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What's the Best Dive Computer?

Once you start diving, it becomes very hard to stop – ask any dive pro here on Koh Tao and they’ll usually tell you the same story, they came for a few days and before they knew it they’d signed up for professional training and waved goodbye to the grind of the real world and the 9-5.

As you start buying equipment and learn more about diving through PADI/SSI courses, you’ll find that doing some proper research on what you’re intending to buy will help get you ready for years of diving enjoyment. One key component in your gear is your dive computer, and in this blog we’ll be looking at my 3 favourite computers on the market right now:

 

Shearwater Research Petrel 2 SA Dive Computer

Shearwater Research Petrel 2

The largest dive computer to make my top three, the Shearwater Petrel 2 is one hell of a dive computer and my undoubted number one choice for those with a bit of cash to splash on a proper dive computer!

It features a large full size 2.4 inch screen that allows you to see all the important functions (depth, temperature etc.) without having to scroll through several screens – making it a lot easier for those diving in cold waters and wearing gloves, which is always a struggle with the small-buttoned models. It supports both normal regulators and rebreathers, as well as Trimix diving making it an excellent choice for recreational and technical divers alike – purchasers can be sure that they’ll never need to buy another dive computer again with this beauty, and even if you are a beginner diver this will be a good investment as you will never outgrow it, no matter what your future diving tastes.

The backlight on the Shearwater Petrel 2 is adjustable and on medium brightness with a single AA alkaline battery you will get about 35 hours of life, and if you use a SAFT LS14500 lithium you can get over 100 hours! I love the fact a normal AA battery can be used with this, it really cuts the chance of having a dive trip ruined by a flat battery. It also features an incredibly clear screen, with a lovely bright LCD display rather than the older crystal displays that so many of the other popular dive computers feature.

shearspecs

You can also customize the layout of all the essential info to suit your dive style and I’m a huge fan of the ‘time to surface’ feature, which actually calculates how many minutes it will take you to surface if you started your ascent at that very moment, including decompression and safety stops.

The digital compass included in the Shearwater Petrel 2 is one of the best I on the market. It is tilt compensated so reads properly at any angle, has a degree wheel displayed which you can toggle between 60, 90 and 120 degree display modes, and best of all you can easily mark a heading and it automatically marks the reciprocal heading for finding your way back - perfect for stupid DMTs!

Like most of the good computers available these days, the Petrel 2 can link via Bluetooth easily to communicate with your PC, Mac, iPod or iPad.

So, don’t let the size or price put you off - it retails at around $850 US – as you can be certain that this surprisingly easy to use dive computer will have other divers drooling over it on the boat and underwater. For anyone thinking about getting into technical diving then there’s really no better computer on the market that the Petrel 2, and with its sturdy design you can tell immediately that it’s a dive computer made to last for a very long time indeed.

The best dive computer I’ve ever seen, hands down.

Specifications

Air/Nitrox/Trimix capable

Screen Resolution 320×240 QVGA

Full colour LED LCD

Battery Type – Single AA

3 axis, tilt compensated, digital compass

Dive Log 1000 Hours

Smart Ready Bluetooth Interface

 

OceanicGeo2.0

Oceanic Geo 2.0 

A great example of a mid-range dive computer, the Geo 2 is one I’ve been wanting for a long time now. With its nicely designed screen and easy to read numerical displays, its small ‘watch’ size doesn’t mean it’s lacking in features at all.

The Oceanic Geo 2 Supports both air and 2 programmable nitrox gas mixes, one up to 100% O2 which is pretty unusual in similar computers. The audio alarms are loud enough but not annoyingly so, and they’re also accompanied by a very handy small flashing LED for the hard of hearing out there.

The Oceanic Geo 2 dive computer features four operating modes: Watch, Norm (for air and nitrox), Gauge (with run timer) and a free diving mode, which is nice. Despite the instruction manual being a little confusing the computer is really easy to get the hang of after a few minutes messing around with it, and the pretty powerful backlight (with adjustable duration) works great. Like many of its competitors it too comes with a safety stop countdown timer.

geee

 

I really like that it has an easy access ‘last dive’ function for quick reference, and of course you can see it is a cool design which doesn’t look out of place at all out of the diving environment. Another great bonus is that you’re able to change the battery yourself in a matter of minutes, saving a lot of time and money when it does get a little low on power.

 Finally, and one of the most important features for a lot of experienced divers is that it’s possible to change the algorithm used to calculate your NDLs!  They offer dual algorithms allowing to switch between them when necessary, which is particularly handy if you dive with a buddy that has his own computer which calculates based on a specific model. You at least will be able to somewhat get the calculations in sync!

The algorithm you can select is either the Buhlmann ZHL-16c based PZ or a DSAT based model. The DSAT variant is better suited when you want to pick a liberal recreational dive algorithm, whereas the Buhlmann algorithm is more conservative. It’s also possible to adjust the conservatism of either of the calculation models by yourself to achieve a more conservative dive profile.

Overall this is one of the best dive computers in the intermediate price range on the market today, and if it featured a digital compass it could well be sitting pretty in my number one spot. It retails at around $350 US.

Specifications

Easy to navigate with 4 buttons

Four operational modes for Watch, Air/Nitrox, Gauge and Free Diving

Two gas mixes between 21% and 100%

PO2 limits adjustable from 1.2 to 1.6 bars

Two different algorithms with additional conservatism settings

Max. operating depth 100 meters for Air/Nitrox and 120 meters for Gauge

Automatic altitude adjustments up to 4,270 m (14,000 ft)

Dive log with capacity for 24 dives

Log sampling rates selectable at 2, 15, 30 and 60 seconds

User switchable battery

Limited warranty of 2 years

 

suunto d4i

Suunto D4i

 

The Suunto dive computer is a very popular brand, and the D4i is easily the most commonly seen dive computer in my recreational diving experiences around the world – meaning there’s almost always someone who can help you with it if you didn’t read the instruction booklet properly!

It’s a sleek, compact and lightweight dive computer that can easily be worn everyday as a watch, and has four dive modes: Air, Nitrox, Freedive and Gauge. The Suunto D4i also comes with the ability to connect to an (optional) wireless air transmitter which makes it great for mid-level divers who want the ability to expand their gear later on.

The freediving mode stands out and you can see why this a very popular computer with our freediving team, mainly due to its ease of use, small size and also the ‘3 times a second’ sample rate, giving you highly accurate data on the true depths reached on your dives.

The Suunto D4i comes with an 80 hour internal dive log that can be easily exported to your PC for digital dive log enthusiasts, and the dot matrix display is super easy to read and has a strong backlight that keeps all essential dive information available at a quick glance – an essential characteristic for those looking to buy a compact watch-style computer.

 

Suunto D4i Novo Black action1

 

There is a nice safety stop countdown feature, and the nitrox settings can be adjusted between 21% and 50% without much trouble at all. The optional wireless air integration on the D4i allows you to easily track current tank pressure and remaining air time with a quick glance at your wrist, along with other critical information, giving you more time to truly enjoy your dive.

I highly recommend this to scuba diving enthusiasts looking for a high quality mid-range Suunto dive computer. The free diving mode is great, and the optional wireless air integration feature is a nice touch for those looking to invest in a transmitter.

The Suunto D4i retails at around $450 US.

 

Specifications

Adjustable alarms for ascent rates and maximum depth and time

Free diving mode sampling depth information 3 times per second

Clear and precise dot matrix display with backlighting

Four dive mode settings including Air, Nitrox, free dive and gauge

Adjustable Nitrox settings between 21% and 50% with PO2 limits between 0.5 and1.6 bars

Maximum depth display to 100 meters

Adjustable Altitude

Built-in dive log up to 140 hours

Lithium battery (CR2450)

RGBM (Reduced Gradient Bubble Model) algorithm

Built-in dive planner

Optional wireless air integration

2 year limited warranty

 

Happy shopping!

 

How Long Does a Dive Last?

 

 

A question that we’re asked often here at Big Blue by those of you looking to do their first ever dives is how long will be spent underwater? In this blog I will try my best to answer that question, but of course there are many different factors that will influence the length of time that you will be diving for which we will look at in more detail now.

 

Rate of Breathing

Obviously the faster you breathe, the shorter your dive will be – after all the time underwater is dictated by the amount of air in the diving cylinder, or ‘tank’ as I’ll be calling it here. So how can I extend this ‘bottom time’? Don’t bloody breathe so fast, that’s how. Slow, relaxed breaths are the way forward here - exactly how you’re breathing right now.

fatty

Size of the diver

Are you a big fatty wobbler, a 2 metre giant or a muscle-bound hero like me? Then you’re going to breathe more than smaller humans, as you’re carrying a lot of extra weight compared to those damn slim people. It takes more energy and effort to move this mass around you see, which takes a lot of oxygen – it’s like they’re working out every time they move. I don’t recommend chopping of a limb before diving of course, but I imagine it would help.

Conditions underwater

We all dream of diving in crystal clear waters, gliding effortlessly through the water free of currents without a care in the world, but in reality it isn’t always like that. There’s always a chance that the visibility may drop, which may make the diver a little nervous which often results in faster breathing. Tidal movement may also introduce an ocean current, which will put the diver in a situation where they need to kick harder, thus increasing the rate the diver is breathing – both of which will shorten the amount of time the diver gets underwater.

string current

Excitement of diver

A number of situations will make your heart beat faster, including how excited you are. The faster your heart beats, the faster it can get more blood and oxygen to your muscles, leading to…you guessed it – shorter dive times due to the increased rate of breathing that goes hand in hand with heart rate. So we shouldn’t get excited?? That may be difficult especially when diving for the first time ever, but with practice a diver is able to control this more, and thus have a longer dive. Calm and collected is what we aim for when diving!

Depth of dive

Simply put, the length of your dive directly depends on the depth of the dive. The deeper you dive, the denser gases become (the more molecules are required to fill a given flexible space). Double the pressure (at 10m seawater) and it takes twice as much gas to fill your lungs with each breath. Triple the pressure (at 20m seawater) and it takes three times as much. Thus, the deeper you dive, the faster you consume air from your scuba tanks no matter how much air it holds to start with.

 too many tanks

The size of the tank

There are varying sizes of tanks used for diving, and the size you’re given will affect how much air it can contain and how long the tank will last at a given depth. The most common you’ll encounter especially here in Thailand are 12 litre, 200 bar scuba tanks (or thereabouts).  In Europe it’s also common to have the larger 15 litre tanks, which should add about 10 minutes to your dive time from the standard 12 litre cylinders.

So how long does a scuba tank last? The average beginner diver’s air consumption in calm waters runs a tank close to empty in around 1 hour at 10m depth (compared to just a few minutes at 40m). Professional and very experienced divers can usually double this time through breathing/buoyancy control and by minimizing the amount of movement underwater.

out of air

Quality of instruction

I’ll never forget my first ever diving experience, where my bitter old instructor shouted at us poor students repeatedly, got really angry when we messed up and generally just acted like an arse the whole time. He didn’t exactly inspire any of us new divers, or calm us when we faced a challenging part of the course – to be honest it seemed to us that we were wasting his ‘valuable’ time and he’d rather be anywhere else but in the classroom with us.

When we were descending on the first ever ocean dive we were (no doubt due to the poor quality instruction we’d received) pretty bloody nervous, and felt ill-prepared for what we were about to encounter. Nervous divers, like the excited diver we talked about earlier, breathe a lot more hence have shorter dives – we lasted about 30 minutes only.

Would a better instructor have been able to allay our fears, resulting in calmer divers? You’re damn right they would have!

badd diver

Diving technique

Anyone with a bit of diving experience can tell you that there are a lot of divers out there with poor technique. Divers will bump into you, constantly adjust their buoyancy, flap their hands around, kick as hard and fast as they can and often ruin the dive for everyone else in their group by getting low on air very quickly indeed due to all this excessive movement. The solution can often be quite simple; take the ‘Perfect Buoyancy’ dive offered at your local dive centre, or go for the SSI or PADI Advanced Diver course where the instructor will really work on taking your diving technique to the next level, often leading to a large increase in bottom time for the newly competent diver.

 

Speed of the Diver

When you’re active, your breathing can increase up to about 40-60 times a minute to cope with the extra demand on your body. The delivery of oxygen to your muscles also speeds up, so they can do their job efficiently. This is all well and good if you’re a professional athlete, but whilst diving we want to try to maximize the time spent underwater by breathing slowly and calmly as much as is possible!

The key to this is to dive really slowwwwwwwwwwwwly. Less movement as we know leads to less oxygen being pumped to the muscles by the heart, so the breathing rate will also slow right down in turn. We don’t want to be kicking constantly or darting around the dive site, aim to slowly glide around underwater as much as possible and you’ll be amazed just how much longer your dives become!

Taking all of these things into account, what can we conclude?

 The short answer is about 45 minutes!

 

Where not to miss on your trip to Thailand: Part Three - Koh Kood

 

 

 

kohkoodmap

The last in a series of blogs aimed at those of you out there looking to discover a breathtaking island paradise free of tourists and the hordes of Thailand backpackers that wash up on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, Koh Kood is a gem of an island that is worth a trip with your significant other if you’re looking for peace and quiet, beautiful palm-fringed beaches and a whole lot of doing not very much at all!

At 105 square kilometres, Ko Kood (also known as Koh Kut) is a large, mountainous island close to Koh Chang and about 50 kilometres west of both Thai and Cambodian mainland. Its size and beauty make it pretty unique among the Thai islands in that it’s still relatively unheard of by all but a handful of Thai and Russian tourists who’ve been enjoying this stunning place for many years now – don’t let that put you off however, they tend to stay limited to a particular resort or two in some of the more far-flung parts of the island, and rarely venture out or to the cheaper places on the island that the more budget-conscious traveler like myself usually ends up in.

 

 

Vast swathes of the north, east and south coasts are accessible only by boat, and even on the slightly more tourist-oriented west coast a lot of the beaches back into nothing but coconut groves and the hills that surround so many of Koh Kood’s fabulous coastline. It has reasonably good ‘roads’ so it’s quite easy to explore the 10 or so beaches accessible on a rental scooter or bicycle, or there is also the option of renting one of the few ‘songthaew’ taxi trucks to get around – this tends to be pretty expensive however! My last count revealed around 20 beaches to be found via kayak, scooter and longtail boat, so it’s easy to spend a few weeks getting to know the island if laying around all day long in a hammock isn’t quite your cup of tea.

My Top 3 Beaches on Koh Kood

 

Khlong Hin Beach koh kood

Khlong Hin Beach

My own personal favourite in the off season, this beautiful white sand beach is also a favourite of the Russian tourists in busier months but come a month or so either side of the busy periods and you’ll find a long, sandy beach almost empty of anyone else, palm lined with nice clear seas and kept reasonably clean by the two resorts separated by an estuary that share this beach - Khlong Hin Beach Resort and Montana Hut were the only two on my last visit.

 

 

Ao Noi Beach koh kood

Ao Noi Beach

An incredibly beautiful beach in an isolated part of the island, it’s possible to reach by road or by kayak from one of its neighbouring beaches. With its strategically placed wooden piers and crystal clear waters, it’s one of those beaches where you can easily spend the whole day taking pictures, laying around on hammocks, frolicking on the wooden jetty and enjoying a nice cold beer or two.

 

Bang Bao Koh Kood

Bang Bao Bay

Bang Bao Bay is often called the best beach on the island, and is located in the southwest of Koh Kood.  Easy to reach by motorbike it’s a real-life paradise, the fine sand and calm turquoise waters make it ideal for swimming and lounging around, plus the palm trees lining the beach make for some incredible sunset photos. Expect to want to come back here again and again!

This is one of the few places on the island that offers lower budget accommodation, and is also a pretty good place to try a bit of snorkeling. I usually stay in ‘Siam Hut’, which is famous on the island for having rude staff, boring food but bloody cheap rooms!

 

ferry

How To Get To Koh Kood

There are regular buses to Trat from Bangkok, all ofm which can be organised at the many travel agents around the capital, or you can always do it yourself and take the public bus, which is surprisingly good and quite fast too. From Trat I usually head to the nearest travel agent, and then book all my onward travel to Koh Kood.

Speedboats from Laem Sok Pier on the mainland (close to Trat) currently offer daily transfers to the island, departing from Laem Sok at approximately 9am every morning and taking you directly to the resort of your choice. For afternoon transfers, there are many fast ferry services that you can opt for which depart from Laem Sok at 12pm. The ferries usually drop you in Ao Salad in the north of the island, and you transfer to your beach of choice via the songthaew taxi trucks that operate pretty much all day and night if the price is right.

Expect to pay around 400 baht for the slower ferries, and around 600 baht for the speedboats.

 

See you there!

Where not to miss on your trip to Thailand: Part Two - Koh Libong and dugongs!

 

 

 

LibongMAP

 

Trang’s largest island is just 30 minutes by long-tail from mainland Hat Yao, and is one of those islands that most Thailand backpackers miss out on completely, for reasons unknown to myself. It’s a captivating, mountainous place wrapped in rubber trees, thick with mangroves and known for its flora and fauna (especially the resident dugongs and migrating birds) more than its thin golden brown beaches. Beach lovers may actually be a little disappointed on first inspection, as the neighbouring islands of Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai do offer nicer beaches with more turquoise waters, but for me the real charm of the Libong beaches is the fact that they’re usually completely empty!

 

LibongBEACH

 

The majority of the island is actually completely untouched, leaving an incredible area to trek completely alone (I’ve never encountered a single tourist on my treks through the mangroves and jungles of Libong) and a lot of the island’s more remote areas can be (almost) reached on a scooter, cutting out large swathes of your exploration and saving your energy for dugong and birdspotting, which Libong is also well-known for. Migratory birds stop off here on their way south from Siberia, drawn by the island’s mud flats in the eastern part of the island. For those serious about their birding the best time to come is during March and April, when you can expect to see brown-winged kingfishers, masked finfoots and even the rare black-necked stork, not seen elsewhere on the peninsula.

 

A1111

 

The island is home to a small Muslim fishing community and has a few west-coast resorts, and that’s pretty much it – tourism is only a secondary resource for the Koh Libong residents, who have no experience of the mass tourism that so many of the other Thai islands have been ruined with. There are no ATMs or any other way of getting any money so remember to bring plenty with you, and there’s just the one small convenience store by one of the resorts. You should expect to pay at least 1000 baht per night at the resorts here, and it’s a good idea to check they’re open before heading over there! I usually stay at Libong Beach Resort, where the service is friendly, the food delicious and the rooms around 800 baht per night with fan.

 

 

libongVILLAGE

 

When you get out of the resorts it’s easy to find lovely small beaches with not a soul on them (expect the ubiquitous dog, of course), hiking trails piercing the slopes of the rolling hills, limestone caves and a few small fishing villages hidden from plain sight – there’s an interesting one on the south-east coast called Batu Bute, where the locals are living on stilted houses over the bay and there’s a long walkway and observation tower for some great sunset photos and a bit of dugong spotting.  Any locals you may encounter have a wonderful charm about them, and a smile/candy bar will often be enough to get an impromptu tour of the villages from the local kids, but remember with the island being mainly Muslim you shouldn’t wear anything too revealing when exploring the villages.

The real draw of Koh Libong is of course the 130 or so dugongs, an endangered marine mammal which looks a lot like a dolphin with an eating problem, and feeds on sea grass in the south-east of the island. Also known as a sea cow, it is actually not so easy to encounter if you go by yourself (but still possible from a viewpoint or observation tower), so a boat or kayak will give you a greater chance to bump into one in their feeding areas – be careful of the strong currents if you try to get in the water with them!

 

 

With just a bunch of resorts on the western beaches and no bars or clubs, the nightlife is completely non-existent on Koh Libong. Ideal for families, couples and people who like early nights (most places try to close around 9pm), the island can also be an attractive destination for backpackers searching for a tranquil spot to get away from the mass tourism, while party people will most probably remain disappointed and should consider one of the many other nearby options like Koh Phi Phi - not on my recommended list, due to its high amount of dickheads.

 

How to get to Koh Libong

 

There’s a regular ferry service that connects Koh Libong with Hat Yao pier in Trang province, they run multiple times a day all year round with the last departure of the day at 4pm. It costs around 400 baht, and the trip takes about 30 minutes. During the low season expect the ferries travel less frequently and with occasional cancellations due to the sea conditions or the lack of passengers.

From Trang there are minibuses leaving every hour from the bus station to Hat Yao and the ticket costs about 100 baht, depending on your haggling skills.

 

Where not to miss on your trip to Thailand: Part One - Koh Phayam

I’ve been living and loving Thailand for quite a few years now, and like to think I know a thing or two about places to visit if you’re looking for some time to really unwind and forget the stresses of the real world. Personally I think the real beauty of Koh Tao is underwater, so when I want to really take advantage of the peace and tranquility that this wonderful country has to offer it’s time to grab that backpack and head to the other side of Thailand to explore some of the lesser-known gems that still manage to hide away from the masses of tourists now visiting this country.

In these next three blogs I’d like to look in detail at my all-time favourite islands for those wanting something other than partying every night!

 

KPmap

Koh Phayam

My absolute number one choice due to its easy accessibility from Koh Tao, Koh Phayam is like taking a step back in time to the days when Thai beaches were filled only with palm trees, crabs, a few simple bungalows and the odd skinny beach dog.

This gorgeous little island is around 35 kilometres square, and is the second most northern Thai island found on the Andaman Sea. It’s just 20km from Ranong and has long white sandy beaches, warm seas, beautiful views of neighbouring Burmese islands, fascinating wildlife and no ATMs, 7-11s or cars– although there is a weird tractor-type thing that you see on occasion carting large groups of Thai tourists to their plush resorts! It's the perfect place to really get away from it all, with great treks through the jungle or on the beaches revealing playful monkeys, the weirdly wonderful great hornbills, sea eagles, many types of butterfly and hordes of crabs going about their business. The interior of the island is home to large rubber and cashew nut farms which line the narrow ‘roads’ that link the main beaches and villages of Phayam – the smell of the cashew trees in bloom in March is amazing!

Great Hornbill 1

 

It’s not a place for those wishing to enjoy the clear, coral filled waters that so many Andaman-side islands can boast, but one thing that I’ll never get bored of is the 1 metre-plus breaking waves on the busiest beach of Long Beach, making it possible to surf and boogie board– one of only a two places in Thailand that can offer this I believe, the other being Phuket, which as we all know is a sh1thole.

There are a few really nice beaches around this island  - most of the accommodation is on Aow Yai  (Long Beach) and Aow Khao Kwai  (Buffalo Bay). Ao Yai is the largest bay on the west-coast with a lovely 3 km long beach perfect for sunset strolls and watching the bioluminescence, and there’s the occasional party in high season and cheap simple bungalows on the far north and south of the beach – expect to pay a minimum of 300 baht per night for the most basic. The amount of resorts and bungalow operations on Long beach has risen dramatically the last few years, but it’s still a great place to hang out during the day and eat at night – most of the best restaurants are located on Long Beach.

 

kpsunset

Buffalo Bay is a quieter beach, especially the south-east part of the bay where you’ll find me lazing around in a cloud of smoke and Chang bottles in my time off from Koh Tao. More upscale and better quality resorts dedicated to families, couples and Thai tour groups are found here, but there are still a few low-budget places on the beach and overlooking the bay – prices start at around 300 baht per night for the most basic wooden bungalow.

At the south end of Buffalo Bay is a small sea gypsy settlement which is worth exploring, especially when the locals return with their daily catch – just remember to ask before taking pictures of them, they’re gyspy/pirates so I imagine they’re pretty tough guys!

 

KPsurf

When you feel like snorkelling or a spot of scuba diving it’s possible to sign up for a day trip to sublime Ko Surin or the islands in Laem Son Marine Park to the south, plus on the odd occasion I’ve seen adverts for Liveaboard trips north into Burma’s Mergui Archipelago. Those of you thinking of doing your PADI Open Water course here should expect to pay around 15,000 baht for the 4 day course, which is 50% more than what you pay here on Koh Tao.

Koh Phayam’s tourism season lasts from November to May, with the high season kicking in around late December through to February. It’s not necessary to book in advance for budget travelers, and discounts are often given when dealing face-to face with the resort of your choice.

 A ‘cashew festival’ is held every year in March to mark the harvest with music and sports on Long Beach for all you nut fans!

 

KPsign

How to get there:

In Ranong, take a taxi motorcycle or ‘songthaew’ to the Koh Phayam pier. This will cost between 50 and 100 baht, depending on the mood of the driver.

The slow ferries and speedboats leave every hour or so nowadays, so it’s easy to arrive and book on to the next available boat out most times of the year – though in the peak of high season it may be a good idea to book in advance at least the day before. The slow boats cost about 200 baht and takes 2-3 hours depending on the waves, and the speedboats cost around 400 baht and take just 40 minutes.

The last boats to Phayam are at 14.30 in low season, and 17.30 in high season – again subject to change depending on the mood of the drivers and the weather of course!

Trip Advisor has a bug!

 

For many years now all of us here at Big Blue have been very proud of our Trip Advisor status here on Koh Tao. With more reviews than any other business on the island, and more 5 star reviews than the nearest competitor has total reviews, we’ve always been ranked very near the top of the ladder in rankings since the first reviews started trickling in in 2010, when we were still all wearing short pants and had not a single white hair between us!


Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Trip Advisor/Yelp/Facebook reviews have a lot of value for any business in the service industry. Getting first hand feedback from those who have already experienced the business you’re thinking of frequenting is very handy for the potential customer, and from our own research we have seen that about one quarter of our divers have checked our review before making up their mind to dive with the best dive centre on the whole of Koh Tao – and for this we are very grateful.

 

 11

 

Of course, there can be flaws. One of the negative aspects of any site that relies on customer reviews is that anyone can write the review, even if they have never actually experienced any part of the business they are reviewing. This is also always open to abuse from those trying to smear a competitor, or simply by writing praising reviews for their own business to get one over the opposition. We’ve heard many stories of businesses pressuring their divers to leave a 5 star review before they finish their course, offering incentives to those willing to leave a review or simply paying for reviews from one of the many sites online that offer this way of cheating to the top. Famously this year was the story of the chap in London who managed to get his garden shed to rise to No. 1 on the rankings for restaurants in the area, despite it not even existing – it’s worth googling if you didn’t already hear the story, it's incredible how they did it!

 

Anyhow, I’m digressing a little here. The reason we’re all a little upset at the moment is to do with the ranking system employed by Trip Advisor, in which they use some fancy algorithms to determine which are the top scuba diving centres on our lovely tropical island of Koh Tao.
For year now we’ve been in the top 10, where we belong – after all we have the nicest big boats, a great sunset facing dive centre/bar/restaurant and the best damn instructors and divemasters in the whole of Thailand. Then, one night last week everything changed. Dive centres that had been rated in the top ten with us for years, dropped by 10-20 places...we somehow went from (slightly disappointing) 4th place down to 40th! A bad review? Nope. Other dive centres getting more reviews than us? Well, two of the ones that rose above us actually went out of business over a year ago, one of which hasn’t had any reviews for almost 2 years!


After trawling through the Trip Advisor owners forums, it’s turned that this wasn’t an isolated incident, and had in fact happened all over the world.

 

111


So what exactly is going on at Trip Advisor HQ?

We found this post from someone who’d noticed in February of this year that a whole chunk of their positive reviews had disappeared, with a lot of other businesses suffering the same fate. An email they received from Trip Advisor regarding this said:


"Hi everyone! Thank you for reporting an issue affecting the reviews of some attraction listings. Unfortunately we have a bug in the system and our engineers are working to solve it as soon as possible.”

 

And then another post from a business in Hawaii just last week regarding the sudden rank changes:

 

“"Hey all - I finally got through to TA about the sudden drop in our property (Sail Maui). It's a known issue and they are looking to resolve it. Fingers crossed!"

 

So it’s all good? Soon to be fixed, after all without the businesses cooperation Trip Advisor will become moot, right?

Well, not if this is to be believed:

" TA representative…assured me there is a glitch in the system and they will work on it, however; the technical support team does not work weekends”

Of course they don’t!

 

And finally, another diving business in Krabi, Thailand received this earlier this week to add that a lovely bit of confusion to the whole affair –

 

“We already got a feedback from our network engineers and was told that there is no bug affecting the popularity index and the current ranking of your property on TripAdvisor is accurate and correct"

 

So where does that leave us, the humble business that relies on our excellent customer feedback on sites like Trip Advisor?


Advising our divers to look at the reviews and not the rankings, and we hope this is all fixed soon please TA team - we miss out top 5 status and want it back!

 

 

5 Reasons to do the Advanced Course

 

 

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  1. Because deeper is always better

 

We dive for one main reason – to see cool stuff underwater. Years of experience have told me that most of you want to see the biggest creatures that patrol the divesites – hunting barracuda, flapping mantas, big fat grouper, nasty-looking sharks and the fattest fish of all, the mighty whaleshark. So where’s the best place to find the big stuff so many of you desire?

Deep is where all the biggest stuff likes to roam. Our huge schools of pickhandle and chevron barracuda are always hanging out at around 25 metres on our best sites of Chumphon Pinnacle and South-West Pinnacle, and witnessing these in action is something that all visitors to Koh Tao should experience at least once; there’s nothing quite like being circled by a mighty group of tightly-packed fish, often blocking out the sun with their density!

The massive (delicious-looking) grouper we’re also lucky enough to have underwater here tend to chase and flirt with each other on the bottom of the deeper sites, and the majority are usually found at a depth of 25-30 metres. It’s at these depths where we can also see large schooling fusiliers fighting for their lives against the tennis-racket sized queenfish and trevally, which like nothing better than a feast of fusilier for breakfast. Watching these larger predators working together to separate a victim from their group is a joy to behold, with the balling and rolling smaller fish giving a visual treat to the lucky deep diver!

 

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  1. If you’re not a night diver, then you’re not really a diver

Ask anyone about to do their first ever night dive how they feel, and they’ll usually admit to feeling a mix of excitement and a little bit of pooping themselves too. To be diving in the pitch black water is an intimidating thought at first, but ask the same divers on their return and more often than not they’ll describe the dive as very relaxed, peaceful and whole lot of fun!

To put it quite simply, there’s something very special about diving at night. One of the most stunning sights you can see underwater is to witness the hundreds of tiny star-like bioluminescent phytoplankton streaking from the fins of your diving buddy, and as you only have this small circle of light from your torch to concentrate on it’s not long before you’re taken away into a beautifully tranquil world, where hidden wonders now pass by freely, using the cover of night to hunt.

Miss it at your peril!

 

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  1. No more unwatchable shaky videos, or out of focus photos

One of the recommendations from all of us here at Big Blue is to do the PADI/SSI Perfect Buoyancy dive of the advanced course. Not only does it help you perfect your technique underwater and have you gliding around the reef like a dolphin, but it also emphasizes the importance of good buoyancy control, using just the lungs to move you through the water and no longer having to kick up and down, like a peasant.

With this perfect buoyancy you have now obtained, the quality of your images and recordings dramatically improves. Most of our divers now carry some sort of camera, and it’s nice to be able to show off your dives with pictures that are in focus and clear, and video that doesn’t look like it was shot by Michael J. Fox. These days where everything needs to be instantly put on Instagram and shared on Facebook, why not show off with the types of recordings that wouldn’t look out of place in National Geographic!

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  1. Abandon your dive instructor!

One of the tasks that must be completed in the Advanced course is the Navigation dive, where we will teach you how to use a compass to find your way around a dive site like a pro, and also how to use the natural features of the dive site to work out where all the most interesting things will be without getting totally lost and making a fool out of yourself. Once you’ve successfully mastered the (surprisingly easy) navigation techniques, it’s possible to safely and competently dive with just a buddy - no more following your instructor like a sucker!

This independence underwater is something that you’ll strive for every time you dive after you try it for the first time, as when you’re at the front of the group you’ll realise that you see a hell of a lot more marine life that you do merely following. It also gives you a lot more confidence underwater too, and with this increase in ability comes, as ever, extended dive times – more confidence always leads to more relaxed breathing, which in turn gives us maximum time underwater!

 

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  1. Filter out the bad divers

Something that most fundivers have experienced at least once (and the scourge of many of my own Thailand diving trips) is the bad diver in the group. Kicking up sand, banging into you from all angles and usually breathing at an incredible rate, sharing your dive with someone of limited ability can really ruin your diving experience, and a fast breather in the group can easily make your whole dive party ascend well before you were planning to.

More often than not if there’s someone breathing too fast or banging into the back of you, it’s an Open Water diver. By completing the Advanced certification you’ll be separated from these (often) fresh new divers, and put with others with similar abilities and control of buoyancy – hello one hour dives, and goodbye surfacing with half your tank left over!

 

 

You can book your SSI or PADI Advanced courses with us every day, face to face or on the internet machine.

Ever thought of starting your own dive centre?

 

 

At some point, all divers have dreamt about owning their own dive centre on some beautiful tropical island somewhere – after all it will give you the opportunity to both have your own business and be able to dive every day, right?

The fantasy, unfortunately, is nothing like the real thing – usually you’ll be so busy with the general running of the place that diving takes a back seat at first, and before you know it you haven’t dived in an age and are not likely to anytime soon!

So what should we consider before taking the plunge and investing in your own scuba business?

 

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Great divers do not always make great dive centre owners

 It’s very common for someone with a lot of experience as a dive instructor to think the next logical step for them is their own place somewhere, changing the lives of new divers every day. In reality, while the customer service skills learnt and honed whilst working as an instructor is certainly beneficial in owning a business, being a business owner requires an entirely different set of skills – so make an effort to take courses on technical and mechanical subjects, they will come in very handy and for easy repairs and maintenance you can rely less others, thus keeping costs down.

 

Get help from the right people

It’s a good idea to visit every dive expo you can to talk to business owners, attend as many relevant seminars on the subject as is humanly possible, then of course speak to your accountant, bank manager and lawyer to ensure that all legalities are taken care of before it’s too late.

 

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Make a detailed business plan

If you are not familiar with a business plan, then find a course that’ll teach you.  A bad business plan can easily cause the failure of the new business, so make sure it includes:

 - Your chosen facilities

 - Professional instruction and teaching operations

 - Advertising, marketing and public relations for your business

 - Local demographics

 - Initial investment outlay and projections for future income

If you’re new to this, then any portion of the plan that you do not fully understand is an area you need additional training before starting to develop your business - if you do not understand the marketing functions, then you need a marketing course for example. Expect to spend at least a few months putting together your business plan.

The advantages of a new dive shop vs. buying an existing business

Are you planning on starting afresh or will you buy an existing dive centre? Purchasing an existing Dive Business generally means the initial risks are less and the start-up time is nearly eliminated, as you can usually retain the dive shop’s customers, suppliers and volume of sales. However one of the main disadvantages of buying an existing business can be that you inherit the reputation the original business had with its customers and also suppliers.

 

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Choose your business name carefully

Firstly, and before you get all those fancy t-shirts printed, verify the right to use the name and register it! If your choice of name and location may cause confusion with an existing dive operation, it could land you in a trouble so take the time to do some research first - take note all the dive operations around the world that stole the ‘Big Blue Diving’ name! Try to be unique, after all you don’t want to be confused with a lesser dive outfit with a similar name…

Be aware of the amount of time it takes to start a dive centre

It of course depends on your schedule, energy and resources, but expect to be able to open between nine months and a year after deciding to start if you’re lucky, and don’t forget to figure in the amount of time you’ll be working without an income whilst getting everything started.

The Importance of a great website.

A professional and informative scuba diving website can be an extremely affordable way to attract new customers online.

Website sales and enquiries in general are a low cost method to find new customers, and they’re ‘open’ 24 hours a day, all year round. Much thought needs to be put into its provision and design, and how easy it is to navigate for those with no previous diving experience at all – I know from personal experience that a bad website can easily put someone off diving with you. Also make sure the spelling and grammar is correct for those pedants that are so common in the dive industry!

 

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How much money will I need?

Dive centres require a lot of capital to start up, and it’s vital to consider how many divers you feel you will want as customers a day, and the costs that will be incurred to service them. For example, how will the divers get to the dive sites? Will you buy your own boat, or rent space on someone else’s? How about tanks and a means to refill them? Fins, BCDs and wetsuits come in different sizes so you will need an assortment too – expect to be paying around $1000 per person for the necessary equipment they’ll be wearing, and then there are maintenance costs to take into consideration.

Your training organization can help get good rates for dive liability insurance, but it is always an upfront premium payment. Do not forget your general business insurance and business permits too!

What about the competition?

You will always find that where there’s good diving, there are dive centres. It’s vital to take a look at what the dive centres close to your project are offering, what is successful and what they appear to be doing wrong. The best laid plans can sometimes be thrown up in the air by simple problems that were overlooked, so by having an in-depth look at how the competition operate will hopefully give you a few ideas on how to be a success from the very first day.

 

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So, your dream job will certainly be exciting and incredibly challenging, and to be a success with your own dive centre depends on many factors. You’ll need a lot of luck, but with some appropriate and intensive research, forward planning and sensible business skills, the realistic chances of rising above your rivals and the competition can become a reality.

Just don’t start one right next door to us, okay?

What is Nitrogen Narcosis?

Legendary French undersea explorer (and inventor of scuba-diving) Jacques Cousteau has a book named ‘The Silent World’, written in the late 1940's.  There is a chapter entitled ‘Rapture of the Deep’ which tells the story of Cousteau’s good friend Frederic ‘Didi’ Dumas, who was trying to deep dive in the Mediterranean Sea. They were in about 70 metres of water, and Didi was to descend on a line to the greatest depth he could reach and then release his weight belt and tie it on the line from the ship to the ocean floor. Didi describes the dive like so:

     "'The light does not change color as it usually does underneath a turbid surface. I cannot see clearly. Either the sun is going down quickly or my eyes are weak. I reached the hundred foot knot. My body doesn't feel weak by I keep panting. The damn rope doesn't hang straight. It slants off into yellow soup. It slants more and more. I'm anxious about that line, but I really feel wonderful. I have a queer feeling of the beatitude. I am drunk and carefree. My ears buzz and my mouth tastes bitter. The current staggers me as though I had too many drinks. "I forgotten Jacques and the people in the boats. My eyes are tired. I lower on down, trying to think about the bottom, but I can't. I'm going to sleep, but I can't fall asleep in such dizziness. There's a little light around me. I reach for the next knot and miss it. I reach again and tie my belt on it. Coming up is merry as a bubble. Liberated from weights I pull of the rope and bound. The drunken sensation vanishes. I'm sober and infuriated to have missed my goal. I pass Jacques and hurry on up. I am told I was down seven minutes.'

Didi's belt was tied 64 metres down. No independent diver had been deeper, yet Dumas' impression was that he had been slightly under 30 metres - insert your own Dumas/Dumb-ass joke here.

 This was the first widely read description of the affect nitrogen has under pressure. The wonderfully evocative name Cousteau gave it, ‘Rapture of the Deep’, is now more commonly known as ‘Nitrogen Narcosis’, or ‘Inert Gas Narcosis’ to diving nerds.

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So what is it?

Nitrogen Narcosis is a phenomenon linked to increased pressure. It is defined as "a reversible alteration of the state of consciousness of an individual in deep diving with compressed air". I’ve read this description 3 times now, and am still not quite sure what it’s going on about, so here we will try to look at it in terms a normal person will understand.

Simply, lots of gases are intoxicating when mixed with 21% oxygen – the amount we’re breathing right now (I hope). It depends on the pressure, and also how easily the gas dissolves in fat. Most of what we’re breathing is nitrogen, and the most accepted theory is that when we’re diving communication between the neurons in our brain, which is based on nitrogen bridges, is disturbed. As you know, while diving we accumulate nitrogen in our body, and one of the places where nitrogen tends to gather are these bridges, which increases the distance between the neurons. The longer the distance, the more time they need to communicate – leading to the feeling of being drunk and confused, kind of like a normal night at the Koh Tao Ladyboy Cabaret but with less stubble.

  If you dive deep you will get ‘narced’ because of this nitrogen narcosis. What happens to you depends on several factors, just like with alcohol – some people will feel it at relatively shallow depths, some can handle it much better. The reaction is said to be due to personality, body size, fat content, and mood - if you go looking to feel narcosis, then chances are you will!  It’s also very common with divers to feel the narcotic affect may be stronger from one day to the next keeping all the variables the same, which appears to suggest that the more a diver encounters nitrogen narcosis the better it is tolerated. 

So what does it feel like?

It’s bloody great! It all starts with a small tingling sensation in the stomach, which then begins to feel like a little euphoria. It’s almost unnoticeable at first, but slowly that euphoria moves from the stomach to the brain and then suddenly everything becomes amazing! The sandy bottom, the boring little brown fish you’ve never looked at before, the sun shining down from the surface…it's the best dive you've ever dived! There are many stories of divers removing their clothing to be more ‘free’, trying to get the fish to use their regulator to breathe from, refusing to acknowledge attempts to get them to shallow up, forgetting basic hand signals they’ve time and again in the past – personally on my deepest dive of around 50 metres I forgot how to work my dive computer, (which I’ve used on thousands of dives before) and spent what a good few minutes just staring at it, laughing at my stupidity whilst sitting down on the ocean floor, happy as a clam.

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How should I deal with it?

Everyone gets ‘narced’. It’s a fact that if you dive deep, then your body will be affected by it, be it a small amount of reg-out-pants-down-craziness. Your only options is either to ascend to shallower waters to make it disappear, or you learn to deal with the narcosis. To become a better deep diver, consider the following:

-Get more experience: Experience works well as advice for everything related to scuba diving. Remember this: the more you dive, the better you will deal with any problem or other occurrence underwater, and as we just learnt the more deep dives you do (exposing you to the effects of the nitrogen narcosis) the more you’ll be able to handle it when it does inevitably kick in.

-Practice skills you may have forgotten: There are some very important skills (such as out of air scenarios) that you may have forgotten over time. Usually, the longer it was since you completed your Open Water certification, the less you’ll remember if the time ever comes when you need to use this. It’s a great idea to practice them in shallow water repeatedly until they become instinctive, so if there’s ever an emergency situation whilst at the same time being narced, you will be able to deal with it without thinking.

-Improve your buoyancy:  It is important that you are able to breathe and move slowly whilst diving. The key word here is be calm. If you are calm, everything will be less stressful and you will take better decisions when narced. You will never manage this if your buoyancy is poor, with lots of erratic movements. The SSI/PADI Perfect Buoyancy specialty will certainly help any diver who feels like they need to improve this aspect of their diving.

-Get further training: Take the PADI or SSI Advanced Course or the Deep Diver specialty, where you’ll be partnered with a professional who is used to dealing with nitrogen narcosis. Enjoy your narcosis and let your instructor keep an eye on you!

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Lastly, no matter what your experience level is the trick is not to be afraid of narcosis, and try to embrace it as the fun that it is – you’ve probably noticed that experienced divers LOVE to go deep, so why not join the gang and give it a go yourself!

You can sign up for your PADI and SSI Advanced or Deep course in person or online, with courses starting every day here at Big Blue.

What is a Scuba Refresher?

"So what exactly is a refresher?"

 

This is one of the questions we’re asked here at Big Blue on a regular basis from our certified divers, as for those who haven’t dived in a while or are feeling a bit rusty will need do the refresher dive - also known as a ‘scuba tune-up’, ‘skills refresh dive’ or ‘scuba review’. It is essential for a number or reasons, which we’ll look at in this blog.

Scuba diving is one of those unique activities that safety issues arise not so much from a diver’s lack of ability or knowledge but what is going on inside their head. A small problem can easily be blown out of proportion in the mind of an out-of –practice diver, and lead to a full-blown panic situation. A panicked diver is not only a danger to themselves but also to their buddy, the divemaster or instructor, and the triggers for panic can often be something as small and simple as badly-fitting equipment or a bit of water in their mask. 

It’s because of this that both PADI and SSI actually suggest that divers who did not dive in the last six months should take do a refresher dive, as during it you will (re)learn the essential skills you may have forgotten during the period you didn't dive, as well as a review of:

  • Your underwater buoyancy skills
  • Your general knowledge about safety and underwater communication
  • How to retrieve your second stage and mask clearing
  • How to get in the water safely

Obviously, to say that everyone who hasn’t dived in more than 6 months is quite a broad assumption - experienced divers who have not been diving in over six months are usually their own best judge if they need a formal course to regain their scuba skills, however every diver who had not dived in a year should seriously consider the course. 

 

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So…do I need to do a refresher?

As you no doubt know, when you received your original certification card you were given a diving license for the rest of your life. There is nothing stopping you from renting or filling a dive tank and doing a dive on your own, but the fact is it might be the last thing you ever do! If you have been away from diving too long, your skills will definitely diminish and the refresher dive will give a nice, slow and shallow introduction back into the wonderful world of scuba diving safely and competently.

As well as being essential for you, the diver, to enjoy your dives with us safely and without incident, it also ensures that the rest of your diving group is diving with someone who knows exactly what to do if a situation arises out of the ordinary, and has a good grasp on the techniques required to dive properly without ruining the dive for everyone else – none of us like to be stuck in the group with the diver running into the back of us, kicking up the sand, panicking and running out of air well before the rest of us!

 

 

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What exactly do we have to do then?

The first part of the refresher is always the quick checklist of theory questions, which talk about what to do if you get separated from your group, what to do if you get too cold, and a few decompression-related situations. Usually the Divemasters will use these questions to get a general idea of what your performance will be like underwater – the questions are very simple and usually just require a little common-sense to get the correct answer, so if you got lots of them incorrect we know we’re going to be in for an ‘interesting’ time…

The next step is to practice again how to put together your equipment, do the necessary personal checks on it, and then you’ll have your dive briefing where your dive leader will go through all the different signs you’ll be using during the dive, and also talk about the natural features of the dive site and what we’re likely to encounter.

After the brief we then kit-up, and do the buddy check on your dive partners equipment – a very important part of any divers preparations before the dive, regardless of experience. Incidentally, when diving on holiday I always judge my dive centre of choice on whether they insist on the buddy check or not – if they don’t, then it shows that they’re not taking safety seriously and I’ll move to a different dive operation.

Next up is the exciting, in-water part – we start by demonstrating how to enter the water safely using the ‘giant stride’ technique, and like with all the skills you’ll be practicing your dive professional will do it first, then you have a go. When we’ve all safely entered the water we will swim to a shallow part of the chosen divesite, and descend onto the sandy bottom – usually you’ll be at a depth of around 2 metres for this part, and we spend about 20 minutes going through essential skills with the mask and regulator. This is then followed by the best part of the whole refresh, the diving part! When the skills are completed, we slowly start to creep deeper, usually reaching depths of around 10 metres, and reacquaint ourselves with the buoyancy control needed to dive properly– in particular the use of our breathing to move us up and down in the water, and how to control our movements in the water without damaging ourselves or the coral. It’s usually another 30 minutes or so of diving if you’re breathing slowly, making the refresher about one hour underwater – plenty of time to become used to the equipment again on a shallow, easy site free of current, but still with the beautiful marine life and corals that Koh Tao is famous for!

As the air in the tank is beginning to get low (and after your dive leader has sent up their surface marker to warn boats of our ascent) you will then finish off the refresher by correctly and slowly ascending back to the surface. Once back on the boat we will then discuss any problems that arose, what we could maybe do differently the next time we dive, and then it’s back to land to clean the equipment and celebrate the successful completion of your refresher, and subsequent re-entry into the world of scuba diving!

 

 

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We do the refresher dives every day here, starting at 11.30 am. You can book them in person, or online at www.bigbluediving.com

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