15 Skills Every Scuba Diver Should Master

Scuba diving is not just about looking at beautiful corals and swimming alongside exciting marine animals. There is a lot of skill behind diving efficiently and safely. You learn these skills as part of your Open Water course, but it is important to keep practicing them and becoming more and more confident with your diving technique.

Here are 15 skills every scuba diver should master.

1.Mask clear

Clearing water from the mask is an essential skill every diver should know how to do. If your mask foods, or your mask strap breaks underwater you need to know how to stay calm even with some water in your eyes. Many beginners struggle with this and they want to bolt to the surface. It is not always safe to head to the surface so learning to stay calm and clear your mask underwater is a skill you should be confident in performing.

Learn How to do a Proper Buoyancy Check to enhance your diving skills.

2. Checking gauges without being prompted

During your Open Water course you are taught how to check your air and communicate how much you have left to your dive buddy or dive guide. During the course you will be prompted to do this, but after you are certified, it is important to get in the habit of checking your air by yourself. You are responsible for your own safety underwater, and this starts with making sure you never get too low on air.

3. Equalization

Equalization comes easily to some people but for others it can be tricky. The main thing to remember is to equalize frequently, get into the habit of equalizing your ears way before any pain occurs. If you wait until your ears hurt before you equalize, you are waiting too long. Experiencing pain in the ears underwater, or pushing too hard to equalize can lead to ear barotrauma or even a burst ear drum. If you experience pain, or cannot clear your ears, do not go any deeper, stop where you are, try again, or even shallow up slightly and try again.

Here are some more tips about How to Equalize Ear Pressure.

4. Neutral buoyancy

Good buoyancy control is what separates the novices from the expert scuba divers. Good buoyancy control is beneficial for many reasons; it helps you to save your air as you are not becoming out of breath from kicking and sculling, it allows you to get closer to check out marine life without bumping into it and harming it, and it protects the clarity of the water as you will not be kicking up sand.

If you are interested in perfecting your buoyancy control, check out the SSI Perfect Buoyancy Specialty program where you will learn how to control your buoyancy like a pro.

5. Entering the water

Jumping into the water for a scuba dive is not as simple as you might think. There are a few steps involved to enter the water safely and efficiently. From the giant stride, to the backwards roll, you should know which technique is most suitable for the boat or dive entry you are starting from. It is important to remember to hold your mask and regulator to your face, have enough air in your BCD to float when you hit the water, and hold your weight belt securely. You should also make sure that you have performed all your buddy checks before entering the water, and make sure you have everything you need for the dive.

Here are 3 ways scuba divers can enter the water from a boat.

6. Hand signals

Hand signals are essential when trying to communicate with other divers underwater. You should be confident asking how much air another diver has, how to answer that question if someone asks you, how to ask and express that you are okay, how to tell others that you want to end the dive, and it is fun to know hand signals for some marine life you might see.

7. Sharing air

Hopefully you will never have to use this skill, but it is important to know the procedure for an out of air scenario just in case. If you were to run out of air during a dive, you should be able to confidently go to your buddy and signal "out of air", take their alternate regulator, put it in your mouth, clear it, and then hold onto them to stay close as you both surface slowly and safely.

8. Ascending slowly and performing a safety stop

Safety stops at the end of a dive help scuba divers to allow excess nitrogen to off-gas before exiting the water. It is important not to skip these safety stops, and to always ascend slowly to avoid developing decompression sickness.

9. Understand NDLs

Sticking to NDLs (no decompression limits) also helps us to avoid developing decompression sickness. NDLs are a guide to the amount of time it is safe for us to stay at a particular depth. You can figure out your NDLs by using a dive table, but most divers now use dive computers which are more accurate and easier to use. Always check your NDLs and do not exceed them.

10. Pre-dive checks

No matter how experienced a scuba diver is, they should always perform a pre-dive check with their buddy before jumping in the water. These easy checks help you to make sure you have not forgotten anything important. The check should include making sure that the BCD inflates and deflates properly, checking weights are on and secure, making sure all buckles and clips are secure (including the one on the tank), testing the regulators and making sure the air is turned on, and ensuring everything is streamline and you have all you need for the dive (including cameras and flashlights if necessary).

An advanced skill you can learn is underwater photography. Check out A Beginner’s Guide to Underwater Photography to learn more.

11. Finning and body position

It can take some practice to perfect body position and finning while scuba diving. When finning, your legs should be straight and you should not be bending your knees too much, your body should be horizontal and your arms should be by your sides or out in front to remain streamline. There are other finning techniques you can learn once you get more experienced, such as the frog kick and the scissor kick. You can even learn how to kick in reverse!

12. Respecting marine life

Not strictly a skill, but an important rule to follow nonetheless. Respecting marine life is an essential part of scuba diving. This includes not harassing, chasing, or harming animals, not getting too close, not kicking corals, not kicking up sand, and not taking anything from the ocean or leaving anything in the ocean that does not belong there (cigarette butts, plastic etc)

13. Navigation

This is a more advanced skill that can come in very handy after you become certified. Learning to navigate a dive either with a compass, or by using visual markers can keep you from getting lost underwater.

Check out the SSI Navigation Specialty Program to learn how to navigate while scuba diving.

14. Cleaning equipment

Learning how to clean your equipment properly will save you money in the long run. Salt water can erode the materials on your gear, stop your zips from opening and closing, damage your regulators etc. Always rinse your equipment with fresh water, and dry everything thoroughly. When storing your equipment for long stints of time, make sure it is not in direct sunlight, not exposed to damp, and is completely dry to avoid mold from growing.

15. Being a good buddy

You can be a good dive buddy in many ways, from checking in on your buddy throughout the dive, staying close to them, reassuring them if they are nervous before diving, and sharing pictures and staying in touch after the dive. You should always feel safe with your dive buddy, and make sure they feel that way too.

Here are some more tips on How to be the best dive buddy you can be.

How many of these skills have you mastered?