First, try to realistically decide if you are ready to go diving. Bay Islands dive instructors have many stories of would-be students who, believe it or not, could barely swim or were actually scared of the water. Although it’s relatively cheap and other people seem to like it, if you just can’t get rid of that lurking panic after a couple of shallow dives, accept the fact that diving is not for you.
One of the best ways to find out how you will react to scuba diving is to try snorkeling a few times to see how you feel in the underwater world. Some people find they prefer the more relaxed shallow-water experience of snorkeling, which does not require all the gear, training, and expense of scuba diving.
Most divers getting certified in the Bay Islands follow a course created by the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI), the best-known scuba certification organization. Almost all dive shops on the islands work with PADI, but a couple of shops have other certifications instead or as well, such as Scuba Schools International (SSI) and National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). While PADI is by far the most popular, all three organizations have good reputations, and almost all scuba shops around the world accept certifications from any of them.
Novices ready to take the plunge into the world of scuba have a choice of either a Discover Scuba Diving or Open Water certification. A Discover Scuba Diving course, normally costing US$70–125, is an introductory dive for those who aren’t sure if they’ll like diving or not. It involves a half day of instruction followed by a shallow, controlled dive.
The Open Water certification is typically 3.5–4 days, starting with half a day of videos, then a couple of days combining classroom work, shallow water dives, and open-water dives. The last day is two open-water dives. You are then allowed to dive without an instructor—but never without another diver, invariably a dive master. It’s standard practice in the Bay Islands for all divers to go out with a dive master or instructor, as guides and to ensure the protection of the reef.
Many newly certified divers come out of their Open Water course feeling slightly uneasy about the idea of diving without that reassuring veteran instructor at their shoulder; they may want to immediately continue their controlled training with the Advanced Open Water course. The advanced course offers five different advanced dive options, with two required: instruction in undersea navigation and multilevel diving—essential for planning your own dives—and a deep dive (to 30 meters). Other dive choices include multilevel, night, wrecks, naturalist, photography, search and recover, and peak performance buoyancy. Some shops will combine two of these in one dive (for example, photography and naturalist).
Recreational divers are allowed to descend to a maximum depth of 30 meters. Going deeper puts divers in serious danger of both nitrogen narcosis and severe decompression problems when ascending. With a different mix of gases in the air tanks, however, it is possible with training to descend deeper and stay down longer than with a regular air tank. Nitrox, a mix of nitrogen and oxygen, allows divers to (depending on the mix) extend their time at depth by 20 or 30 minutes or minimize the surface interval and allow more dives in a single day. As well, divers seem to be slightly less tired at the end of the day.
Nitrox is very popular with live-aboard dive boats, which try to squeeze in as many dives as possible in a week. Nitrox diving requires certification and special equipment, which not every dive shop has. Extreme depth freaks will be pleased to hear that another, even more specialized gas mix known as Trimix (Nitrox plus helium) allows divers to go as deep as 150 meters, a truly spooky deep-sea world.
Nitrox has become pretty widely available, but Trimix is less common, and easier to find on Utila. The Bay Islands College of Diving and Utila Dive Center offer full tech courses, Trimix, and rebreathers. Ocean Connections in West End has one complete Trimix set.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition