Whether you’re an experienced diver or just starting out, safety is paramount. The News Herald recently spoke to Brian Robinson of Diver's Den about safety tips when taking a trip underwater.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The sun is out, the water is clear and out-of-towners are coming to Panama City Beach for the holiday weekend. As the summer tourism season picks up, many visitors will be jumping into the water to do a little recreational diving.

Brian Robinson, store manager of dive shop Diver’s Den, said the market is doing well this year, both locally and across the industry. He said the Beach store has seen a tremendous increase in business from last year, and the divers his crew has taken out on recent excursions to St. Andrews State Park and the Gulf of Mexico are diverse: tourists, locals, experienced divers and novices.

“Boats are running every day,” Robinson said. “Continuing education is up. Families are coming down. The weather has been good.”

Part of the appeal for local diving is the underwater sights, which include shipwrecked tugboats, planes and artificial reefs that create fish habitats. Underwater visibility also has been very good this year, Robinson said.

Whether you’re an experienced diver or just starting out, safety is paramount. The News Herald recently spoke to Robinson about safety tips when taking a trip underwater.

1. Dive to your skill level.

Each diver should keep in mind his limitations. For example, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ basic open water scuba courses — and their corresponding depth and air charts — certify divers up to 60 feet in depth.

But Robinson said even advanced divers should always consider when they last dove. A veteran diver who has not taken the plunge for four or five years might be surprised to find his skills aren’t as fresh as they once were.

“People might panic when on a boat or at the jetties,” Robinson said. “Take a refresher course if it’s been a while.”

          

2. Monitor your air.

Running out of air is every diver’s nightmare and a major reason many people won’t consider the sport.

So monitoring your air supply is essential. The supply — and how fast it will run out — depends on multiple factors, including depth and how heavily a diver is breathing.

Heavy breathing, sometimes because a diver is tense, will use up air more quickly, Robinson said, reducing bottom time.

Trained divers should plan their dives before splashing, factoring in planned depth and making a plan for how long the dive should last safely. Still, Robinson said not continually monitoring available air is a common mistake, and it can lead to further mistakes. When a diver is running out of air, he might panic and breathe more heavily, using up the remaining air even more quickly.

“Never get in that position,” Robinson said. “Remember your training.”

3. Check your equipment.

Divers who own their own equipment should have it inspected bi-annually by a certified technician. Robinson said people sometimes buy equipment and then leave it in a closet for several years. Gear can malfunction even during times it is unused, so having it serviced is essential to diver safety.

4. Stay off the bottom.

Keeping away from the floor of any dive spot not only protects a diver’s body and equipment but also keeps coral from being destroyed. Divers learn during classes to maintain their depth, also known as buoyancy control, to avoid brushing along surfaces above and below them during dives. Robinson also recommended not dragging your fins along the bottom, which in addition to disturbing the habitat can stir up sediment and cloud visibility.

5. Don’t lose your buddy.

The buddy system — always diving with another person and staying around that person at all times — is essential when scuba diving. Being separated from a diving buddy can create problems, Robinson said. Having a buddy can help keep a diver oriented, and buddies can remind each other to keep an eye on their depth, time and remaining air.

But divers still should be prepared to take care of themselves, Robinson said. All divers should know how to handle emergencies like buddy separation, malfunctioning equipment and injuries, all basics covered in introductory diving courses.