My open water course had come to an end and it was time to become a qualified diver.

The final open water dives aimed to reinforce all of the skills I had been taught and put them to work. There were some additional skills that were introduced on the final day of the course, such as underwater navigation using a compass, and inflating the surface marker buoy whilst underwater.

Beyond this however, the sessions were mainly about practice and having fun.

On the first dive of the day, we began with a standard five step descent using a buoy for reference. My ability to sink and position myself in the water had improved dramatically, and I was able to stop myself before reaching the bottom and disturbing the seabed.

We set off amongst large moss-covered rocks and navigated our way round, slowly getting deeper and deeper. On this dive we reached 15 metres deep. We were immersed in schools of fish, of all kinds, swimming to and fro and feeding on the dense algal communities that covered the rocks.

We swam like this for ten minutes, until it was time to head back. My air had reached 120 bar – this is the usual turnaround point of a dive. I later learned that I had consumed air very rapidly compared to my instructor.

When I asked her why this is, she told me that when you are more calm and comfortable in the water, you will naturally use less air. Before setting off I had to perform the mask completely off skill; I imagine this cost me a significant amount of air, as I tend to panic when the mask comes off and water fills my nose.

When we were near the shore, we stopped for a safety stop. This is when you spend approximately three minutes at five metres deep. This stop allows any nitrogen bubbles in the blood to diffuse back out, and hence prevents decompression sickness.

Since we had only been underwater for 25 minutes, and no deeper than 15 metres, this was not strictly necessary. However, it was one of the last skills to perform and is always good practice.

When we re-emerged on land, we stopped for some lunch and water. We then briefed ourselves for the final dive. It was time to go to 18 metres: the maximum that any open water diver can go.

We started the dive the same as we would any. On our way down I began to feel a sharp pain in my ear. I had not equalised properly. This was a good opportunity to signal to my instructor.

I signalled “something wrong”, “can’t equalise”. From my course, I knew the correct thing to do was ascend a little and try again. I did this and after a few moments of blowing, my ears stopped hurting and we could continue the dive as planned.

We slowly descended, on a different route than last time. We swam across a sandy plain, past an old anchor and a sunken boat. Countless fish were aggregated there, nipping away at the rich food supply that grew from the boat’s frame.

Sunken boats provide refuge and food for many species of fish. This makes sunken boats one of the most thrilling sights whilst diving. Picture sourced from National Geographic.

I looked at my dive computer. We were 18 metres deep. I looked above and could barely make out the sea surface. It was beautiful.

After a few moments of taking it all in, we began to explore and slowly ascended again. We reached a point, halfway in the water column, in which both the surface and the sea floor were equally far away. It was like I was flying. The whole experience was a constant source of euphoria.

Unfortunately, my tank had reached 120 bar. I signalled to my instructor and we began to swim back. We surfaced – no need for a safety stop this time – and I took off my gear.

I was now a qualified open water diver.

I can’t recommend this course enough. If you have a passion for exploration, deep sea life, or a love of thrills, diving will prove to be one of the most rewarding experiences that you can do.

After some reflection of my course, I decided that I would like to put my qualification to work and embark on some recreational dives. It didn’t take long to decide that one day soon, I would continue my diving journey with the advanced open water course.

Written by Lucas King