Guest Writer: Tom E McManamon
Mention scuba diving and a lot of people can be forgiven for thinking of far away places, but set your sights closer to home. The coast of Ireland offers world class diving and has provided me with some of my most memorable diving.
The north, south, east and west coasts of Ireland offer remarkable dive sites and provide excellent locations to learn to dive.
Scuba diving in Ireland not only gives you the opportunity to experience a whole new world that exists below the surface but once you have qualified to dive you also get a chance to visit some well-known locations as well as accessing more remote or lesser travelled places above water.
Boat diving gives you a chance to see Ireland from a new perspective, and that is from the sea. Our country is surrounded by some of the most stunning coastline with towering cliffs, secluded coves and caves, golden beaches and bays dotted with islands steeped in history and mythology, and often only accessible by boat. Before you even enter the water scuba diving already has so much to offer and I haven't mentioned the wildlife or underwater landscape yet!
In the years that I have being diving, if I had a euro for every time I was asked "why would you dive in Ireland?... there's nothing to see" well I'd probably only have about 10 euros but it is a common misconception out there. Believe me, the waters around Ireland are full of the most incredible marine species.
You'll find tiny multicoloured nudibranchs, remarkable and beautiful little creatures that hang out on the reefs and kelp. Pink, translucent shrimp, stand in rows like a tiny orchestra of violin players. Squat and common lobsters hide among the crevices and boulders keeping watch over these strange visitors to their world.
Cuckoo wrasse curiously approach and swim along with you. Blennys, gobys and gurnards with their funny expressions sit on rocks, watching life go by.
You'll see massive shoals of fish hang in the inner space of mid-water gracefully moving to and fro in the currents. Mighty Basking sharks slowly ply the waters, their mouths gaping wide as they feed on zooplankton and tiny fish. The list goes on and on but never think that our seas are empty. There is an underwater world of wondrous beauty and burgeoning life waiting for you to explore.
If your curiosity is peaked you might want to know how to go about learning to scuba dive. There are two main ways to learn to dive in Ireland or the world for that matter. You can learn with a commercial dive school offering classes or opt to join a scuba diving club which are non-commercial operations owned and run by it's members.
Commercial dive school/centres usually operate under PADI which is a dedicated scuba diving training organization. You pay to join a beginners course and once qualified, you can then continue to pay for each dive you do after with that centre or any other located around the world. You can also continue to train for more qualifications.
Scuba diving clubs, on the other-hand, are non-commercial and operate in conjunction with the Irish Underwater Council, commonly known as CFT (Comhairle Fó-Thuinn). These clubs operate based on membership fees paid each year to cover costs of renting/operating premises, maintaining equipment etc. You pay for your initial training course and then have the option of becoming a member of that club. As a member you dive with the club, usually at reduced rates compared to that of commercial dive centres and can continue to train for more qualifications. Once you have qualified with a club you are also free to dive at PADI dive centres anywhere in the world.
Both options have pros and cons associated with them and different people will have different answers but I'll sum up a few of the more obvious differences here.
PADI dive centres give you the option of diving when you want to without the cost of a yearly membership. Diving costs are usually higher than those charged by clubs which may only charge for fuel costs or sometime offer free local diving as part of your membership. In this situation you only pay for dives that happen during weekends away in Ireland.
Dive clubs usually have a good social aspect to them as you meet and dive with the same people regularly as well as socialise at club events. With dive centres you may have different people turning up each time. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I think that is one of the major differences between club and dive centre diving.
PADI dive centres offer full equipment rental which you will need when you are starting out. If you choose to keep diving then you can continue to rent equipment. If you intend on diving fairly regularly you are better to buy you own equipment as renting will be expensive. You can buy your own equipment over time and only rent what you need until you are fully kitted.
Diving clubs will also have equipment available for you to use during your course and also for rent when you have qualified. This is based on you having joined the club and is usually available at a lower cost.
You are encouraged to buy your own gear and will benefit most from the familiarisation that this will provide. As you start to dive more, you will want to hone your skills and using different equipment each time can hinder this. You have made the commitment to join a club so you are probably going to be diving for many years to come. Investing in your own gear is just that, an investment in your enjoyment of diving as well as saving you money renting.
There is an active secondhand market available also as people upgrade or change equipment so that is a good way to keep your costs lower.
So on to the training. Commercial dive schools run courses throughout the year whereas dive clubs may only run one or two per year. You can go along to a club "Try a Dive" swimming pool session which is a free, non committal option to try out the gear and go for a dive in the swimming pool. This will give you some idea of what diving is like but believe me it's no comparison to the real thing. And most importantly remember that it may feel strange at first but instructors will be there to assist you and if you sign up for a course you will have dedicated instructors on hand to make sure you have all the assistance you need. All courses are performed to strict safety standards so you will be safe in the hands of your instructors and supporting staff.
Remember what it was like to ride a bike for the first time? Never thought you'd do it eh? Guess what...it's second nature to you now and scuba diving will be just the same once you take it at your own pace. Some people take to it likes ducks to water, some need a little longer but that's what your instructors are there for. Believe me, it'll be well worth it in the end.
Course will usually take 6 - 8 weeks depending on the school or club you take your course with. Courses consist of classroom sessions followed by time in the pool learning the skills.At the end of the course you are required to take a short test to check you knowledge followed by a test in the pool to check your skills. Once that is done you are ready to take to the sea for your first real dive. Your first dives will be completed under the supervision of an instructor, on a one to one basis or, in the case of PADI courses, with a group of trainees. Once you have completed the required number of dives and the instructor is satisfied that you are suitably trained you will then receive your certification qualifying you as a trainee diver.
Congratulations you have just taken the first steps into inner space. You are now a qualified diver and the worlds seas, oceans and lakes are your new playground.
Article by: Tom McManamon
If you would like to find out more about scuba diving in Ireland or other outdoor activities in Ireland visit [http://activitycentre.ie]
If you would like to find out more about adventure scuba diving in Antarctica or the Arctic go to http://newhorizonexpeditions.com
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