Getting My PADI Advanced OW Dive Qualification | Utila, Honduras
Updated: Apr 20, 2019
I recently spent just short of a week on a tiny island off the coast of Honduras taking my PADI Advanced Scuba Diving course. In this blog post I detail my experience completing the five dives it took to up my certification from open water to advanced!
I completed my PADI Open Water dive course a year and a half ago in Gili T, Indonesia. I wrote an entire blog post about the experience. See:
Since then, I've absolutely fallen in love with the sport and taken the opportunity to go diving as much as possible! I done some pretty incredible dives in Australia, the Philippines and Mexico. See:
Cenote diving in Mexico
I've always known that I wanted to take my diving to the next level by getting my advanced qualification. This would allow me to increase my maximum depth from 18m to 30m - the maximum for recreational scuba divers. I've had to pass up the opportunity to do some pretty epic dives in the past because I didn't have my advanced certification so I made it my goal to do the course as soon as possible!
I had heard about this small island off the coast of Honudars called Utila. Utila is one of the Bay Islands located in the Caribbean, off the north coast of the Honduras mainland. It's known for its cheap diving, whale sharks and backpacker party vibe. Luckily, it also happens to be one of the cheapest places in the world to get dive certifications. I figured that as it was on my way travelling down Central America, it would be the perfect spot to stop off and spend a few days!
I was slightly apprehensive about taking my advanced course. I was worried that being labeled as an 'advanced' diver would put me out of my depth (literally) as I'm still very much a beginner diver. However, now I realise, that the PADI advanced diver course is more about refining your skills as a diver in a practical way. You don’t have to be “advanced” to take it – it’s designed to advance your diving.
The advanced course is a lot different, and in my opinion, much more fun than open water. You are required to do five adventure dives under the supervision of an instructor. Two dives are required - deep and underwater navigation - and you are able to choose three more adventure dive types depending on what your dive school offers to try out different specialties. I chose to do a wreck dive, a peak performance buoyancy dive and a night dive as my adventure dives.
I liked how there is barely any theory in the AOW course, the focus is mainly on the diving. I only had to complete a one page multiple choice worksheet for each dive - and didn't have to watch any instructional videos (thank god)!
I completed my advanced course over three days due of the weather, but it is possible to do it in just two.
My first dive of the course was my deep dive - a compulsory dive. We would dive to a depth of 30m which would from then on, certify me to dive at that depth anywhere in the world. I'd actually already dived to 30m while diving with a slightly dodgy non-rule-abiding dive shop in the Philippines. I felt really comfortable at 30m - strangely, it doesn't feel all that different from 18m!
I learnt how to account for faster air consumption during a deep dive. The deeper you dive, the faster you consume air. Hence, this was only a 35-minute dive (my other shallower dives were all around 50-60 minutes). We also brought a drop tank which we hung off the boat at 5m.
My instructor brought a colour chart on the dive so I could observe the massive loss of colour at depth. Water absorbs wavelengths of light to different degrees. The longest wavelengths are absorbed first. So when diving, you loose the colour red first followed by orange and yellow.
The underwater navigation was my second dive. During this dive I practiced using a compass underwater to navigate around a dive site.
I could never quite understand how my dive masters were able to so easily navigate a dive site. I'd always be completely disorientated and surprised every time when we popped up exactly where we needed to be at the end of a dive. We did a couple of exercises underwater during the dive using kick-cycles - however I'd say I'm still no expect at underwater navigation!
My third dive was a wreck adventure dive. The Halliburton shipwreck lies close to the island of Utila at a depth of 30m. The ship was accidentally sunk in 1998 and as it is a fairly recent addition to the ocean floor, it is still wonderfully intact and sits in an upright position. It was super cool to be able to peer into the cargo hold and swim through the wheelhouse which is home to a massive grouper. The visibility was at least 30m which made this dive extra spectacular!
Source: Alton's Dive Centre
Peak Performance Buoyancy
My forth dive was a peak performance buoyancy adventure dive. Buoyancy was something I definitely struggled with when I first did my open water, but I have noticed myself improve as I have gotten more experience as a diver. During this dive, my instructor sunk two hoops and I had to swim between them while maintaining proper buoyancy - but the right way up and upside down! I also needed to show that I could hover in the one place for one minute. I also got to see my first seahorse and a massive spotted eagle ray on this dive!
The night dive was the dive that I was most excited for. I'd always been curious to see how diving at night differed from during the day and to see what different creatures appeared in the dark. We set out at sunset and descended while there was still a tiny bit of light left. At about ten minutes into the dive, the sky was completely pitch black and the only light we had was coming from our torches.
I expected to feel slightly claustrophobic but surprising, I felt really comfortable. Although, it is quite eerie looking out and only seeing black in all directions! We came across a sleeping turtle, heaps of massive lobsters, blood worms and a puffer fish. At one point in the dive, my instructor got us to switch off our torches and in the pitch black darkness we could see bright blue bioluminescent plankton swimming all around us - such an amazing experience!
Where I Dived
I dived with Alton's Dive Shop in Utila. They came highly recommended to me and I could not recommend them more highly. When I arrived in Utila from La Ceiba on the ferry one of their staff was at the dock waiting for me with a sign with my name on it and gave me a ride down the main street to the dive shop. It was such a nice gesture!
Alton's is a local family-owned dive centre that has a reputation for being one of the safest dive schools on the island. All their equipment is new and well-looked after. I was also there in low season, so I got my instructor all to myself!
I paid $285 USD for my advanced course (5 dives), 2 extra fun dives and 3 nights accommodation in their dorms. Their accommodation was only $7 USD/night afterwards and is right on the water and central to Utila's main street.
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