by: Jeff Morelock
What do the Wizard Of Oz and scuba diving have in common? Remember when Dorothy and her friends hurry through the woods chanting, "Lions and tiger and bears. Oh my!" Everyone felt sorry for them. They were a long way from home, and surrounded by unfamiliar customs and procedures. American divers diving in Europe find themselves in similar situations, especially on their first European dive trip. The difference is, lions, tigers, and bears become liters, and meters, and bar. Oh My!
The Difference Between Here and There
The biggest difference between diving in Europe and diving in America is the metric system. Instead of measuring depth in feet, it's measure it in meters. Pressure is measured in bar, weight is measured in kilograms, and tank size is measured in liters. Of course we can't forget temperature as far as European divers are concerned, water temperature in the Keys never gets above 21 degrees the way they measure it. Burrr that's cold, isn't it? Imagine a group of American divers exchanging confused looks at the beginning of their first European dive briefing. Their divemaster says, "We"ll descend to 30 meters, explore the wreck until we reach 50 bar, and return to the boat after a three minute safety stop at five meters. Don't forget to take a few kilograms off your weight belt since we won't be using wetsuits, after all the water is up to 26 degrees."
Now imagine them clutching each other and skipping around a dive boat chanting, "Liters, and meters, and bar. Oh my!"
If you were one of them, would you be confused? One of the most important things you learned while getting certified was not to panic. Don't do it now either. This stuff isn't that hard 'even if you flunked high school math. After reading this article you'll be able to cheat just like you should have done in high school math. Let's take a look at each of these goofy measurements without going into all the decimal points and other boring stuff. By leaving out the math, you won't get bored and start looking at pictures of the pretty fish on the next page. If you're a tech diver and want to know how to figure things out down to the last square cubed decimal power to the Y factor, you're reading the wrong article.
Take a look in your refrigerator at that plastic bottle of soda. The label says it holds 2 liters. If it were a scuba tank, you'd be looking at a 2-liter scuba tank about the size of a pony bottle, but you wouldn't want to keep it in your refrigerator. Not very confusing huh? Unless you're a tech-diver, you're used to diving aluminum 80s. You probably have a few in your hall closet with out of date VIP stickers on them. The European equivalents (as far as capacity in a basic sense is concerned) to your beloved 80s, are 10.4-liter tanks. Of course the 10.4-liter European tanks are made of steel, so they are heavier than aluminum tanks, even though they are shorter than 80s. If you're a tech diver with a set of double 100s holding up the coffee table in your living room, you can store an additional amount of 12 liters of coffee in each tank for those late night Flipper reruns. The bottom line about tank size is this: In European diving standards, scuba tanks are measured by the amount of liquid they can hold.
A meter is 3.28 feet. Why? Who knows, but it is. Why should you care? Depth descriptions of dive sites given during dive briefings in Europe, are given in meters. If you are renting gear, your rented depth gauge or computer will tell you that you're at 18 meters instead of 60 feet deep. Unless you have a waterproof calculator, you may want to write a meter to feet conversion table on the back of your slate. After all, you'll need something to do on the bus trip out to look at those pointy buildings in the middle of the desert just in case you decide to spend the day not diving.
Sorry, but you won't find locals sliding pints down the counter and singing folk songs about the motherland here. Bar is the way Europeans measure pressure, not a place they go when the weather is too bad to go diving. Okay, it can be both. Happy? If you want to get technical about it, (without wearing doubles that is) 1 bar equals 14.5 psi. So if you take a 10-liter tank and fill it to 200 bar, you'll have about 71 cubic feet of air at 2901 psi. Almost like an 80. Get it? Luckily for us, most European pressure gauges have the red warning block near zero, and we all know why.
Weight a Minute
Did you know that a 15 kilogram weight belt will send you to the bottom faster than one weighing twenty pounds? You should, because when the nice European divemaster asks you how much weight you'll need when picking out a rental weight belt, you could become an anchor instead of a diver if you don't. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds. A good rule here is to divide what you wear back home in half. That's how many kilograms you'll need, as long as you're wearing the same thickness of wetsuit you normally dive. This doesn't apply if you're diving in the Dead Sea. (Yes, that was a joke.)
Where's the Ice?
The divemaster says the water is 26 degrees, shouldn't I rent a drysuit? No, not at all. The water is really 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature conversion requires a calculator unless of course you're a math wiz. To save time and brainpower, take a peek at the conversation table below. It covers most temperature ranges for recreational diving.
|40 degrees||4.4 degrees|
|50 degrees||10 degrees|
|60 degrees||15.5 degrees|
|70 degrees||21 degrees|
|80 degrees||26 degrees|
So What Else is Different?
Remember those short scuba tanks? They're not only different because they're short. Put a DIN valve on top of the tank, and watch the American diver try to figure out how to attach his or her regulator. Yeah, you know how to do it, but what about everyone else? We talked about the temperature in the last section. Many European dive spots require thick wetsuits and hoods not something we're accustomed to down here in sunny Florida. The quality of gear may be less than you'd like. Imagine gearing up for a night dive off the coast of Turkey, and being handed something that looks like a car headlight duct-taped to a tennis ball can. Much different than the new neon pink dive light you usually dive with huh? You may save a dive or two by calling ahead and asking what brands and equipment configuration a dive operation uses as rental gear.
When in Rome
You know the saying, and it's true when it comes to diving too. While you're on the phone asking about their equipment, ask about their dive procedures. Make sure the methods used, and sites visited, are within your skill level. Inflatable boats are popular in Greece and Croatia. They are easy to get out of with a backwards roll, but can be tricky to get back into for some divers. You do know how to do a backwards roll right? Do not be afraid to ask for help or further explanation of a procedure from a divemaster, and don't be afraid to cancel a dive trip if you're not sure it's for you. Shop around until you find a dive operation running trips that are right for you. If you have a buddy, talk it over with him or her. If one of you doesn't want to go, don't.
Speaking of Your Buddy
If you left your dog and favorite dive buddy at home to take care of the house, you'll obviously be paired up with someone you've never dove with before unless one of those really neat coincidences occur. Thanks to the popularity of those huge US based dive certification organizations, there's a good chance you may end up diving with someone who has been trained to dive the same way you were. But you're not always that lucky. Find out who you'll be diving with before the dive, and talk to that person about his or her skill level, and expectations for the dive. Talk about emergency procedures, and make a dive plan everyone understands and agrees to.
Speaking of Talking!
Most European dive organizations have divemasters and instructors who speak English. This does not mean one of them is always on the boat for every trip. This is something else you want to verify, (make that insist on) when booking a dive trip. Dive briefings are important, but only if you can understand what is being said. While it is interesting to hear a dive briefing conducted in Turkish, then German, and finally in English, it makes a diver wonder, especially when the German briefing takes half as long as the Turkish one, and finally the English briefing takes half as long as the German one. If you don't understand something, ask. If you don't agree with something and it can't (or won't) be changed, find another dive trip.
So there you have it. One you tame your liters, meters, and bars you'll be ready to dive anywhere.
Ten European Diving Tips:
- Make sure the boat is a boat. It could be little more than a raft
- Make sure the boat is safe for diving
- Choose a dive operation with English speaking staff on boats
- Review dive procedures with a divemaster before signing up for a trip
- Inspect equipment and become familiar with it (even if it means a pool dive first)
- Become familiar with your buddy and his or her dive skills and expectations
- You've heard it before - Plan your dive, dive your plan.
- Inspect your rental gear before leaving the dive shop
- Discuss and agree on a price before booking the trip
- Have fun. Make new friends, (dive buddies) and promote your local diving back home