. 

There are many different types of dives available around the world, from wreck diving to ice diving, so why not try something new this November?

Want to try out some drift diving? Here are our: 7 Best Places to Go Drift Diving.

12. December: Fish identification.

To round off the year, use December to brush up on your marine life knowledge. Knowing exactly what you are looking at during a dive makes the experience so much better. You can also point out rare and exciting fish to your buddies and use them as a talking point on the boat afterwards.

Check out a fascinating ocean documentary to learn about interesting marine life, or sign up for the Marine Ecology specialty to learn how ocean organisms interact with each other and their environments.

Happy New Year from SSI! We hope you have an exciting year full of wonderful dives with great dive buddies.

Before you dive in, join our new Underwater Explorers Worldwide Facebook group.

This is a supportive network of passionate divers who are eager to share their experiences and tips to enhance your diving adventures all year. See you there!