This is what it’s like to scuba dive during the pandemic
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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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.
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.
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 Georgette Douwma/Getty Images
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