Diving in Andaman – The Complete Guide (2020 Edition)
What is Scuba Diving?
Scuba Diving, in definition, is the act of existing underwater with a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA). By the feel of it, though, it’s an act of entering a whole new world where you almost ‘fly’ weightlessly, gliding through the blue and become a part of the majestic realm of the underwater life.
Scuba Diving, simply put, is a magical adventure – an activity that is highly recommended.
Who can Scuba Dive?
We live on an ocean planet and the open waters are for everyone. Following the same course of nature, so is scuba diving. While it may seem highly complex and ‘not-for-every-one’, scuba diving has proven itself to be a very safe sport that allows people of varying physical characteristics and capabilities to dive safely and enjoyably.
What makes the Andaman Islands popular for diving?
There are several dive spots around the world. But what’s been directing divers to scuba dive in Andaman today is primarily its intriguing oceanic conditions along with Andaman’s breath-taking biome and the cultural brouhaha that surrounds it.
The following few things make Andaman Unique:
- Warm waters combined with clean ocean bodies offer some of the best underwater visibility around dive sites in the world.
- Diverse coral life and abundant marine animal life that provide experiences that are better felt than written about.
- Shores brimming with marine life – if one doesn’t go very deep in case or they are slightly nervous for their first time, they still spot a wide variety of corals and fish life. A simple swim with a snorkel over the surface of say 7 feet deep sea bed, can feel like swimming atop an overwhelming garden of reef beds and marine life if you go to the right spots (or if the right spot chooses you! – diver joke alert).
Types of Scuba Diving and Diving for first-timers
PADI Discover Scuba Dive
There are many ways to begin a lifestyle of Scuba diving. One can start diving by directly enrolling in the Scuba Diving courses that train people to become independent divers.
But here you will focus on a one-time diving experience tailored specially for non-divers to try out what it feels like to dive – this is often called Discover Scuba Dive or DSD.
DSD is a one-day introductory diving program that lets you experience what it feels like to be a diver underwater, while under the direct supervision and safety of a dive professional. It involves:
- a brief theory lesson and equipment familiarization
- skill practice with an instructor in confined/shallow water
- a 45 minute to 1-hour dive underwater with an ideal instructor-diver ratio of 1:1
- Underwater photography.
During a DSD dive, one can go down to 12 meters (40 feet) or shallower.
Given the clarity of water and abundance of flora and fauna of the Andaman underwater world, Andaman DSD dive sites let you see very rich underwater life as you descent to depths as shallow as 1 meter (3 feet). How deep you go will mostly be a judgement call your instructor will make depending upon your comfort level underwater combined with weather/water conditions on that particular day. The dive sites chosen by dive schools are generally not very deep, offer a lot to see and have relatively calmer conditions on most days, making them ideal for a relaxed and fun time underwater for first-timers.
There are two variants of a PADI Discover Scuba dive that you can choose from, depending solely upon the kind of experience you’d prefer more:
- Boat DSD: This one is highly recommended. We believe this is the best way to scuba dive. After you finish your paperwork, theory and skill practice session, you reach your dive site by boat (generally a 5-10 minute ride) that takes you further out into the ocean to a secluded reef patch, thus away from the crowd. On most Andaman dive boats, you enter the water by what is called a ‘back-roll’, which in itself is a thrilling experience for first-timers. The whole program takes a little over 2 hours which includes the boat logistics coupled with equipment wear, dive- briefing, etc.
- Shore DSD: The underwater dive experience remains the same as a boat DSD, with the difference that this time you reach the dive site by walking from the shore into the water, and as the water gradually gets deeper, travelling to your dive spot while diving and then starting to explore the chosen reef patch, and similarly exiting water by coming back to the shore.
Both programs are equally fun and safe and take you to lively, rich dive spots. Swimming is not a prerequisite for either. All you need is a basic-moderate fitness level along with no health pre-dispositions, which you can discuss with your dive center. Some people might prefer the Boat DSDs to add an experience of a boat ride along with their dive, and that way, they also dive with fewer people around. Some prefer the shore dives because they’d like to gradually reach the deeper water and like the feeling of ground under their feet as they slowly swim towards the dive site. You also pay less for a shore DSD due to logistical simplicity. Some people also like to get comfortable diving off the shore their first time, and then do a Boat DSD next if they are not comfortable doing the course yet. But it’s a call you make, depending on how you’d like your first dive to be.
PADI DSDs and other first-dive variants
The professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) is an international diver training organisation that offers certified training programs for recreational and technical diving. There are a few other organisations that conduct diver certifications but today PADI certifications have emerged to be probably the most trusted and espoused in the international recreational dive industry. The majority of Indian dive schools are PADI registered and follow PADI course work along with diving procedures.
Another variant of DSD you’ll come across quite a bit while doing your research for Scuba diving in Andamans is a Try dive. Mostly offered by local tour operators, it’s a compressed version of a DSD with very limited pre-dive theory and skill training, followed by a 20-30 minutes dive and is not recognised/protected under a standard diving organisation. It is lighter on the pocket, but if you’re experiencing a new sport under-water for the first time, it’s advised by the dive community to take all safety precautions you can and dive under an officially recognised program.
Course and Program Fee
Even though fun and easy, Scuba diving is nonetheless an elaborate sport. A good dive school will make the process seem smooth, but there’s a thick backstory of the right equipment, preparation, and safe-proof logistics before each dive. Given the context, Scuba Diving does cost a little bit more than your average water sports. A DSD with a well-recommended dive school (and you want to dive with a well-rated one) should cost you somewhere between 3000- 6000 INR per person depending upon the DSD program/dive school you choose.
Best Time to Dive
One can dive in Andaman throughout the year, but the most pleasant months in terms of heat and water conditions (mostly about visibility underwater) are the non-monsoon months, typically between October-May. But it’s important to remember that passing cyclonic weather or unexpected rains may cause unpredictable changes. It’s always good to check about the weather before you finalise your dates. Other than that, weekends are most busy for dive schools so some divers like week-day dives while some find a certain charm in meeting other fellow divers during the weekends and diving with new people.
Most divers prefer to dive early in the morning because of lighter sun and milder winds. But your underwater experience will not be compromised should you choose to dive later or get a later dive slot from your dive school. Generally (a little dive theory for the curious) how much you enjoy your dive loosely depends on the clarity of the water called visibility. Visibility underwater depends on how much sunlight is absorbed by the water and turbidity (suspended particles) of water at that point. Thus many factors affect your dive experience and so it’s always a good idea to check about the local conditions before you finalise. Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any dive related questions or would like to know more at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where in Andaman to Dive
Diving in Havelock: Undoubtedly the most popular (and for the right reasons) diving destination in the Andaman Islands, Havelock island is almost a synonym to diving in Andamans. Some of the most loved dive sites you’ll hear a lot about for boat DSDs are Pilot reef, Lighthouse, Peel, etc. and are full to the brim with colourful reefs and rich fish and other marine life. A shore DSD in Havelock, as of today, means diving at the Nemo Reef, named after the much loved and known- common clownfish (Disney’s dear Nemo, as we know it). Havelock is progressively under construction and has plenty of housing and dining options but if you’re visiting during peak season (November-April) try and sort your accommodation in advance.
Diving in Neil: Neil island today is what Havelock probably was many years ago- few divers, fewer boats, and lots of dive sites to explore. Since the foot-fall of not just divers but all tourists combined is so little in Neil, it makes for an interesting getaway from Havelock. There are still more local dwellers than tourists, which makes a trip to Neil islands quite earthy and it remains untouched by the heterogeneous west-like feel. There isn’t as much to do in Neil unlike Havelock, and the phone connectivity becomes much (if not twice) as bad. A good way to describe diving at Neil is to say that it can serve as an intimate dive and living experience of the likes Havelock was known for maybe in stories of memorable yesteryear.
Who to dive with
Taking your first breath underwater is a memory you’ll never forget, and you probably want to make sure you do it the right way. Do a little research online or talk to friends who have dived before to find out which dive schools have good reviews and a positive history of diving practices. Remember, even though PADI offers a single DSD course guideline, how it is imparted to you depends on the individuals/dive school you choose to dive with. Dive India and Barefoot are some of the oldest names in the industry and are known to be so for their impeccable history in the past. Dive India has dive resorts both in Neil and Havelock, and so does Scuba Love, an emerging dive school. Aqua Nomad is an emerging dive school in Havelock, while Happy Fins has been progressively receiving positive feedback in Neil.
Nonetheless, one thing to look out for as you search through the school is that it fits your needs, and takes heavy discounts with a pinch of salt. Try to not depend on a tour company to book dive schools on your behalf without consulting with you, simply because you might want to escape the cycle of tour operators making profits on your behalf with schools they have tie-ups with, instead of looking out for the schools that are genuinely known for good dive experiences (not to say both can’t overlap, but it’s a good dive practice to do your dive school homework on your own).
When and how to book
From the time you land in Port Blair, almost everywhere you look there will be a board or a person selling you an ‘incredible dive experience’. Take a moment and let prudence surface. The ones that are known for their diving don’t need to over-sell it. Scuba diving is a fun sport but needs genuine considerations for safety. It’s one of the things that make the dive schools that stand out, stand out. Follow good diving practices, and don’t shy away from some research.
If you are planning to book your dive or would like to get more details, reach out to us at email@example.com with your dates and needs and we will get back to you with the details and the best offers!
Things to remember:
- Avoid sunscreen when going underwater. Use non-perfumed coconut oil, rash guards, etc. The chemicals cause serious damage to the reefs and marine life.
- As the dive schools you dive with will also tell you, do not touch reef, rocks, fish and other animals underwater. A single touch can be cancerous to their life and poses a serious threat to the organism.
- When it comes to rare experiences like Scuba Diving safety should not be compromised. You might get cheap scuba diving options but bear in mind they might not be the safest so be mindful of this while booking.
- Before you dive you will be required to fill a Medical Questionnaire by the dive center, in some cases based on your answers you might not be allowed to dive (if you are a person who can walk for 10-15 mins without fatigue and have no serious illness as such you’d be fine).
- The minimum age to dive in Andaman is 10 years.
- Leave only bubbles, take only pictures. Let the shells remain by the shores. They contribute a lot for the ecosystem around the shorelines to survive, and not so much hanging around homes or as jewelry.
It is recommended to do advance booking since scuba diving gets booked fast and there are only limited slots per day. Check this out to see all your options and to make a booking.