Scuba diving parties for kids

Learning to snorkel
Learning to snorkel

Earlier this month we hosted a scuba diving birthday party in our pool, for a group of extremely excited eight year olds. It was a slightly chaotic but enormously enjoyable day! The boys first mastered the use of snorkels, making drawings on slates while submerged. We were impressed by how well they took to skin diving, and they rocketed up and down the pool like sea otters.

After that they tried out scuba gear, and we were amused by the various ways they found to enjoy themselves. One of the boys kept inflating his BCD because he liked the sound the over-pressure valve made. Another made foamy fountains of water by purging his octo in the shallows. Others seemed to feel like Jacques Cousteau as they explored the pool! We taught them how to inflate an SMB using their spare regulator, and brought out our collection of underwater cameras for them to take innumerable selfies and group portraits that they could take home with them.

Parties like this are ideal for small groups of four to six participants, as they are supervision-intensive and a small group lets each child fully enjoy their turn to try out scuba gear under the supervision of the instructor. A little bit of advance planning is recommended for the purposes of paperwork, so get in touch sooner rather than later if you think this is something your child might enjoy. We can conduct the event in your swimming pool at home if it’s less than two metres deep, or at our pool. We have conducted a similar event at the Virgin Active gym, but that requires special permission. Be warned, the scuba diving bug might bite!

Sketching on slates
Sketching on slates

The PADI Bubblemakers and Seal Team programs are designed for kids aged 8-10, and enable them to master the use of scuba gear in the swimming pool. You can read more about those programs on the PADI website. From the age of 10, children can obtain a Junior Open Water qualification, which upgrades to a full Open Water qualification when they turn 15.

I’ve carefully chosen these photos so you can’t identify the kids, hence their mixed quality! The big kid with the silver hair is Tony.

Christmas gift guide 2012

In the interest of planning ahead, here’s our annual Christmas gift guide. This is specially for the people whose idea of a good gift is “whatever’s available in a shop close to the mall entrance on 23 December!”


For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Make sure you know the returns/exchanges policy of wherever you make your purchases. Some places can be difficult, and if the mask doesn’t fit it’s no good at all!

For lady divers

For the diving lady in your life (or your man friend with too much hair), what about some rich hair conditioner to apply before going in the water – suggestions here, otherwise try what I’m currently using: Aussie Moist Three Minute Miracle, which is available at Clicks. A pack of cheap, soft fabric elasticated hairbands is a good stocking filler.

Some high SPF, waterproof sunscreen, or a nice hooded towel for grown ups (available in one or two of the surf shops in Muizenberg) would also not go amiss.


Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these! Contact Tony for prices.

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions


Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.

My underwater alphabet is available for R200 in A1 size, fully laminated. Shout if you want a copy.

If you take your own photos, you could print and frame a couple, or experiment with stretched canvas prints if that’s your thing. A digital photo frame pre-loaded with underwater images is also a lovely gift for a diving friend.


For the person who has everything, or because you’re feeling grateful:

Christmas gift guide 2011

It’s that time of year again. I trust you are all feeling suitably festive. Here’s our annual (well, second so far) Christmas gift guide. Use it/don’t use it…


For the reader, you could check out our book reviews, arranged by topic:

There are also a couple of children’s books to consider.

Dive gear

Check out What’s in My Dive Bag for some ideas… You can contact Andre for most of these:

Probably not a good idea to get a mask unless the place you buy it will let the person exchange it if it doesn’t fit!


For the person who has everything, or just because you’re feeling grateful:


Don’t forget to add a memory card for the lucky recipient’s camera if you plan to gift any of these!

For those who need (or like) to relax

Magazine subscriptions

Wall art

Clip Clop designs and prints beautiful tide charts for Cape Town and Durban and moon phase charts for the year. You can order online or find them at Exclusive Books.

“Will you marry me?”

We had a request from a Discover Scuba candidate called Jacques, for assistance in proposing to his girlfriend, Kalika. He wanted to do this during the dive. Being Discover Scuba candidates and not qualified divers meant we had to ensure they were comfortable in the water and enjoying the dive before we could attempt this.

I also had to be really close, as that is the standard with first time divers, yet far enough away in case she said no and took a swing at him. Well, none of this happened! They were comfortable and enjoying their dive when I stopped them, got them settled on the sand and handed him a slate to write on.

I won’t give the details of the slate’s contents other than to say there was a “YES!”, a fair amount of clumsy hugging in dive gear and a huge plastic and silver dummy engagement ring. Jacques then punched the air… um, water with glee several times a minute for the rest of the dive and swam with great gusto in circles around the rest of us. Needless to say his air was up long before the rest of us but once on the surface the happiness and hugging continued.

Jacques and Kalika on the surface after their successful dive
Jacques and Kalika on the surface after their successful dive

Back on the beach a little fox terrier appeared with a package strapped to his collar and in this package was the real ring. Clare had flowers ready and we handed them to Jacques whilst Kalika was distracted. Within minutes of exiting the water she had a (real!) ring and flowers in her hand and a humungous smile on her face. We also had a video camera (ably operated by the legendary Kate) and a still camera on the dive and were able to supply the couple with a short movie (above) and many photos of the event from start to finish.

Congratulations Jacques and Kalika! We wish you a lifetime of happiness together!

Communicating underwater

One of the things I love about diving is the silence – the only sounds are your breathing, and the sounds of the underwater world. These could include crackling coral, the sound of parrotfish munching the coral or triggerfish being aggressive, and perhaps boat traffic above. Unless you’re wearing a full face mask (ask Andre about those fabulous devices) you won’t be able to rely on normal speech to make your thoughts and needs known. So what are the options?

Inaudible communication

Hand signals

There are the standard scuba signals that you’ll learn on your Open Water course (OK, I have a problem, up, down, etc), there are fairly standard signals for various kinds of fish (the one for shark being the most obvious!) and then there are the hand signals you’ll invent as you go along. If you have a regular dive buddy, you’ll be surprised how much you can communicate with each other as you figure out a little language between yourselves.

Justin and Fritz in Sodwana
Justin and Fritz chatting at the safety stop in Sodwana

I was highly amused to see in Sodwana that Fritz and Justin the Silver Fox, who are regular dive buddies in Cape Town, chat more underwater than on land. Thanks to his hand signals, the famously taciturn Fritz almost had his own current system swirling around him at the safety stop after our deep dive, as he and Justin discussed the turtles we’d seen and the shark who’d swum by in the distance. The photo above is dodgy because I think I was laughing so much when I took it!


If you’re in an environment where it’s dark enough for a light to be discerned, such as a cave, wreck or on a night dive, you can use your light to get your buddy’s attention. DO NOT shine it in his eyes… I can’t tell you how annoying that is!


Slates are usually white pieces of plastic that you can write on underwater with a pencil, and show to your buddy. This method of communication isn’t ideal for emergencies or for getting someone’s attention at a distance, but they can come in handy… Such as when Tami wrote “SMB?” at me on her slate after a wreck dive on the SAS Pietermaritzburg, while we completed our safety stop.

Audible communication

One of the central tenets of safe recreational scuba diving is to dive in a buddy pair, and buddy awareness is essential. You should be close enough to see your buddy’s face, if not to actually reach out and touch him. Audible signalling devices should thus not be necessary.

In an ideal world of perfect buddies and perfect diving conditions, none of these devices would be necessary. Fact is, they do come in handy, more often than not.


A shaker looks like a sealed test tube made of plastic, with a metal ball inside it. They are marketed under such catchy names as “Aqua Maraca”, which make me want to crawl under a table and hide.

You attach it to your kit somewhere, and shake it to make a loud rattling noise underwater that will hopefully get your buddy’s attention. Just make sure your buddy knows what it sounds like underwater so that he’s not left looking around wondering what that odd noise is, while you get into trouble!

These can be SUPER annoying if you misuse them… I’m just saying!

Signalling devices
Signalling devices, from left to right: shaker, air horn, whistle

Tank bangers

This is nothing more than a large ball or bead on an elastic band that you put over your cylinder. When you want to signal to someone, you reach back and snap the elastic, hopefully causing the bead to bang against the tank. (This is the ideal device for Tony, who LOVES to snap elastics of all kinds.)

This is a very simple device and very easy to make at home, but relies on you positioning it such that you can reach around to it when you need it. If you’re stuck somewhere, or have limited arm dexterity when in a wetsuit, perhaps this isn’t the right choice for you.

You could equally well rap on your cylinder with anything else hard that you have at hand – dive knife, torch, or a well-placed stone if you’re desperate!

Air horns

An air horn attaches to your inflator hose, and works above and below the surface. It’s essentially a pneumatic signalling device that takes a bit of air from your cylinder and uses it to generate a sound. This is probably the quickest of the noise-making signalling devices to use, because you should be very familiar with the location of your inflator button and able to find it by touch.

(Just as an aside, an air horn can be more useful than a whistle above the surface because you don’t need to remove your regulator to use it.)


If you’re quite nearby to someone, you can potentially get their attention by yelling into your regulator. Tony’s Zero to Hero student Kate would often sing classic rock songs to herself while we swam, and when I was buddied with her I could hear her singing. As far as forming actual understandable words… Well, good luck!

I love my BCD


I bought a SEAC Sub Muse (click on the British flag at the top right to change the language to English) at Andre’s shop in Simon’s Town earlier this year. I’m coming up for my 50th dive in it, and every time I wear it I am reminded of how much I love using it.

It has integrated zippered weight pockets, and I take full advantage of the opportunity that presents for fine-tuning my weight… From a shallow dive at Long Beach, to a deep dive, I can make quick adjustments during the course of a day. Having a spare weight pocket in my dive bag is a necessity – I have not lost one yet, but it’s possible that I could drop one when handing the weight pockets up onto the boat one day. The pockets click in and out quite easily, and it is very easy to feel when you’ve got the pocket seated properly.

The BCD comes standard with a whistle (black – not so easy to spot!) attached to the inflator hose, and a large pocket that actually expands at the pull of a tab to hang almost down to your knee, should you wish it to. It’s not very easy to put big things into the pocket when the weight pockets are full, but it’s perfect for an SMB, a slate and a knife, as well as any golf balls that you may collect during a dive. The pocket is not easy to see once the BCD is on (can’t twist your body much, because the weight pockets are quite rigid), so I had to practice finding the zip and opening it sight unseen. Gloves make everything harder!

Kitting up in Sodwana
Kitting up in Sodwana - me on the left, Tony on the right, Tami behind him

I don’t use the inflator hose to let air out of the BCD. I am not even sure if it works for deflation, to be honest! From day one I have been using the dump valve on the right shoulder – I just make sure that the little string is lying on top of all my clips and hoses so that I can reach it without looking down. I can also reach the dump valve near my bottom, but I don’t tend to use that on myself (only on others, when I think they need a hand adjusting their buoyancy… super annoying, I bet!).

This is a rear inflation BCD… I learned to dive using surround inflation, and found it very unpleasant. I don’t like the feeling of being squeezed, specially when I am already feeling a little out of breath or nervous. I don’t wear so much weight that the rear inflation causes me to tip face-down on the surface, and I am able to swim either on my back or face in the water quite comfortably.

Kitted up and ready to go on a night dive
Kitted up and ready to go on a night dive

Taking it off and putting it on is straightforward provided I loosen the vertical arm straps fully. This is easy – there are very large plastic rings to grip onto. It’s fully adjustable (I find that I am quite different dimensions depending on whether I am wearing one or two layers of neoprene, and depending on the rate of recent custard consumption). There is a lot of space for octo, camera and other clips, so my gear never needs to drag on the sea floor.

Finally, it has cute pink and purple SEAC Sub lettering on the pocket that’s girly without making me feel like a total naff. I love my BCD!

What’s in my dive bag

I have travelled around a bit and dived in some very remote places, miles from a dive shop. Over the years I have collected an array of gadgets. Dive shops are full of shiny things you had no idea you needed until you saw them for the first time. There are some very important basic add-ons to your standard battle dress, things that no self respecting diver would dive without, and then there is a range of nice to have items, and then the usual ”not required but I have it anyway” list.

Must have items

DAN medical insurance

DAN tag and spare O ring
DAN tag and spare O ring hidden on the hose protector

Attach the red DAN tag to your BCD or regulator so that in an emergency your rescuer can get you the help you need. DAN will cover you for the expensive possibility that you need recompression in a chamber if you have a suspected case of the bends, as well as for any other diving-related medical emergency treatment that your medical aid refuses to cover. An ordinary medical aid will probably not pay for recompression treatment. Visit the DAN (Divers’ Alert Network) website for details.

A surface marker buoy (SMB)

Reels and surface marker buoy (SMB)
Different sized reels and surface marker buoys (SMB)

Reels come in all shapes and sizes, with thumb reels, small reels and large reels. I use a small reel on shallow dives and a large reel on deeper dives.

In a rough sea or poor conditions an SMB makes you far easier to see than a head and shoulders dressed in black bobbing on the surface. You should not dive without one in Cape Town.

Dive Knife

This should be big enough to cut fishing line in case you or your buddy get tangled up (or need to rescue something or someone). Not to be used for stabbing sharks, or your dive buddy! You can buy huge dagger-type knife, but it may be an overkill, unless you have aspirations to be a pirate. Small cutting tools that you can wear on your gear are more practical.

Dive torches and a handy-sized knife
Dive torches and a handy-sized knife


This should ideally be small enough to keep in a pocket, unless you’re doing a night dive and need some serious light.

You don’t necessarily need a torch only on night dives – you may want to see something that’s hiding in a dark environment, or it might be an overcast day. On a deep dive, a torch is essential because the colours can look so washed out.


Knowing where you are going or where you came from is quite useful at the bottom, as on land. Enough said.

Dive compass styles
Dive compass styles

Dive computer

There are many different styles. Some can be worn as everyday watches, and others are only for diving.  Here are three variations:

Dive computers
Dive computers in three styles. The two on the left can be worn as dress watches.

Signalling devices

Signalling devices
Signalling devices, from left to right: shaker, air horn, whistle.

A whistle is required for the surface (many BCDs come with one attached – you may not have noticed it as it might be helpfully coloured black to match the inflator hose). An air horn works above and below the surface and a shaker works best underwater but can be used on the surface.

You can also use a hard object like a dive knife to rap on your cylinder, which will be audible to your buddy underwater, but don’t necessarily rely on having something suitable to hand – or having the presence of mind to look for it – in an emergency.


Dive slates
Dive slates: the one on the left is useful for compass navigation. The one on the right is a wrist slate (note the mysterious arm it’s mounted on).

Underwater slates come in all shapes and sizes. A wrist slate can be pleasant as it’s always close by but easily accessible. Flat slates must be clipped to a D ring – and don’t forget to secure your pencil!

DIN adaptor and O rings

DIN adaptor and O rings
DIN adaptor and O rings. The little blue cylinder clips to your keychain and can be used to store spare O rings.

Some resorts only have old style aluminum cylinders and if you have a DIN regulator they don’t fit as there is no removable insert. Here you will require a DIN adaptor so make sure you enquire as to type of cylinders available when you book your vacation, if you intend using your personal regulator.

It’s also handy to have an allen key to remove the inserts if you routinely dive with your own regulator.

Nice to have items

Clipping things to your BCD is a surefire way to ensure they do not become lost property. There are many different types of clips available. No matter what I take underwater, it will always have a clip attached that will enable me to clip it to my BCD if I suddenly need both hands for something.

Cyalumes, mouthpiece and spare finstrap
Cyalumes, mouthpiece, clip and spare finstrap

Spare mask and fin straps are nice to have particularly if you have a odd type of fin or mask.

Spare octo clips are handy as well as a few cyalumes in the event of an impromptu night dive.

If you travel to remote locations in your own 4WD you may find yourself with a puncture, so a tyre inflator is a handy addition to the dive bag. Deep divers know the benefits of Nitrox and the risks involved in diving with the wrong mix so a Nitrox analyser helps you to double check the reading reached by the dive store. If you find your reg breathes with difficulty, or you second stages constantly leak, checking the system pressure with your own handy pressure gauge will give you an indication as to the root of the problem.

Nitrox analyser and pressure gauge
Nitrox analyser (top) and pressure gauge