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This is what it's like to scuba dive during the pandemic

March 20, 2021
10 min read
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Before taking that giant stride into the beautiful depths of the ocean below, scuba divers propose questions like, “Do I have enough air in my tank?” and “Is my breathing equipment working correctly?” as a part of their five-point predive buddy checklist -- an accident prevention measure both novice and veteran divers are encouraged to take for each dive.

Who knew that divers would be hit with adjusting to even more health and safety precautions beyond the normal equipment set up with the arrival of COVID-19?

If you haven’t dived since the pandemic began, it is expected that you'll have some concerns: how crowded the boat is; seating arrangements for post and prediving; and eating snacks prepared by others. Plus, deciding about gear: renting gear is an efficient way for travelers to keep their luggage light, but bringing your own equipment to a dive means that you are responsible for your gear and there is no need for anyone else to touch it.

Not to worry: you are not alone, and everyone from dive operators to instructors to avid divers are adjusting to enhanced sanitation and prevention measures against virus infection while diving.

"Scuba diving offers a unique opportunity for people to experience new adventures utilizing the ultimate form of social distancing: you’re literally using a Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA)", Kristin Valette-Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer for PADI (a leading dive organization with over 6,000 dive centers around the world) tells TPG. "So, scuba diving by definition is an activity not to avoid."

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(Photo by Profundo no Mundo/Getty Images)

What safety precautions are Caribbean dive operators taking?

Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts runs the largest PADI-certification program in the Caribbean; more than 100,000 divers having gone through the program. With this amount of diver volume, the resort group has implemented specific sanitation protocols.

“As part of our Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness, all dive equipment is put through rigorous cleaning procedures, including frequent sanitization of the dive pool decks as well as dive apparel before and after each use,” Michael Clarke, Sandals Resorts International Group Watersports and Marine Division Director tells TPG.

I experienced several dives during the pandemic and even reached my 60th dive achievement this February at Sandals South Coast in Jamaica. This experience in particular made me feel safe once I saw most people were wearing masks and socially distancing as much as possible on the 49-foot dive vessel. The fact that there is a lot of healthy ventilation from being in the open air made the experience seem safer than being in any type of indoor social setting. I also ate a light breakfast so I did not partake in the complimentary snacks on board.

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Some of the dive sites that I visited in Jamaica were only a five to 10-minute boat ride away from shore, including English Reef, Palm Tree, and the Sandals House Reef, which were teeming with spotted crab, lobster, stingrays, moray eels, and the invasive lionfish. I recommend keeping diving activities as close to shore as possible so you don't have to spend long periods of time on the boat with others.

Thinking of getting vaccinated? This can provide some assurance against the battle of infections. “All of our staff are fully vaccinated, as are other dive operators I know, and guests must all be COVID negative within five days of arrival on island, so we are all pretty confident that disease spread is less likely on dive charters than some other activities,” says Clare Jardine, co-owner of Dive Provo located on the island of Turks & Caicos.

Scuba diving instructors are also adjusting to the new COVID-19 norms. According to Elijah Jean-Baptiste, who is based in Barbados and a Master Instructor (the second-highest certification in diving), “We are now encouraging instructors and students to keep their face masks on during training in the pool. On the dive boats, each guest has their own bucket for their mask and regulator.”

What's it like to dive in Mexico right now?

Diving in Cancun is a must-do, as there are the surreal, water-flooded cenotes, shark action and even an underwater museum.

For American expat and financial coach, Nick D'Urso who is based in Cancun, diving in Mexico diving during the pandemic has been taken seriously. "On the boat, it's important to wear your masks out of the water since most people have traveled here for vacation," says D'Urso. "The fear of getting COVID-19 seems to have worn off as COVID-19 is now the 'norm' around the world. In my experience, it's mainly about being responsible for those who spend time with older people back home after diving. There's a responsibility we should all be taking to be safe."

 

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Underwater photographers are also adjusting to the impact COVID-19 has had on their profession.

"We were lucky that we were only out of the water three months before the cenotes re-opened” says Tom St. George, an award-winning underwater photographer based in Mexico. “It's good to see sensible precautions in place such as taking people's temperature at cenote dive site entrances and requiring masks to be worn. The biggest change during scuba courses is that any skills requiring sharing a regulator are now simulated so you don't put someone else's regulator in your mouth. We are also seeing more teaching be done out in the fresh air, which is much nicer than being in a stuffy classroom."

 

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I visited Los Cabos last November amid the pandemic and went diving with Dive Ninja Expeditions, a local tour operator. I felt safe diving with this company as everyone wore masks and our dives took place at the Pelican Rock and Lands End dive sites, only a five-minute boat ride from shore. Even with the expedition taking so close to shore, there was still lots to see, including schools of swarming sardines. If you're thinking of visiting Los Cabos and taking a dive tour, the Dive Ninja Expeditions keeps their website updated with COVID-19 protocols.

Bottom line

If you are traveling to a points hotel or resort this year, check with the property to see if they can recommend a local dive operator that is implementing sanitation and mask-wearing standards. As scuba diving takes place in the open air and underwater, if you are able to keep a distance from others on the dive boat and wear masks as much as possible before getting in the water, these precautions will help to prevent COVID-19 infections.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees