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Anyone working in the dive industry will have no doubt at some point in their careers had this very argument; is the divemaster (DM) or the instructor a better job? Ask a divemaster, and they’ll give you the opposite answer to if you ask an instructor, every single time. So who is right? Which is better? Let’s look at the facts right here:




So what exactly does a DM do?’ I hear you ask. The truth is…pretty much everything needed to run the dive centre!


Here at Big Blue the DM on land is responsible for organizing the boats, signing up new divers onto the relevant trips, assigning instructors/students to the correct vessel whilst also deciding which dive sites they’re going to, and ensuring the correct amounts of dive equipment are on the boats ready for the students to use. This seems like a lot, right? That’s because it is! The DM is essentially running the whole dive centre, and without them the place would fall apart very quickly indeed. They also act as the intermediary between the ground staff, captains and management, and are expected to be able to quickly fix any problems that arise in a collected, composed and calm manner.

The land role of the DM, therefore, isn’t the greatest part of the job at all. Quite stressful at times, many decisions need to be made very swiftly whilst knowing in the back of your mind that just one small error could be make or break someone whole dive experience.



The reason why the DM job is regarded as one of the best in the world is obviously not for the land based role, but the underwater part. With most of their work being done underwater, every day they are lucky enough to lead certified divers around the best sites, with their safety and enjoyment being of particular importance of course. Whilst guiding underwater their chief role is to find incredible marine life (that most divers wouldn’t be able to spot themselves) and…point at it!

Yes, that’s correct – pointing at beautiful things for a living. What a tough life they lead...

You can see now why so many divers aspire one day to become a real life Divemaster, after all it’s being paid to look for cool stuff just as we do when we’re on our holidays diving for fun, the only difference being that we have to point at it too! It also means that we’re not diving with beginner divers like the instructors, so we don’t have as many depth limits and are encouraged to use features like swim thru’s and play with currents to excite and challenge the divers we’re leading. As the best DM in Thailand (true fact, my mam told me) I know my heart would be broken having to dive our best deep sites like Sail Rock, Chumphon and South West Pinnacle but stuck at 18 metres as I’m teaching an Open Water course, or every other day diving our shallow beginner sites at such dizzying depths of around 8 or 9 metres maximum – this simply doesn’t happen to us DMs!


 padi dive instructor teach kids


After reading all that about us lovely DMs there’s no way that the instructor role can be worth going for…or can it?


I think it all comes down to what sort of person you are, and what you’re hoping to get out of your diving. The instructors are there at the frontline of diving, taking new, nervous Open Water students and turning them from crying/bolting to surface/ripping out regulator divers and (in just days) transforming them into safe, competent and confident Gods of the ocean, gliding around the reefs without a care in the world. This obviously leaves a huge sense of reward for the instructor, and I’ve no doubt that the majority of us would love that feeling of accomplishment when we’ve completed something challenging and created these wonderful new divers – it’s a feeling that’s not always easy to come by in life and it’s right here every single day for the dive instructor.

I also think that the instructor role is a lot more simple than what the DMs must do (but I’m sure lots of instructors may argue with me on this one) as they have it all wonderfully laid out for them. The boats are organized, the equipment packed, tanks provided and dive sites chosen – all they have to do now is be a damn good instructor, and they’re a winner. The DMs however absolutely must find amazing things underwater, or they’ve failed and their divers will surface unhappy – I know just how worrying it is halfway into a dive when you’ve found nothing special!

Oh, and did I mention that the dive instructors get paid a hell of a lot more than the DMs, who make just enough to get by on?

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To conclude, the best is what you believe to be the best. If you thrive under a bit of pressure and only want to dive the sexiest deep sites and not have to deal with problems associated with first time divers than DM is definitely the choice for you. If you want to come back from your dives feeling rewarded, having been directly responsible for changing someone’s life for the better, than maybe it’s time to that instructor course!


You can sign up for your DMT here and the Instructor training right here



Koh Tao is a very popular choice for those wishing to undertake their Divemaster training or ‘DMT’, and with over 90 dive centres to choose from finding the one most suitable for you has never been harder, and that's not even thinking about the dive centres on our neigbouring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan!


Here we will look at my Top 10 reasons why there’s no one better than Big Blue if you want to do your Divemaster training here in SE Asia:


  1. Take as long as you like – The DMT can be done in just 4 weeks if you’re in a hurry, but when time isn’t an issue then it’s no problem to spend as long as you like getting to know the dive sites before getting signed off as one of our new Divemasters – after all, with over 25 sites to learn why hurry when you can dive as much as you like during your training!



  1. Large, comfortable boats made for divers – With two large diving boats (rather than the usual small ex-fishing boats favoured by most of our rivals) you can really enjoy the travel time before and between dives with over 90% of the boat covered – essential in the heat (and rains) of Thailand. Also their size and weight makes them a lot more stable in rough seas – take note those of you who get seasick…
  1. More dive sites to learn – With no restrictions on where we can send our boats and regular trips to Sail Rock and Samran Pinnacle when conditions allow us, you’ll get more dive sites than those diving at the smaller dive centres – the bonus of diving at a well-established dive centre with 27 years of experience in these waters.
  1. Separate boats for the certified divers – In my opinion absolutely THE most important factor to consider when committing to at least a month of diving around Koh Tao is whether you’ll have to go to the same beginner dive sites every day, after all Koh Tao has a lot more first time divers than those already certified. If we had just one boat it would mean precisely that, and we do feel sorry for those out there missing out on so many excellent but challenging dive sites around the island. What’s that, Big Blue have three boats and can go wherever we want, regardless of how unsuitable it is for new divers? Where do I sign up!


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  1. Make yourself very employable on Koh Tao – directly linked to the previous reason, if you’re planning to look for Divemaster work after your training has finished then do you want to know just a handful of dive sites, or do you want to know them all? Our fresh new DMs generally know more of underwater Koh Tao than 90% of the other DMs on the island that have trained elsewhere!
  1. Learn from the best – Divemasters don’t often stay in the job for too long, as the pull of earning lots as an instructor usually kicks in after a few months of long hours and little pay. At Big Blue however we have a team of DMs with thousands of Koh Tao dives between them (DM Steph alone has over 3000) so when you want to know what that obscure nudibranch is, what to expect when exploring off-site or just how to organize a boat as efficiently as possible then experience wins out every time.
  1. Beachfront location = great atmosphere – With limited space on the beaches, not all of the dive centres on Koh Tao are blessed with what we’re enjoying every single day – sunset facing beachfront classrooms, dorms, bar, restaurant, coffee shop and training pool. We defy anyone to not instantly relax when they see what we’re so lucky to have available to us, and of course the atmosphere around the resort reflects this. Come join us one evening for a sunset drink and see for yourself, you may never leave!


PADI Scuba Diver

  1. Diving 365 – High season? Diving. Monsoon season? Diving. Christmas Day? Diving. Martin Luther King Day? You get the idea! As one of Koh Tao’s only dive centres that are diving every single day of the year, rain or shine, you can be sure that if you want to really get as many dives as possible during your DMT experience then Big Blue is the place for you.
  1. Fill the tanks on the boat – Now this is one that a lot of potential DMTs don’t think about when shopping around for the dive centre most suitable for them, but it’s something that can really suck when diving every day – moving full and empty tanks to and from the dive boats. Tanks are heavy, so inevitably who gets the job of moving all the cylinders needed for the dive trip: that’s right, it’s the lucky DMTs. At Big Blue however we have our compressors on the boats, so all the tanks we need are sitting there filled and waiting for us when we get there – no need to move them back and forward every day!
  1. Dive for free forever! – This is an incredible perk, and one that may end up biting us on the arse in the future with so many happy new DMs leaving with promises to return as soon as their finances allow it: once you’ve become a fully-fledged BB Divemaster, you can return and dive for free with us as much as you like, for the rest of your life! Suddenly the little extra it costs to do your DMT with us is looking like quite the bargain, right?



Read more about Divemaster training at Big Blue right here

The Wonderful New World of Underwater Koh Tao

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on the diving we’ve been enjoying around Koh Tao recently, for no reason other than we’re trying to keep it secret so we’re not swamped with divers looking to see some incredible marine life – and believe me, we’ve been seeing some truly amazing things so far this year!

After the spectacularly whaleshark year of 2017 when so many of these big spotty monsters were seen that people were actually asking to not dive with them (as they’d ‘seen them too many times already’!) 2018 seems to following nicely in the footsteps of its older sibling and is even trying to take it one step further by showing us things we previously wouldn’t dream of encountering underwater 


Guitarfish                                                                                      guitar shark 1600x900

These weird-looking things are part of the ray family, and I suppose from their name are supposed to look like guitars, if guitars looked like a spiky evil shark-thing. Guitarfish are bottom feeders, and like to bury themselves in mud or sand and eat crabs, and clams and worms in typical ray fashion.

There were reported sightings of guitarfish close to Shark Island a year or so ago, but as there were no photos the identification was never confirmed and they were forgotten about until last week, when a pair were spotted chilling on the sand at South-West Pinnacle!

Eagle Rays                                                                               Eagle Ray 140 1024x576  

Now this is something that’s been recorded before around Koh Tao, but very rarely indeed until a month or so ago when they were seen at Chumphon Pinnacle, White Rock, Japanese Gardens and even just off Sairee Beach on a number of occasions – in fact we saw more in 2 weeks than we’d seen in the previous 5 years, which was just great thanks!

These large species live in the open ocean rather than on the sea bottom like most rays, and feed on hard-shelled, bottom-living clams, snails and hermit crabs. Known to live as long as 25 years, they are what we could call ‘frequent flyers’ as they’re often seen breaching the surface with giant leaps!


False Killer and Pilot Whales                                                          FKW lifting heads while surfacing 331

Around May/June each year we’re visited by a few false killer and pilot whales who like to follow the boats, leap about a bit and then disappear as soon as we try to enter the water for a better look – they’re very shy of humans, we thought, and to be honest who can blame then?

This year was very different! For almost the whole month of May we had groups of both visiting us at different spots around Koh Tao, with pods of false killer whales being seen just a little south of Shark Island pretty much every day. These were a lot happier to be around us, and on a few occasions we were able to swim with them too.


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Both part of the dolphin family, they are found all around the world. The most common around Koh Tao are the short-finned pilot whales which are often confused with our other visitors, the unfortunately-named false-killer whales. Not considered a killer whale or even closely related to the killer whale, they’re named because of the shape of their skulls. Daft!




Lionfish                                                                              Lewis Kirkpatrick - AMRAE Productions

Rarely seen on the dive sites of Koh Tao, the lionfish is one of the most strikingly beautiful fish we have in our waters here in the Gulf of Thailand. Preferring to hide out in the deep sand away from our underwater pinnacles and reefs, to get to see one usually meant that you were lost or out looking for them purposely in the middle of nothing…but this year tells a different tale!

First there was one sitting on the HTMS Sattakut wreck, then a little later another appeared right in the middle of South West Pinnacle (thanks for the photo Lewis Kirkpatrick). Just as we were celebrating our good fortune with these two we had a sudden outbreak of them on the shallowest points of Chumphon Pinnacle, with at least TEN different fish hanging out there now, with their old hiding places abandoned to our delight.

A very photogenic fish, they’re also carrying a LOT of poisonous spines that they use to defend themselves, however they tend to be non-aggressive and usually shy away from divers (I'm trying to forget the time I was chased by a gang of them in the Similan Islands).



What’s the Story? 

So what’s changed to bring all of this marine life to us?  It’s something that’s being debated everyday here, but unfortunately it seems like the most logical theory for it may end up being a problem that could affect all of us diving here on Koh Tao.  In the deepest parts of the oceans surrounding the island we have had what’s being nicknamed ‘the dead zone’, a layer of black gunk which could very likely be mats of cyanobacteria where nothing is living due to the low levels of oxygen in it (in some cases they’re totally free of oxygen), leaving hundreds of bottom-dwellers dead or dying – in particular crabs and shrimp. As this anoxia is a death trap for our marine life, a lot of divers here believe that the creatures that would usually be well away from our divesites - the lionfish are a perfect example – are now seeking refuge on shallower parts which still have plenty of oxygen for them to thrive – like the shallow top of Chumphon Pinnacle.

Of course this theory is precisely that; just a theory, and it could be down to a number of other factors that affect the creatures down there (the large amounts of planktonic matter in the water right now is one factor that could be affecting the marine life) so keep your fingers crossed that it’s not something that’s going to lead to a mass die-off, and all these amazing creatures are here to stay for a very long time!






The Most Desirable Underwater Encounters

From the toothiest shark to gentle giants like manta rays, no matter what your tastes every scuba diver has in their head a wishlist of marine life that they’d like to see before they die. After doing a bit of research from colleagues on Koh Tao and Koh Samui I’ve come up with this list of the hottest underwater creatures that we’re all determined to see before family and kids ruin everything.

Without further ado, I give you our top picks:




Hammerhead Shark

The undisputed number one on this list and something that was mentioned by almost every person I asked, the hammerhead shark is like the rarest Pokémon in the ocean, and a fish we all dream of encountering at some point. There are actually 9 different species, the largest of them all being the great hammerhead shark which can reach lengths of 6 metres. Attacks on humans by hammerheads are very rare you’ll be pleased to hear, despite them being aggressive hunters.

They best places to find them are Cocos Island off Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Madivaru Corner in the Maldives, Alor Island in Indonesia, Bimini and Andros in the Bahamas and the Aliwal Shoal in South Africa.

Interesting fact:  They are one of very few animals who tan from the sun. This happens as Hammerheads are often cruising in shallow water or near the surface for extended periods of time, and refuse to wear sunscreen or floppy hats.


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Manta Rays

The largest rays on the planet yet considered harmless to humans, scuba diving with manta rays is something many of us here at Big Blue dream of. These underwater giants can reach sizes of up to 9 metres, and the giant oceanic manta (the largest of the species) can weigh over 1500 kg! And I thought I was fat. The manta, unlike other rays, does not have a spine on its tail for defense and is a filter-feeder, searching the waters by using their cephalic fins (the flappygiblet-looking things) to channel water into their mouths.

The best places to find them is temperate and tropical waters, for example they’re seen regularly around Socorro Island in Mexico, Kona in Hawaii, Similan Islands here in Thailand, Nusa Lembongan and Penida close to Bali, and Baa Atoll in the Maldives.

Interesting fact: Manta rays are often seen jumping out of the water when they’re pissed off, or more likely to rid themselves of parasites.


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Show me someone who doesn’t want to dive with dolphins, and I’ll show you a liar. These highly intelligent marine mammals are found worldwide, mostly in shallow seas and are carnivores, feeding mainly on fish and squid. With almost 40 species of dolphin in the world, their colour can vary (can they get suntans too?) but the ones we all want to kiss and hug and play with are in general grey. The playful little buggers are famous for being a of fun, leaping around, chasing stuff, blowing bubbles, collecting treasures…basically anything that looks interesting to them gets them excited!

The most common dolphins to dive with are bottlenose, spotted and swimmer dolphins, and they can be seen underwater regularly at Kona in Hawaii, Hurghada in Egypt, Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and Fernandina Island, in Galápagos. Just watch out for the horny ones!

Interesting fact: Dolphins are considered second only to man in intelligence, which I assume now means women are in third place.




Humpback Whales

Quite the debate occurred when diving with whales was considered for this list, in particular about which whale would be the best. Humpback was of course the winner (the title of this section will have given you a clue) mainly due to the ease in which they can be seen (they tend to spend a lot of time close to the surface compared to other whales), their friendliness and also the beautiful songs the males are famous for – some last 10-20 minutes, and are often repeated for hours!

These massive mammals, fully grown, average about 15 metres long (with the females often a couple of metres bigger due to their high heels) and weigh around 40,000 kilos! They’re found in oceans and seas around the world, and the best places to spend time with them in the water are Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, Vavau Island in Tonga, Silver Bank in Dominican Republic and the Socorro Islands in Mexico.

Interesting fact: Humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 km each year, the exact same distance I’d go to have the chance of getting away from my ex-wife.


 whale sharks


Here on Koh Tao we don’t realise just how lucky we are to get to dive with these incredible creatures on a regular basis, especially as they’re now deemed to be endangered creatures. When divers first arrive here on Koh Tao all they want to know is when they could see one, how big it would be, which sites have the best chance…it really is the dream of many thousands of divers all around the world and there’s never been a better chance to see these docile giants of the ocean.

The largest fish on the planet, this stupidly-named shark is not actually related to whales at all, but was named due to its size and the way it feeds apparently - a likely excuse!

The largest one recorded was over 12 metres long, and they can weigh around 19,000 kg. Another filter feeder like manta rays, these harmless beauties pose no risk of eating divers, and prefer to spend their time eating plankton (and sometimes squid, krill and smaller fish) that they filter through their gills.

Those of you looking to dive with one should book to see us here on Koh Tao (the best time of year is usually between May and July), or alternatively try hotspots like Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, Al-Lith on the Red Sea, Isla Mujeres in Mexico or Darwin Island in Galapagos amongst others.

Interesting fact: The mouth of the whaleshark can grow to around 1.5 metres wide, just slightly less than my ex-wife when she’s nagging.



What are you waiting for? Get diving now, and non divers sign up for your Open Water diving course right here! 




Thailand is world famous for its incredible dive sites, and with regular sightings of whalesharks all year round now on Koh Tao and the opportunity to bump into manta rays and leopard sharks on the Andaman side of the country there’s never been a better time to experience the best places Thailand has to offer for the scuba enthusiast.

In this blog we’ll be taking a closer look at what are regarded as the best dive sites to visit next time you’re in Thailand, and please feel free to offer suggestions of your own!


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‘Hin Daeng’, Mu Koh Lanta National Marine Park

Literally translated to ‘Red Rock’, this excellent divesite is located in south of Koh Phi Phi and Phuket on the west coast of Thailand. As you can see from the map it just breaks the surface and reaches depths of around 60 metres at a lovely steep wall covered in red soft corals which give the dive site its name. Best visited between November and April, there’s always a chance to see whalesharks, manta rays and even leopard sharks on occasion.  Jackfish are always present in great numbers, and it’s a lovely site to explore if you’re interested in the smaller things out there with many different types of nudibranch, shrimp and others to keep the keen macro photographer happy.

Hin Daeng

Its neighbor, ‘Hin Muang’ or ‘Purple Rock’ offers equally as wonderful diving, this time with more purple soft corals. It takes about 1-2 hours to get to these sites by speedboat from Koh Lanta or Koh Phi Phi, and is well worth the trip.

These sites are best dived with the SSI or PADI Advanced certification already due to its often challenging currents and depth.




richelieu rock dive site map

Richelieu Rock, Surin National Marine Park


Discovered as a recreational scuba dive site by Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the 80’s (with the help of local fishermen) and arguably the number one site on this list, this underwater gem is world famous as being ‘Whale Shark Teritory' and draws many visitors every day because of this fact. Situated a little south of the Burmese border east of Surin Island it’s easily visited from Khao Lak and Phuket on Liveaboard or day trips, and is full of life with plankton flows ensuring the presence of big fish, in particular schooling whirls of barracuda, giant trevally, dogtooth tuna and of course the majestic whaleshark if you’re lucky.

whale shark richelieu rock

Beautiful corals, seahorses, ghost-pipefish, lionfish, harlequin shrimp, nudibranch and the chance for the rare flamboyant cuttlefish make this a must-see next time you’re diving Thailand – try to do two dives here if you really want to discover the whole site!





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Chumphon Pinnacle, Koh Tao     

By far the most visually impressive site close to Koh Tao, this now legendary pinnacle is easily the best chance to see the whalesharks in the Gulf of Thailand (along with Sail Rock, next up on the list). Perfect for both SSI/PADI Open Water and Advanced fundivers and students, we always know that our divers are going to return from this site totally addicted to scuba diving! Once home to bullsharks and reef sharks, it's a fully submerged granite pinnacle 14 metres at its shallowest point and reaching as deep as 47 metres off the northern tip (towards a secret pinnacle nicknamed 'The Castle' due to its shape). It's surrounded by schools of barracuda, large grouper towards the ocean floor and beautiful schools of fusiliers being hunted by passing king mackerel, trevally, queenfish and rainbow runners.


Can be dived all year round, with the best months for whalesharks usually April – June.




sail rock

Sail Rock, not far from Koh Tao/Koh Samui/Koh Phangan

With no other dive site for miles around, Sail Rock is renowned for being the undisputed number one dive site in the whole of the Gulf of Thailand. The only site for miles around, all of the larger species in the area are attracted towards it which inevitably makes it a great place to see whalesharks and the other big stuff that hangs around our sites – in 2017 there were at least 102 whalesharks sightings here, the most ever seen in the history of Koh Tao/Koh Phangan diving!

Batfish at Sail Rock

Once home to bullsharks (come back soon please!) it's covered in pelagics - schools of chevron and pickhandle barracuda, along with batfish, queenfish and tonnes of fusiliers! The edges of the site are usually home to prowling King Mackerel over a metre long and huge, fat grouper lurking at depth, which are always looking to feed on the smaller fish that blanket the dive site.






king crusier map

King Cruiser Wreck, between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi

Originally a car ferry in Kobe, Japan, the King Cruiser was bought by Thailand’s marine company and used as a passenger ferry between Phuket and Phi Phi when it hit ‘Anemone Reef’ in 1997, and sank with no casualties due to the help of nearby dive and fishing boats. The wreck is 85 m long by 35 m wide, and has four decks with large walkways and windows. It lies perfectly upright at 33 metres at the deepest point, with the shallowest point being the captain’s cabin at 12 metres – strong currents and its depth make it unsuitable for Open Water divers however. 

turtle diving krabi

The wreck acts a home to hordes of scorpionfish and lionfish, and is also a feeding ground to enormous schools of snapper, batfish and trevally. Octopus, eels, turtles and the odd shark have also been known to make an appearance, so keep your eyes peeled!



So how many of these have you dived? Do you agree with our Top 5, or would you put something else on the list? Let us know through our social media!




Scuba diving is practised by thousands of lucky people around the world every single day. It’s something very special to be underwater yet a lot of people are very apprehensive about diving for the first time, even though it is considered a low-risk activity compared to many other outdoor and sporting activities – jogging for one is a lot more likely to put you at risk!

Of course it would be irresponsible of me to play down the risks involved, scuba diving is essentially an extreme sport which requires training and a licence. The most common medical issues are sunburn, seasickness and dehydration (all of which are easily avoided) but there also the dangers related to the effects of the increased water pressure underwater, dodgy scuba equipment and on the odd occasion marine creatures.

So is scuba diving dangerous? I think the best answer I’ve ever heard to this question is “diving is as dangerous or as safe as you want it to be”. If you practice safe diving by only diving to the limits of your experience and licence, maintain a reasonably fit and healthy lifestyle plus ensure the equipment you use is in good working order then diving is not very dangerous at all.


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Let’s look at a few ways on how to be a safe diver:


  • I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: dive within the limits of your experience – if you’re an Open Water diver stick to an 18 metre maximum depth, Advanced 30 metres and so on. Don’t be tempted to push your limits until you’ve had the necessary further training; it’s worth considering taking your PADI/SSI advanced, deep or wreck specialties.


  • Maintain good health. A high percentage of dive accidents are caused because of a pre-existing medical condition, so if possible have a medical check-up before taking a dive course to make sure you’re in tip-top condition.


  • Check your dive equipment thoroughly. If you have your own make sure it’s maintained and serviced regularly, rinsed in fresh water after diving and stored in a dry place. If you’re using rental equipment from your dive centre have a look at how it’s kept, check the hoses aren’t damaged and that it’s all being cleaned after every dive trip.

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  • Respect the buddy check! Insist on a thorough buddy check EVERY time you dive regardless of your own or your buddy’s experience, and take a minute to make sure the air is turned on fully, all regulators are working properly and secured in the correct manner, and that the weight belt/pockets are secure. A proper buddy check as taught in your SSI/PADI Open Water is more than sufficient here and stops any silly little problems that can occur. Many times I’ve heard people saying ‘don’t bother with the buddy check’, and inevitably they’re the ones returning to the surface because they’ve forgotten something or have compromised their safety somehow.


  • Always dive with a buddy, and that means staying close enough to each other so that in the event of an ‘out of air’ situation you can easily reach each other in a few seconds. Also make sure before the dive you’ve worked out who will be following whom underwater!

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  • Plan your dive properly, and stick to it as much as is possible. A good dive plan (and pre-dive briefing) will eliminate a substantial level of risk, but no plan is safe unless you follow it. In the event of the plan needing to change (for example, if a whaleshark appears on the divesite) make sure the whole group is aware of what will happen next, and make sure that each diver is aware of the reason for the change (in our example simply point at the whaleshark excitedly). The dive plan should also discuss at which point the divers will start their ascent – never go over the decompression limits without the correct training!


  • Keep practising to keep your skills fresh. Try to dive at least every 6 months, and if it’s been longer than that you should definitely consider doing a refresher dive: If it’s more than a year between dives then a refresher dive (also known as a scuba tune-up) should definitely be carried out for your safety and that of your buddy. I always ask all of my diving group when they last dived to get an idea of how good or bad they will be underwater, and which of them may need a little extra attention.


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To conclude, as long as train properly with a reputable dive centre (and keep diving to the way you were taught to), keep your skills fresh by diving regularly, and look after yourself and your equipment there’s no reason why you can’t lead a happy and safe scuba diving life!





I’m often found to be browsing the various Thailand backpacker forums out there on Facebook, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor and one question that pops up a lot is who to choose to dive with after you’ve been certified. With something like 100 dive centres on Koh Tao (1 great, 99 less so) it seems like a difficult task, but with a little bit of research it’s easy to see why Big Blue are the undisputed leaders of fundiving on this lovely little island for those wanting to dive more challenging and exciting sites than those the Open Water students are going to.

Here we will look at the different types of dive centre on the island, and what they’re offering to the already-certified scuba diver.



Sites Visited

It’s essential for any fundiver, be them experienced or freshly certified, to be offered the chance to visit the best dive sites Koh Tao has to offer on a daily basis. The dive sites widely acknowledged to be the best are Chumphon, South-West and Samran Pinnacles, plus other classics like Green Rock, Shark Island and the wonderfully challenging Laem Thian ‘Caves’ on the east of the island. When looking for a dive centre to use for your holidays here, it’s an excellent idea to speak to the Divemaster in their reception  and have a look at their schedule for the coming days (and also the past week) to see which sites are being visited the most – if the same sites are being repeated daily then it usually means the dive centre is using the same boat for both Open Water students and the fundivers, especially if you see sites like Japanese Gardens, Aow Leuk and Mango Bay listed.


Fundiver-only Boat?

‘So what’s wrong with Japanese Gardens, Mango Bay and Aow Leuk?’ I hear you ask? ‘Nothing at all!’ is our resounding answer, these sites are absolutely perfect for those of you diving for the first time, with lots of shallow sandy patches to practice your buoyancy skills without bumping into the delicate corals. However, for those with more diving experience looking to see the most beautiful sites around Koh Tao these would be a disappointing choice.

It’s here where having a boat exclusively for fundivers really makes the difference!

Our dedicated fundiver boat has no restrictions on where it can go around Koh Tao, so we don’t have to follow the crowds and stick to the nearby western dive sites like White Rock and Twins every day – no site is too far, and it’s also one of the only big boats on the island that can comfortably go from Chumphon to South West Pinnacle in a normal morning run; way too far for the slower boats out there! Most importantly of all, it means that the dive sites we go to are not determined by the majority, the learner divers. All dive sites are now viable, currents to play with and swim-throughs to squeeze through are our goals, and of course we now have absolutely no restrictions on where the boat will end up so the moment we get the ‘Whaleshark!’ call over the radio we can immediately change our plans and head straight towards it, something that wouldn’t be possible if we were sharing the boat with our OW students!

The choice here is simple, really.



What else should we consider?

There are always more things to consider before taking the plunge with your dive centre of choice, the most important of all being safety. Boats should always have fully-stocked first aid kits, plus plenty of pure oxygen on the boat in case the worst happens. I usually have a quick search online to find out a bit more info, looking out in particular for reports of accidents etc. that may have occurred there, but maybe this is me just being a bit morbid!

The way the fundivers are organized is also key to a happy dive experience. More than 4 divers per DM is a little too much for my liking, and I do not like being told to go up because of a time restriction on the dives – there are a few dive centres on Koh Tao that won’t let you dive over 1 hour, some even have a 45 minute time limit! On a shallow site Advanced divers should be able to get at least an hour underwater safely, and here at Big Blue we will always try to give our fundivers as long as we can without compromising safety with the air in the tank, or the limits set by the dive computer of course.

Finally (and this is something that really drives me crazy!) the groups should never mix the certification levels. As a divemaster myself I don’t want to be placed in a group containing Open water level divers…ever!  More often than not the OW divers use their air a lot faster and have less control over their movement underwater, which can often result in short dives and lots of bumping into each other and the bottom. I don’t want to sound like a scuba snob but diving is expensive, and I want to get the most out of my dives without someone swimming into the back of me or kicking up sand when I’m trying to get a photograph - give them their own DM, and the put the advanced divers in another group for God’s sake!




Here at Big Blue we wouldn’t dream of mixing our advanced and open water divers, there are no time limits, maximum group sizes of four per DM and absolutely no restrictions on where we send the boat. Our safety record is the envy of many, and our worldwide reputation for quality is one we’re very proud of here. Coupled with some of the most talented DMs on the island, and our big, comfortable dive boats (rather than the converted fishing boats so many of our competitors favour) there’s no reason why any sane diver wouldn’t at least come for a chat to find out just why we’re the best choice for fundives, every single day of the year.



Come and sign up for your fundives in person at our resort on Sairee Beach, or with me in the little office in Sairee village.





For those wishing to learn how to dive, the SSI or PADI Open Water course is a great choice here at Big Blue. We’re often asked why the Open Water course takes so long to complete, so this blog will hopefully explain just how the course works, and why taking four days to complete it is the best way to become certified whilst not rushing through it too much – after all why hurry something that’ll give you memories that’ll last a lifetime!




When researching which dive centre to dive with, you’ll often hear the expression ‘getting certified’. This means taking and passing a scuba diving course given by one of the 120 accredited scuba certification agencies such as PADI, SSI and NAUI, the most commonly seen here in Thailand. When you’ve become certified you are now able to fill your own tanks and go diving without a dive professional (of course you’ll need to show a certification card before they will fill a tank) or, alternatively, they can now go diving with any dive shop worldwide without further training.

The training for the Open Water license consists of four parts, spread over four days: 

  • Theory work
  • Written exams
  • Pool training
  • Four Open water dives


So why do we need four days – it doesn’t seem like that’s a lot to do?

When learning to dive for the first time, our students need time to let all the new information from the theory-side of the course sink in. With the average attention span of students nowadays being an embarrassing 10 minutes maximum (according to educational research) the teacher will have to structure the class sessions in a way that ensures the student is kept engaged and also interested in all the cool new information being introduced. This means spreading the classroom sessions out, with a typical theory schedule looking something like this:

Day 1: 17.00 – 19.00

Just over an hour of videos, and a quick chat with the instructor.


Day 2: 08.30 – 17.00

A half hour of videos, and about an hour and a half of class time with the instructor followed by a break for lunch then the pool session.


Day 3: 08.30 – 17.00

 An hour and a half of classtime with the instructor, lunch break then two shallow dives in the afternoon.


Day 4: 06.30 – 11.30

The final two deep dives of the course, no theory today!



This spacing of the theory is, in our opinion, the best possible way to teach our Open Water students precisely what they need without running the risk of them being distracted or losing interest. If it’s all done in one go even a student with the best intentions will struggle to stay stimulated during the theory work, and will certainly not be able to recall all that’s being taught. Also, by spacing the Open Water over four days it really helps with the camaraderie of the group, as learning together always quickly leads to firm friendships amongst the group, which in turn aids learning due to the positive atmosphere that pervades.


On the second day, usually after a little instruction from you dive-pro, you will head to the pool (or pool-like environment). You will practice the basic scuba skills you will need to complete your open water training, including such things as putting on your gear, taking off your mask, sharing air, and so on. This shallow water session (known as ‘confined skills’) tends to take about 3-4 hours, but in some situations we will take longer if we feel the students need it to really learn all that is necessary to get maximum enjoyment out of the first ocean dives the following day.

Next comes the four ocean dives. During these dives you will demonstrate the skills you learned in the pool portion of the course, whilst also learning how to control your movements underwater – known as ‘buoyancy control’.



So we can do all four in one day easily, right?

Wrong! There are many safety standards the instructors MUST stick to, dictated by the Gods of diving the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC) who tell every dive organization (PADI, SSI et al) precisely what needs to be done to become an Open Water diver. In regards to the ocean dives they say this:

“No more than three open water scuba dives may be conducted on a given day.”

And hereby is the reason for the fourth day! Personally, I think to do it in a shorter time period can be a little daunting, as to really get comfortable with everything takes time, and to rush through would serve no benefit to either student or instructor – our new divers often call their Open Water experience ‘one of the best times of their lives’, so why hurry?

Sign up for your SSI or PADI Open Water course here at Big Blue’s resort, or through our website at


Courses starting every day of the year, at 5pm.





As simple as diving is (kick legs, breathe and look at fish) it’s very common for our fresh new Open Water students to encounter a problem or two when first trying out all of the new equipment involved in scuba diving in the shallow waters of the first day.

With years of experience dealing with these challenges, we’ve come up with our Top 5 ‘Hardest’ skills of the Open Water right here:



  1. Breathing out of your Nose

As I said earlier diving is pretty simple, and it’s often the things that seem most straightforward that people trip up on. It therefore comes as no surprise that a surprising amount of students (for reasons unbeknownst to many) get stuck on the uncomplicated task of blowing air out of their noses. Breathe in through your mouth, out through your nose – easy eh?

Well, apparently not! From just simply not exhaling at all, or breathing in instead of out, or my personal favourite of blowing out of their mouths (and then arguing that they didn’t) it’s one of the essential things for all scuba divers to master, as all you certified divers know this is how we get rid of any water that may have collected in our masks.

So what’s the best way to get through this terrible ordeal?

It’s here when the quality of your instructor shines through, and usually with a few reassuring words, a quick cuddle and a pat on the head the students are all happily blowing all sorts of muck out of their noses without even realizing it. It also helps to reassure yourself when feeling anxious in a situation like this, tell yourself ‘don’t panic, you can do this’ and more often than not the perceived problem is overcome easily!


 mask clearing 2

  1. Mask Clearing

Ask any dive professional about problems encountered during mask clearing practice and they will no doubt talk of terror, blind panic, and bolting to the surface to get that damn mask off as soon as humanly possible. It’s a vital skill to be mastered by any new diver as it is quite common for water to enter the mask due to a variety of reasons, be it because of a poorly fitting mask, a stray hair caught under the skirting, a kick from another diver or a broken mask strap – the list is endless!

So how do we perfect this technique?

The easy answer is to practice as much as possible, preferably first in a training pool! A safe, controlled environment free of boat traffic, current or visibility issues means a novice diver can feel as comfortable as possible without outside factors causing more stress, and with a few choice words and expert advice from a good instructor the student, before long, is taking the mask of like a true pro.

The following tips may be of use to those having trouble with mask clearing:

  • Practice! You can do this at home, in the kitchen sink or the nearest bathtub
  • Try breathing through the regulator on the surface without a mask on, breathing in through the mouth and out from the nose till it feels normal.
  • When feeling a little more comfortable, try breathing (with your face in the water) through a regulator or snorkel without the mask at all, to get used to the feeling of water in and around your nostrils

Ultimately, a flooded mask is a common occurrence underwater, and dealing with it shouldn’t be perceived as an emergency, but rather as a normal part of scuba diving for the competent, confident diver.



  1. Setting up the Dive Equipment

I remember very well indeed the first time I was shown all of the fancy new equipment needed for diving – ‘there’s quite a lot of it’ was my initial reaction, then suddenly I was bombarded with terms like first stage, buoyancy control device (!), second stage, low pressure inflator, primary and alternate…and my confidence dropped to an all-time low. There was no way I’d remember all those names and which was which!

Of course (being the No. 1 Divemaster in Thailand now) I did in fact get to grips with the equipment after all, and before long it was almost second-nature to go through the set-up efficiently in a matter of minutes. So what was it that helped me conquer this fear of long-winded technical terms and unknown equipment?

Repetition was absolutely the key.  Again and again we set up the dive equipment, took it apart, set it up, swapped with our buddy’s equipment…. repeat ad nauseam! It didn’t take many dives before we could do it with our eyes closed, had worked out the exact knack of getting that LPI connected in one easy movement, and had become at one with the equipment.

The trick is to keep at it, and when diving after the completion of your Open Water insist on always setting up your own equipment to ensure you don’t forget how – after all who better to trust with your stuff than yourself!


 giant stride

  1. Deep Water Entry

This is a strange one, as the deep water entry is basically hold the belt, hold the mask and step in. So why do we always have a bit of bother with this one?

It all really comes down to two emotions – excitement and fear.

The first time out on the boat, with everyone putting on their equipment for the first training dive of the SSI or PADI Open Water, is a great place to get excited. There’s always a wonderful buzz going around the boat as we head to the dive site, and when the captain honks his horn to give the all-clear to jump you can see the visible change in our divers demeanour, usually an even split of the nervous and the bloody excited!

Herein lies the problem with the deep water entry. Our divers head to the back of the boat, instructions are repeated for the final time, the diver hold the belt and mask and steps into the unknown…

It’s at this point when at least one person from every group of divers will let go of whatever they were holding and either flap their hands around nervously like they’re a chicken whilst stepping into the ocean, or does some super-excited hands-in-the-air star-jump thingamabob, usually accompanied by a few laughs from the other students. No matter how cool and collected the diver may have seemed before their giant leap for mankind, you can be assured that’s there will always be, from now until the end of time, at least one who royally screws it up and forgets everything they were told a matter of seconds before.

How to beat this? Vulcan emotion-suppressing aside, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths to calm yourself should be enough to enough, but there will always be at least one remember…



  1. Getting up at 5am for the last day

Staying up all night is not the way to succeed on this one, partygoers.




1. Worried about the evil ingredients in your sunscreen being washed off and damaging the coral? Follow the advice of our uber-fashionable Chinese tourists by simply wearing a skin-tight bodysuit, not only will it protect you from sunburn but you’ll also look like an extra from the Power Rangers, which I believe attracts girls.



2. Don’t want to spend money on cheap plastic water-guns that’ll inevitably break after 5 frigging minutes? Use a real gun instead, and be a big hit with all the revelers on the beach. Also comes in handy when waiting at the bar for drinks.


3. If buying a real gun isn’t an option, why not use a coconut shell to toss water at each other? God will love you more for fully utilizing all of His gifts to us.


4. Worried about the amount of water being wasted? Throw sand instead and bring tears of joy to all in your path.



5. Smokers can ensure their cigarette ends don’t get BLASTED out of their mouths by hilarious aresholes by simply wearing a motorbike helmet back to front when having a cheeky one. You’ll have to have a very small cigarette, obviously, and keep your eyes closed the whole time.


6. Save on paper this Songkran when pooping by simply jumping straight into the nearest pool, and inviting partygoers to shoot off any brown remains that are lurking. May not attract girls as much as these other tips.


7. Make sure the local foliage of Koh Tao is also reaping the benefits of this fun-filled day by carrying around a selection of thirsty potted plants with you.


8. As everyone knows Songkran is not a nice day for our pets, so ensure they don’t miss out on their own little pet version of today by locking them in the bathroom with the shower on, and playing house music from 25 years ago. DISCLAIMER: May not be very water-friendly.




9. It’s really hard writing ten of these

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