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What's the difference in scuba diving boats?

The boat layout, the captain, and the crew can make or break a dive trip.  This article is a report of my recent dive trip on the "Horizon" dive boat based in San Diego, California.  Most of their charters focus mainly on the lower channel islands, the Los Coronados Islands, and the coast of western Baja.

We drove to San Diego and found the boat.  The Second captain was aboard.  He was quite a nice guy - very courteous.  We, Jimmy Rinaldi and I, were not with the group that chartered the boat - actually it was an "open boat".  Sandy Grevetto, the owner of the boat had invited me and a staff member to evaluate the boat for possible charters through the shop.

The second captain (I don't remember his name) gave us a - what he called "a pre-briefing" of the boat.  He made it quite clear to us that the Dive Master would handle any diving questions that we may have and if we needed help rigging or help into or out of the water.  I chuckled to myself and gave Jimmy a look that only experienced Bwana trained divers would know...

We made a quick tour of the vessel to find a very nice boat - comparable to the "Great Escape" and the "Conception".  The cherry wood trimmed boat was well kept.  Two weeks prior, while pre-touring the "Atlantis", I was witness to a mad scramble to get the boat sea worthy and running.  Tools everywhere, dirty rags, oil spills, and the like.  Although in the Atlantis' defense - they ended up running a great charter - and we'll use them again.  In fact they get high marks for the scramble.

The "Horizon", on the other hand, had clean wood non-skid flooring that sparkled.  The heads were clean and fresh smelling - not like some other boats where the head smells like a processing plant in old Tijuana - Not on the Horizon - Clean, Fresh, and everything ship shape.  Each head, one inside of the spacious salon entrance and one just starboard of the salon entrance, had (and the women loved this feature) house hold, normal sized, normal height, white, flushing toilets!!  With plenty of room too!  Not like other boats where you need to plan your angle of attack, close the door, and maneuver into position - all while attempting to keep your knees from bruising.  Now, I'm 5'7" - God only knows what people that are over 6' do - and the clean up process - Geezz... we won't go there!  Anyway, back to the Horizon.  The two heads are also equipped with a very nice shower stall - Yes an actual stall - whereby one disrobes in comfort, showers, and dresses in the same room - Hey, what a concept! Just like home.

On the back deck there are camera racks, rinse buckets for gear, and rinse buckets for cameras.  Also, two large capacity salt water circulating live wells for game - a "Hunter Killer's" dream come true - and the beam is wide enough that the live wells don't get in the way.

The salon area has a dedicated video and camera station, a VCR with a 27 inch TV built in.  There is a magazine rack and battery charging outlets.  WOW - What a setup!

The salon itself is setup like a Denny's with booth style seating and a forward galley.  All the wood trim was polished and kept looking new - which for a boat that was built in 1979 was quite impressive.  The bunk room is setup much like the Great Escape - a starboard entrance to a semi spiral staircase and then aft to the bunks.  Six state rooms and 3-up singles by 3 down the center.  The bunks were a little small but comfortable.  Each bunk had clean (yeah, clean!) folded blanket and clean bleach white pillow cases covered each pillow.  And get this - each pillow had a mint on it!  Had I died and gone to the Four Seasons in Hawaii?  No, just normal routine for a class act.

This charter was "Open Boat", a term used by dive operations that means; No particular group or dive shop.  The boat itself collects the fees directly - as opposed to the dive shop paying an agreed upon amount - and the divers pay at the shop.  This trip was Open Boat, therefore, each diver had an assigned a bunk.  I had to assume that the state rooms were a bit more money.  I, as was Jimmy, were assigned a bunk - not my first choice, but what the heck, it was a place to flop.  The port side of the vessel was dedicated to the crew.  I imagined plush carpeting, a hot tub, and well endowed bikini clad maidens feeding them peeled grapes - but quickly realized that the crew's bunks were probably about the same.

Jimmy and I decided that this was going to be a great trip.  But what about the Dive Master?  Was he PADI, NAUI, or some other agency?  Would he or she be "New" and/or "Gung-ho"?  Would the Dive Master give Jimmy and I the respect we had earned through countless thousands of dives and training?  What if, the guy was the type that gave out depth and time limitations like they do in Hawaii and the Caribbean?  What if we couldn't dive by ourselves?  What if he or she insisted on the "follow the leader so I can go really fast and burn your air in a hurry" scenario?  With our imaginations running wild, we decided that we needed to "train" our new unknown Dive Master - we needed a plan for this new over-controlling wet-behind-the-ears G.I. Joe.  We were going to need some beer before embarking on the quest for justice!!  So, we marched off the docks to discuss our skillful deployment and coordination of tactics over a few beers and dinner.

After having more than a "few" brewskis, we arrived back at the dock.  Some of the other passengers had arrived - and so had the dreaded Divemaster!  I very quickly learned that jumping to conclusions about divemasters was a huge mistake!  He was courteous and kind, yet very much in control of the group.  As I watched him sign the folks in and ask for their "C-card", I was reminded of my Divemaster and Instructor schooling.  This guy was divemastering like I was taught and like I teach - I was instantly impressed.

Now for the real test - I introduced myself and my dive buddy.  He asked for our "C-cards" - an appropriate response - so far, so good.  Jimmy produced his Master Diver Card and checked in.  Then the divemaster turned to me and said, "May I see your C-card please".  I went white, embarrassed that although I was a NAUI course director, a certified Instructor Trainer, and Instructor for many years, on many dives, on many dive boats, this was the first time in along time that I had been on the other side of the coin.  I realized instantly, that this divemaster was evaluating me - sizing me up - he was determining my skill level, my comfort level, and my experience.  Just like I've done to students and divers countless times on countless boats.  Unless, you are an Instructor or Training Assistant - It's difficult to explain - but take it from me - I was being categorized as I stood in front of this obviously experienced and quite good divemaster.

Well, guess what!  This was the first time that I've had a divemaster, that I wasn't training and that I hadn't trained, ask me for a C-card - and I didn't have it!  Damn...  Normally, I carry an organizer type notebook for training and dive trips.  My instructor card was in the notebook! Damn... I had left it at the dive shop.  This trip was to be a fun trip for me, no students, no responsibility, and no reason to bring the notebook!  Damn...

"May I see your C-card please", echoed and resonated in my head - technically he could bench me - not allow me to dive - If I was in his situation, I would need to see a card.  Damn... I was wrong and he was right!  Damn...

With my mouth hanging open, and "more than a few beers" - now peaking, I said, "Well, no you can't" - immediately realizing that what I meant to say and what I said were two completely different things.  He paused from his check list, peered over the edge of his reading glasses, furled his eye brow and gave me the "Don't mess with me, smart boy" look.  But before he could say anything, I said, "But I am an Instructor."  Thinking to myself, "Then why don't you have your card, ya knuckle head?".  Even though I outranked this guy, or so to speak, I couldn't prove it.  He had the upper hand and could very easily and rightly so - bench me for the trip.  He then asked very matter-of-factly, "What is your number?" "15465", I replied.  I felt like I had clicked my heals together smartly, stiffened my arms to my side, brought my right hand up to my forehead with a snap salute and said, "Sir, Sgt. Holt reporting, sir". "My number is 15465, Sir"  Like I had done many moons ago while teaching Electrical Engineering in the Air Force.  He didn't bat an eye, "What year did you take your ITC?" "92", I said, deducing that he was doing the math.  The NAUI instructor numbers are up into the 26,000s now - so 92 would be about right.  "Who was your course director?" "Dennis Graver" - Hey, this was getting fun... "Where did you take your ITC?" "Las Vegas".  He paused, grinned and said, "You're a Scuba instructor and you don't have your C-card - HA!"  An appropriate and well deserved jab!  Not unlike what I would have done.  He believed me and marked my name on the rooster as "Certified".

With that, I retired to my bunk, ate the mint on the pillow before snoozing into bliss.  Second starfish on the right and straight on 'till morning.

High marks for the Horizon, her crew, and her divemaster!

Until next time,

Scuba Certified diver

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